Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On Reading Old Books

Is it just me or do the best-seller lists seem vapid these days? Just look at the New York Times Best-Seller List. Are "Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang" and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," the best we can do?

This is why I have taken to reading old books. I once heard a scholar say that people should read three old books (books written over one hundred years ago) for every new book. It keeps our thinking in perspective. So I have been reading old books. My Amazon Kindle eReader makes that easy (No, this is not an advertisement - just an appreciation).

Most old books are free with the new ebook technology. I get them off the internet from such wonderful sites as Internet Archive and Scribd. I can get sacred texts at the Internet Sacred Text Archive and Christian classics at Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Recently I have come across an online philosophical library and have been reading old philosophers.

Presently I am carefully reading through George Berkeley's "Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous." For those of you who did not take Philosophy 101 in college, Bishop Berkeley was an Anglican thinker of the philosophical school known as Subjective Idealism (please keep your eyes open). He lived in the late 17th and early 18th century.

I know this book might be a real yawner for most people. If this is the case, you can always go back to reading the new biography of Oprah or the bestseller "This Is Why You're Fat (And How To Get Thin Forever)." I would rather read Berkeley.  His book gets me exploring the universe from a new perspective. It opens my eyes to an entirely different way of seeing things. It is as exciting for me as traveling to exotic countries.

It is so much different than the pyramid of pabulum that greets me when I enter Barnes & Noble's front door. I drift to the right to peruse the "top ten" shelves at B&N, and I wonder, "Does anyone really think outside the box these days?" I go into the back stacks - usually the Religion and Philosophy sections - and I still think, "Where is the good stuff?" "I can order that for you, sir" is their reply.

In Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, it was against the law to read books. If books were discovered, the firemen were called in to destroy them. Faber, a former English professor, says to the fireman Montag, "Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public stopped reading of its own accord."  These days, it is just the old books that people have stopped reading of their own accord.
Woodcut made by by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Germany, 1493.

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