I didn’t read the books I was supposed to read in high school. Instead of applying myself I took the “short cut” and spent way more time looking up spark notes and finding various “work arounds” instead of having some discipline and just reading the books. Then, when it came time to write an essay I had to go through the books that I should’ve read to find quotes to make an argument that was questionable at best. Now, I wish I just read the damn books.
Why read a book that was written hundreds of years ago? How could old fiction possibly be relevant today? If you don’t read old books, you will never know the answer, so read a damn book and see for yourself how reading a variety of different genres from authors with different world views and opinions will make you a more informed person, better prepared to negotiate with the onslaught of “information” we are exposed to on a daily basis. Le Pere Goriot was my reintroduction into fiction. Written in the early nineteenth-century, I was shocked by the striking similarities between Paris during the Bourbon Restoration (early 1800s), and the world we live in today. Family, lust, love, grief, ambition, humor, etc, make us human. Honore De Balzac explores these themes and presents a world not dissimilar to our own. At times, I laughed out loud at the absurdity of the characters. Not in that they were unrealistic, but rather the conversations that they were having sound like the same conversations I have today. For me, this book was an amazing reintroduction to fiction. It is much easier to read than Shakespeare, but finishing the book still felt like a great accomplishment. Above all I realized how much I was missing out on by not reading a variety of books. Some people don’t read any books. What a shame!
I want to proceed in a different manner than usual. I could recite the plot, ruin any surprise you may experience, and have you go on with your day. But instead of that, I want to talk about some of the things that Le Père Goriot, combined with the other books I have read recently have made me think about, and further make my case that reading books, frequently and of various subject matter is necessary.
Houston, we have a problem.
When the internet and smart phones were invented, did we ever pause to consider the downsides that this new technology brought us? We live in an era where we can access almost endless information with little effort. While this ability comes with many benefits, it is also a curse. We live in an information trap, where a nauseating overload of minute to minute news updates are at our fingertips. We conflate being up to date with the news with being well informed. I wanted to become more informed, I read the newspaper daily, got phone notifications so I could be the first to know the “important” breaking news. But, as I made strides to take in more information, leading me to believe I was becoming more informed, I started to fret that I may have done the opposite. I like to learn, but learning what goes on throughout the world by means of media that dumb down topics so anyone can instantly understand them and then move on with their day is not truly learning. It’s passively going through life, letting biased views build your own. When our only source of information comes from social media, CNN, Fox, The New York Times, or even my holy Wall Street Journal, we become idiots. Without the proper tools to evaluate information, and context to know how news plays into the greater scheme of things, we become brainwashed. We use our brain, the greatest asset we have, to store information that confirms our own views so we can argue with others that have opposing views. What a waste. Otherwise smart people see a “statistic” or post that validates their world view on Instagram or Facebook, they don’t evaluate it, or check to see if it’s true. Instead, they ingest it, and regurgitate it for all their “followers” to soak in, further perpetuating the cycle of ignorance.
How do we break this cycle?
Le Père Goriot is how! But it doesn’t have to be this book. It could be any book, fiction or nonfiction. Sitting down and reading a novel is not something most people do for pleasure anymore. Don’t be like most people. Take some time each day to read. Work towards having a better knowledge of the world so you are better equipped to evaluate the massive amount of information thrown at us daily. Independently reading is a way to expand your world, so read different perspectives, different opinions–even those opinions you don’t agree with. We can wish for the world to be better or the news to be more fair or any number of things to be different. But individually, we have to play the hand we were dealt, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and for improving our own minds. This shouldn’t end when formal education ends as it does for a lot of people (for leaders and smart people it certainly doesn’t). Unplug. Read the repetitive unproductive news less. We know there is plenty of gossip and frustrating entertainment in watching the day to day happenings of The White House, but why let that suck your free time and occupy your mind? The same is true with Coronavirus, we get it. The news won’t stop covering it, they never will. I get it, you get it, so move on. Move on to better things, things that will actually help you grow as a person. We all strive to disconnect from our phones, it is an addiction we just cant seem to snap. We spend hours on our phone doing nothing every day, take an hour of that wasted time and read a damn book instead.