An Ingenious Device for Avoiding Thought

The principal speaker at our son’s graduation yesterday was Vermont novelist Chris Bohjalian. He was excellent. He got a deserved standing ovation. Aside from advising the graduates to “stay here!” (that was a joke, but not a completely bad piece of advice), he argued for, among other things, the importance of reading.

As a reader, I didn’t disagree with what he said. Not everyone, however, is of the same opinion.

It’s always bothered me that I’d often finish a book and shortly thereafter not remember much about it. So when I retired a few years ago, I started writing a brief response to every book I finished on a blog I called Retirement Reading. Now I had a semi-permanent record of the books I was reading.

Keeping a record of what I’d read reminded me of a summer long ago when I kept a list of books I’d finished in order to win a prize or something. (Several of the terrific Doctor Doolittle and Wizard of Oz  books appeared on my list that summer.)

Last week, I decided to move the contents of Retirement Reading over here to WordPress (goodbye, Google). Trying to think of a good title (since it’s never been a blog about Medicare or where to retire), I looked through some quotations regarding books and reading. Some famous authors had some surprising things to say on the topic:

“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” — Albert Einstein

“Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

“Learn as much by writing as by reading.” — Lord Acton

“Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought.” — Sir Arthur Helps (who? — 19th century author, politician, etc.)

They weren’t all negative, of course:

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sir Arthur won:

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