The Paradox of Book Reading and Why Culture Is a Matter of Orientation

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Robin Good: The excellent and insightful Maria Popova has really got me fascinated with this piece she wrote back in June of this year. Entitled “How To Talk About Books You Haven’t Read”, this writing, inspired by a book by the same name, is good food for thought as it stretches ordinary assumptions about what culture and book readings is in the end all about.


As curation is an effort in meaning creation and discovery, exploring different ways to look at how we build our picture of reality and what role books play into this process is, from my personal viewpoint, a very valuable effort.


In the end, you may likely disagree with the overall logic but personally, I have found this mental stretching exercise quite valuable and I am thankful to both Maria and the author for making it possible for me to poke with it: “The paradox of reading is that the path toward ourselves passes through books, but that this must remain a passage…”


The challenging questions being posed is: “Must we read those from cover to cover in order to be complete, cultured individuals?” and some interesting answers come from the book author himself,  University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, who offers “a compelling meditation on this taboo subject that makes a case for reading not as a categorical dichotomy but as a spectrum of engaging with literature in various ways, along different dimensions”.


Prof Bayard writes: “As cultivated people know (and, to their misfortune, uncultivated people do not), culture is above all a matter of orientation. Being cultivated is a matter not of having read any book in particular, but of being able to find your bearings within books as a system, which requires you to know that they form a system and to be able to locate each element in relation to the others.”


Maria Popova further synthesizes his thought by writing: “Literature becomes not a container of absolute knowledge but a compass for orienteering ourselves to and in the world and its different contexts, books become not isolated objects but a system of relational understanding…”.


Insightful. Thoughful. 8/10


Full article:



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