Nothing much, really. I should know. Since the age of 17 I have read 597 (yes, yes, 597, I can show you the list if you like, it’s not impressive at all). About 16 percent of these are books concerning the American Civil War. Which is… odd, to say the least.
So, what did reading 597 books get me? Pleasure? Not so much, I don’t enjoy reading that much, I mean, it’s ok, but it’s not the best. Knowledge? Surfing wikipedia is easier, faster and my memory absorbs wikipedia better than most books. Wisdom? Hmm. Nothing much comes to mind. The skills to write? Nope, I don’t see it. Did reading improve my languages? Sure. Somewhat.
I think the best thing reading gave me was the excitement of thinking that through reading I would find something, something big, something better. But I haven’t really. I mean, if 600 books don’t really do anything for me, why would 700 or 800 do the trick?
I can name only a couple of books that truly changed me. Tony Robbins’ books for example. Yes, yes, laugh all you want, but reading Tony Robbins helped me to make some very big changes in my life. Oh, and at some point in my life I derived motivation and determination from ‘Gates of Fire’ by Stephen Pressfield. As did reading about the American Civil War. I may have used several civil war generals as replacements for Gods and thinking of them as a replacement for prayer. Really, I’m not kidding. So I guess reading is certainly responsible for discipline and motivation I’ve had in several stages of my life.
What else? Reading has fueled some conversations. But I’m pretty sure books have stood in the way of my social life much more than reading has ever boosted it. I’m even wondering if my life wouldn’t be insanely better if I had invested all the hours spent reading in getting to know people, in socializing.
All of the above is quite likely very true, but then why don’t I just quit reading? What do I hope to find in books? An escape? Really? An escape from what? Real life? I really don’t have that feeling, it seems to me I’m scavenging books for useful tools to manage my life better. But do I ever stumble across anything useful? My guess is that it’s a poor investment. For x hours spent reading, how many gems of wisdom do I dig up? I have absolutely no idea of course.
Does reading -perhaps, perhaps- make me a better person? Do books sharpen my intuition, my empathy, do they bring a certain elegance to my language, do they hone my verbal skills? Oh, as far as my verbal skills are concerned I can give you a very definite answer: reading has done more damage than good to my verbal skills. The more I read the more I have to think before I can say anything. Perhaps because reading a lot makes me more nuanced about just about any issue at all.
Do I read because it makes me feel better than people who don’t read? Sure. There’s that, yes. Sure. I can sit in an airplane and be the only person with a book and I’m thinking: YOU DUMB FUCKS HOW CAN YOU WASTE 2 HOURS OF FLYING JUST SITTING THERE LIKE BRAIN DEAD DUCKS IN A SLAUGHTER PEN???
But are the bookless people really the dumb fucks? Perhaps in their minds they are having the most lucrative business ideas while I’m sitting there reading about some guy named Raskolnikov butchering a creepy old granny.
Something tells me I’ll keep on reading. If only to make sure I haven’t bought 400 books in vain over the course of two or three years. They are screaming for my attention. Me, who vaguely hopes 400 more books will accomplish what their 600 predecessors couldn’t: Get me a life that fully engages me.