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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.

Being well read

Does everyone read Book Riot? Because you totally should, if you don't.


Last night, I read one of their recent articles - Is Our Concept of Well Read Elitist (link to article). It's not long, and is an interesting little read, which got me started thinking.


What does being "well-read" mean to me? 


I think, first and foremost, that being well-read is something you do, not something you are. Someone can get a degree in English literature, and have read a lot more of canon than I have, but if they haven't picked up a novel in the 20 years since graduation, then, at least to me, they aren't well-read. They've abandoned any claim to the title. In order to be well read, you have to read.


The traditional definition of well-read definitely focuses on being well-read in the Western Canon - and Harold Bloom will tell you what qualifies as canon. I think that, personally, that definition is too limiting. Maybe it worked at some point, I don't know. But for me, in order to be well-read, a reader must be actively exposing him/herself to a multiplicity of voices. 


I don't think someone can be well-read simply by reading works written in one time and place and style. And it doesn't really matter what that time/place is - one can't be well-read by reading only books written before 1900, and one can't be well-read by only reading books written after 2000. Or by reading nothing but literary fiction. Or high fantasy. Or 19th Century Russian literature.  No matter how illuminating those genres are, they are limited and limiting if consumed in a steady diet.


To me, the act of being well-read, is an act of self-subversion. It's a way to consciously expose myself to ideas and narratives that are different from my own, a way to challenge and undermine my own comfortable world-view. I think that this is why people who read are more empathetic (link: Can Reading Fiction Improve Empathy).


I aspire to be well-read. And some years, I feel like I sort of succeed (and I can only ever sort of succeed because my time is not limitless). Other years, I'm too tired to process new ideas and so I just spend the entire year reading stuff (cough, historical romance, cough) that doesn't particularly challenge me because it is what I want to do, which is OK, too.


I am always a reader, sometimes well-read. 


What do you think?