I think my strange reading anxiety has been well-documented on this weblog. If you’re new here this is the gist of it: I worry about reading the wrong sort of books. I don’t always read the right sort of books, nor would I suggest one do so religiously, nor do I even consistently agree with myself on what the “right sort” means — regardless I’m always worrying about it. So it was with some surprise mixed with telling obviousness that I finally realized where this anxiety comes from, a place I’ve never been, University.
First, though, the right sort of books, what are they? You’d find them in the curriculum of any gold-standard humanities program of the future. They range from those seminal desert epics and the Greek Classics all the way up to post-modern experiments and even graphic novels. Each one tells us a little bit more about how to be a good human and, surprisingly, isn’t afraid to make you laugh at some point in the process (although, on reflection, this is realized to be a necessary part of some process). “Important” books, might be a good standard label, or rule of thumb. The ones that feel like they mean something.
Of course, the paragraph above reveals the problem. Who thinks like that? In my early twenties, as I went to work on a bus packed with University students and later watched my high-school peers one by one graduate, I began to think, “Everybody thinks like that!” I was wrong, obviously, but that was the start of my intentional personal education in the liberal arts. And, even though I was always a little weird about reading (recall my high school ban on pre-twentieth century authors), this is probably where I started to go a little south. An unguided regret-fueled tour through the literary fruits of six-thousand years of civilization is going to make anyone a little funny.
But that was then, this is now. The regret is gone and my reading passions, which were there before, remain. The anxiety, the I-haven’t-read-the-right-things feeling, remains but who cares? I kind of like being the weird anxious guy anyway.