Thursday, March 18, 2010

How did you get to be well read?

This question occasionally after people have known me for a few months, because I have a strong habit of making references to this and to that. I don't answer it very often.

The explanation is really very simple. I'm not well read at all. I'm just good at looking that way. I haven't read most of the books I'm familiar with. I don't have the depth or thoroughness of a classical education, or even simply of a dedicated reading program. And along with all the books I haven't read at all are the books I've only half-read: Les Miserables, The Sun also Rises, God in Search of Man... My apparent erudition comes largely from a few semi-encyclopedic, scattershot collections I've flipped through over the years: The Jewish 100, An Incomplete Education, a book my mother had with pictures and essay of great works of art in the Western tradition that I would sit with for hours as a child.

But this answer may just raise more questions: Why develop a passing familiarity with so many things? Isn't depth of understanding more fulfilling? And why read such collections so urgently at such a young age.

The answer to these questions is even more simple, and I share it far less.

I was raised by wolves.

But no ordinary wolves. No, these were highly intellectual wolves, for whom a pup unable to converse about Early Romantic Literature was a disgrace and a liability, fit only to be left alone to starve in the cold, harsh world of academia. From my earliest days, appearing well read was a matter of life and death.

It is fortunate, then, that I found so much pleasure in a matter which was essential to my survival.


  1. A few conversations this week have demonstrated the depths of my illiteracy: I have not read "Death of a Salesman," "Waiting for Godot," or anything by Jane Austen.

    Now that these woeful inadequacies have been revealed, I'll just have to go and cry myself to sleep.

  2. That's alright, I've only read a couple Jane Austen. Emma drove me crazy, I couldn't finish it, which is rare for me.

  3. I am surprised that you didn't watch "Death of a Salesman" in American Studies. Maybe only Pieffer showed it, though, and he was gone by your time.