Books etc

Clive Davis highlights this neat phrase from Terry Teachout: “Blogging has become the intellectual’s TV set.”

It a nice line isn’t it? And I’m sure it is true – there must be a lot of intellectuals who do prefer to spend time reading blogs rather than watching, well, what is on telly tonight where you are?

Of course there are plenty who enjoy reading blogs intead of watching telly who aren’t intellectuals. I am one for starters.

Which got me thinking. I actually would like to be an intellectual one day or at least try to be, at least be in a situation where I could hold my own in the company of genuine intellects. But then there is old question of how do you actually get there?

A random google dictionary search brings up this for intellectual:

1. relating to thinking: relating to or involving the mental processes of abstract thinking and reasoning rather than the emotions

2. intelligent and knowledgeable: having a highly developed ability to think, reason, and understand, especially in combination with wide knowledge

3. for intelligent people: intended for, appealing to, or done by intelligent people

Leaving aside the question of how one would measure a person’s ability to reason or grasp abstract thinking, I would fall down straight away on the aspect which certainly is very easy to measure – wide knowledge.

I was thinking about this again when listening to some of the Hay Festival discussions. Surely the two best ways to gain knowledge are to read and to listen to those with knowledge. And I’ve read so little.

I’m 35 and what percentage of the books I would like to read (let alone those that I am told I should read) have I actually managed to digest? One percent would be a wild exaggeration. How many years left to catch up?

Now having a job and being a Dad already cut down a lot of the time that one might spend attempting to get close to that one percent figure – that’s something that a lot of you face I am sure. But then a lot of the time I could spend reading books (I should start with the classics which it is assumed that ‘everyone’ has read) I spend reading blogs and writing on this one.

Therefore could it not be argued that in fact, blogging, is an obstacle to becoming an intellectual of some sorts? Would one not be better off spending those snatches of free time reading Plato, Shakespeare, Marx, Hegel, Freud or Hobbes and Locke etc rather than arguing about politics on websites?

Yet, on the other hand, my knowledge of a lot of issues has increased significantly as a result of reading blogs and following links. A few years ago I never even knew that Dissent magazine (and its many interesting writers) even existed and was barely aware of the journalistic writings (as opposed to the books of) George Orwell while Christopher Hitchens was the brother of Peter.

The golden opportunity I had to read, learn and study came at University but, while I certainly read more then than at any time until recently, I am not entirely sure that my personal reading list was wise. I don’t regret spending so much time reading books about politics, it helped me get a decent degree in the subject, but I do rather wish that I had, in my free time, chosen a broader range of books and especially much more literature.

Then after University came a decade where I barely read anything other than sports books, newspapers and magazines. For the best part of ten years I largely switched off from politics and philosophy and I do regret not using that time of lulling interest in political matters to digest some of the classics of literature. But then again I learnt quite a lot while not reading – by travelling, talking to people and hanging around in dark and smoky bars in Eastern Europe where, believe me, you can meet some of the finest intellects. (I must tell you sometime about the Hungarian Professor who at four in the morning began lecturing me about my disgraceful inability to speak basic Welsh – and did so in Welsh).

It always sounds crass to say it but I am one of those for whom September 11 and the response to it was a moment when my political juices began to stir again. This is not the time to go into the reasons why that was so (I’ve surely mentioned a few over the past couple of years on this blog) but through blogging and the search for ideas through the internet, I’ve started reading much more again.

But still not enough. I’m still far away from that magic one percent.

If you fancy leaving some suggestions for a route towards that figure then they would be most welcome. A few lines explaining why those books merit a place in anyone’s reading list would be useful too.