BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | WHEN ARE YOU “WELL READ”?

Book Thoughts On Thursday

The world of books is never boring. Every week (well, most weeks) I’ll discuss a different topic related to books, often inspired by or in response to what’s going on in the online book community (or something I’ve seen another blogger talk about). I call this Book Thoughts on Thursday. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, or even write your own post on the topic and share the link with me!

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I’ve never felt particularly well-read. I read a fair amount, but I had only a brief foray into the classics, didn’t read the majority of foundational books in high school (possibly in part due to bouncing between schools) and I didn’t take more than the minimum amount of English Lit during my post-secondary eduction. Because of this, while I read on average a book a week and have read more than 600 books (that I can remember), I often feel put on the spot when I haven’t read a well-known work.

This happens more often than you might think. I’ll be chatting in the lunch room, at a dinner or other casual conversation, and someone will ask me, “have you read [insert name of popular, newly-released or classic book here]?” They’ll await my response with an eager look on their face, assuming that, since I “read a lot” I’ve read… well, pretty much everything. Or that because this book bears a similarity to another book we were talking about, I must have read it too.

When I have to admit that no, in fact, I haven’t read that book (and sometimes that I haven’t even heard of it), the reaction is either surprise (sometimes tinged with judgement) or, at the very least, disappointment because my failure to have read the book short-circuits the conversation. Every time this happens I feel suddenly nervous and anxious, like I’ve been caught in a lie or done something for which I should feel ashamed.

I know logically that this is completely ridiculous. After all, there are thousands upon thousands of books out there. It’s just not possible for someone, particularly someone who isn’t a speed-reader, to have read every book someone might randomly pick to ask about. I still think I really should have read more of the classics, but since I just don’t enjoy most of them that much… well, really, why?

In considering this lately, I got to thinking. What makes someone “well read”? Is there a certain number or list of books (specifically classics) one must read to earn the label? Is it applied only to those who read “serious” literature? Is it a measure of how diversely a person reads, assuming at least a basic familiarity with the major works of any literary discipline? Or is it a term that can be used more liberally for anyone who shares a love of reading, who is always reading something – anything, really? Do you consider yourself to be well read?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue, because it’s one I keep on returning to without really feeling as if I ever reach any conclusions.While I’ve more or less become comfortable with my decision to read books I genuinely want to read (though with some effort to challenge my assumptions, read diversely, and read books that intimidate me some of the time), I still feel awkward admitting to books I haven’t read if they’re ones I have on my TBR list or that I feel I “should” have read. Am I right in suspecting I’m not the only one who feels this way?

2 thoughts on “BOOK THOUGHTS ON THURSDAY | WHEN ARE YOU “WELL READ”?

  1. Trisha Eclectic Eccentric

    I have your experience monthly. As a literature professor, students are always shocked when I haven't read something, especially if it is a classic, but just as often if it is a contemporary popular book. They get the same expression when I admit I don't like a particular classic.

    As for being “well-read”, that's a strange term, difficult to define. While I do not believe that there is some moral imperative to read classic novels, I do tend to assign the term “well-read” to those who are familiar with the literary canon. I love YAL, especially of the paranormal or fantasy variety, but I would not consider someone who only reads that genre well-read. Reading diverse genres from many eras is, I think, a requirement.

    Reply
  2. Trisha Eclectic Eccentric

    I have your experience monthly. As a literature professor, students are always shocked when I haven't read something, especially if it is a classic, but just as often if it is a contemporary popular book. They get the same expression when I admit I don't like a particular classic.

    As for being “well-read”, that's a strange term, difficult to define. While I do not believe that there is some moral imperative to read classic novels, I do tend to assign the term “well-read” to those who are familiar with the literary canon. I love YAL, especially of the paranormal or fantasy variety, but I would not consider someone who only reads that genre well-read. Reading diverse genres from many eras is, I think, a requirement.

    Reply

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