On Being Well-Read

Truth be told, I’m not well-read. Though I have hoarded many books, and even read most of them, my reading has often been cursory and superficial. And that, as Mortimer J. Adler points out, has little to do with what “well-read” means:

Too often, we use that phrase to mean the quantity rather than the quality of reading. A person who has read widely but not well deserves to be pitied rather than praised. As Thomas Hobbes said, “If I read as many books as most men do, I would be as dull-witted as they are.” (How to Read a Book, 166)

…which reminded me how Albrecht Dürer earned his spurs portraying the book fool aboard Sebastian Brandt’s Narrenschyff, who is “besy bokes assemblynge / […] But what they mene do I nat vnderstonde”:

I am the firste fole of all the hole nauy
To kepe the pompe, the helme and eke the sayle
For this is my mynde, this one pleasoure haue I
Of bokes to haue grete plenty and aparayle
I take no wysdome by them […] (The Ship of Fools)

“I pity the fool!” — I hear you, Mr. T, I hear you.


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