Nobody Reads

June 23, 2020 by Kaja Jurtela

There is a story and it goes like this: Umberto Eco, a famous author, had a huge library of 30,000 (or even 50,000) books. Everyone admired his library and said, “Doctor, you have read all those books, amazing!” But in reality, he did not read all of them – he was just so eager to read and that is why he was collecting them.

When I buy a book, I usually have the intention to read it, but sometimes it happens that it is not the right moment or there is something else to read (or the typical “I don’t have time” excuse). I place the book on my bookshelf and look at it from time to time, and it reminds me how great it would be to read it one day.

Probably this does not happen only to me. And actually, there is nothing wrong with that. Those unread books on our shelves are peaceful reminders of unknown places, undiscovered knowledge and unheard stories. Some, like Taleb, claim that they can be even more powerful than the books that we have read. According to his thesis of anti-library, unread books can be a very powerful learning tool! He believes that people who think that we should read all books that we possess miss the point of owning books.

However, the data on reading trends show that not everybody reads. The indicators in Slovenia are quite devastating, as fewer and fewer people buy books whereas those educated also read less.

I personally know many eager readers, and those who are eager to learn, also read more. But how is it possible that data shows that we read less? We can observe people spending a lot of time on their mobile phones, scrolling social media pages, but what do they read? Titles only? Short texts and comments under videos and photos? In this sense, can we talk about different types of reading?

One type of reading satisfies our curiosity. It is nowadays mostly present in social media which has, in some way, hijacked reading, especially as it shows us content that is assumed to be of interest for us. This type of reading definitely cannot be associated with the notion of anti-library and does not represent a learning tool.

The second type is reading required books. The list of books is not born out of our curiosity and is based on what we do not know. The list is given to us usually at school.

The third type of reading is based on what we know that we don’t know. A library that is filled with books, including the unread ones. It means that we don’t have to feel bad about the books that we own but have not read. We can be thankful to the books waiting there and representing a learning tool, a kind of compass guiding us through a large web.

I feel that it is up to us to remain curious and to have a healthy relationship with reading and knowledge. To sometimes disconnect, stop, and reflect. And, as a society, to reverse the trend and start reading and buying books again.

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