The People Who Don't Read Books
We have never before had access to so many perspectives, ideas, and information. Much of it is fleetingly interesting but ultimately inconsequentialnot to be confused with expertise, let alone wisdom. This much is widely understood and discussed. The ease with which we can know things and communicate them to one another, as well as launder success in one realm into pseudo-authority in countless others, has combined with a traditional American tendency toward anti-intellectualism and celebrity worship. Toss in a decades-long decline in the humanities, and we get our superficial culture in which even the elite will openly disparage as pointless our main repositories for the very best that has been thought.
If one person managed to outdo Ye in that season of high-end self-sabotage marking the end of 2022, it was the erstwhile techno-wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried. In an ill-conceived profile from September, published on the Sequoia Capital website, the 30-year-old SBF rails against literature of any kind, lecturing a journalist on why he would never read a book. Im very skeptical of books, he expands. I dont want to say no book is ever worth reading, but I actually do believe something pretty close to that. I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.
Its a galling sentiment, every bit as ignorant and arrogant as Yes but even more worrisome because SBF is not an entertainer whose debut album was called The College Dropout. He is a supposedly serious young man who was celebrated in the corridors of power not only as a financial savant but alsothrough his highly publicized philanthropy and conspicuous association with the effective altruism movementas a moral genius. The title of that profile: Sam Bankman-Fried Has a Savior ComplexAnd Maybe You Should Too.
I am a proud reader, of course. 2 books a week, at least. But now most of my "reading" is listening to audiobooks. Is that reading a book? It is a different experience (I do not remember the plot of audiobooks nearly as well, for one thing), but when I'm done, I say, "Oh, I read that book."
Lots of people read a whole lot online-- articles, Facebook, Twitter. "Non-readers" probably scan their eyes over more words than they did ever before.
And people who want "story" can get all they want streaming TV and film. They can have their imaginations provoked, identify with characters, experience vicarious emotion from watching Netflix shows. Again, this is a different experience than "reading".
But it is still opening the mind and taking new stuff in that comes from the creativity of other people.
However, somehow I get the ideas these two don't think "the creativity of other people" is nearly as important as themselves. "I got nothin' to learn!"
Except Ye, apparently, wants to learn all the wrong things.
... in my book at least!
I'm retired now and I have lots of time to read. But when I was working I spent my half-hour commutes, to and from work by listening to audiobooks. Often it was the only time I had to spare, and I thank God for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. They make so many wonderful audiobooks available for free - to anyone who owns a library card.
I find this intellectually lazy as this method of 'reading' doesn't involve critical thinking skills. This has led to his belief that fictional stories on television aren't 'real' enough and shows like Ancient Aliens are educational. All I can do is shake my head and walk away.
What's a book today? A valuable tool that helps people to think for themselves.
ETA: The words penetrate for me whether I read them or listen to them.
I do listen to & watch educational programs. Movies and TV shows can have a deep impact.
However, for me, nothing can replace a book. Those words penetrate my brain.
Interestingly, I often forget the names of characters in an audiobook, while I never do with print books. And I follow the plot better too. But I do love a good "performance" by a narrator of an audiobook. I'm listening to several 19th novels read by Timothy West (who is/was a prominent character actor in the UK), and he does every voice different and just right. Amazing how many accents he has!
If you haven't read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent, because your personal experiences alone aren't broad enough to sustain you.
― Jim Mattis, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead