30 DAYS TO BE A BETTER MAN: (27) START A BOOK

ROTTERDAM – I thought “start a book” meant I was supposed to start writing one, you know, based on the journals I’ve totally been keeping (START A JOURNAL). Evidently, this is not the case:

1 in 4 American adults did not read a single book last year. Those who did read books were usually women and older folk. This doesn’t bode well for younger men.  It’s not that younger men aren’t reading. They’re probably reading plenty on blogs or on their Tweetdeck.

Their what now?

But reading snippets from blogs and websites is a completely different experience than reading a good old fashioned book. With a book you can get completely immersed in a story and suck out the marrow of good ideas. With the internet, you tend to just get blips of information at a time. It’s never enough to gain the kind of immersive experience and broad picture that a whole book gives you.

It’s one of the many well-documented criticisms on the Einstein / X / Y / MTV generation. Thanks to the Internet and Buzzfeed with their “what this kid / boat / grandpa / soldier did will totally blow your mind” articles, we have gotten used to fast-tracked, simplistic, desirably packaged information snippets. Anything that requires a longer attention span we don’t read.

Besides, we don’t read as much as we used to. We’ve got alternatives now. It all started going downhill with the radio. People didn’t pick up books anymore and all just passively sat around listening to radio plays. Then we got the television. We now sit in front of those like zombies slurping up mass media brains.

Thanks to the new action movies we are used to speedy sequences of action. Have you ever tried watching anything from like the 50s or 60s? Fuck, those movies are slow. A friend of mine recently started rewatching old Star Trek episodes from the late 80s, and I joined him for one. I hardly had the patience to finish the fucking episode. I am used to Mad Max graphics by now.

Reading a book requires patience (especially if it’s an older book. Ever tried reading Tolstoj?). And when I say “book”, anything written by Malcolm Gladwell does not count. Since we’re being slightly snobbish about reading anyways, we might as well go all the way. Don’t just read a book. Read literature. I still have some Hemingway laying around I haven’t gotten to just yet. I once bought some plays by Shakespeare because I thought it’d be fun to read, but I never got around to that, too. Actually, just reading Shakespeare is a lot less fun than you’d expect. It wasn’t one of his better ones anyways.

I used to go through multiple books per week when I was younger. I read pretty much all of the books they had of my favorite genres in our local library. Then I went to university and the only thing I read was academic literature with an occasional gripping ethnography.

I’ve been trying to pick it up again. After all, reading literature can blow your mind. I remember being disturbed (say, The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan), moved to tears (My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok), scared (1984 by George Orwell), elated (anything written by Terry Pratchett. Yes, I consider his work literature).

What all great literature writers have (had) in common is that they had something to say. They had their “voice”, which usually combined writing style and content that makes a particular writer unique. The better their “voice”, the more famous the writer. And some of their perspectives on life are absolutely fascinating.

There are many reasons why you should read a good book. One of them apperently is the fact that reading

Makes you a better man. Do you want to be a better man? Then read the biographies of great men.  The lives of great men contain numerous lessons that are just as applicable to us today. I feel  I’ve gotten more out of reading a biography of a hero of mine than I have with any so-called self-improvement book. With a biography, you can see concrete principles of manliness in action instead of just reading abstract advice. If you’re looking for a biography that will really inspire, I suggest The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. (Big surprise, huh?)

I’ve never read any biography of anyone. I just don’t really care about authors themselves, just more about what they have written. As for the Great Men whose lives I should be studying, I think I’ll make my own way.

Perhaps I am being a bit defensive here. After all, inspiring people inspire, so why not read about their lifes? I am sure T. Roosevelt had a fascinating life, and the few achievements I am aware of does make him someone great.

My resistance, I reckon, stems from the abuse of literature for the purposes of identity. Are you manly because you read Roosevelt’s biography, or do you read Roosevelt’s biography ’cause you’re manly? To paint Theodore Roosevelt as an epitome of a Great Man, attributing his greatness to his masculinity seems like a recipe for disaster to me. While it is true that if Theodore Roosevelt would’ve been born Mary-Elise Roosevelt he’d probably not have achieved the same goals in life due to structural misogyny in the 19th/20th century, that does not mean that his good character was a result of his masculinity.

Theorizing the other way around (his masculinity was a result of his good character) is even more troublesome, I think. The link between what people have done and their gender is an interesting topic, surely, but to associate greatness with masculinity seems to indicate a lack thereof in the opposite sex. Even if you’re being progressive and you’ll protest the use of the word “lack” and argue that it’s a different kind of greatnes (let’s say a more “caring’ one), you’re still misogynistic.

By the way, if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about this link between greatness and masculinity in literature, the Art of Manliness has gracefully provided us with a a list of books from their Essential Men’s Library, which has some really good books in it, too.

Man-meter: I really don’t want to read biographies. They bore me. Just read what you want to read, as long as it’s an actual book.

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