Archive for July, 2009

28
Jul
09

Emerson’s Three Practical Book Rules

The three practical rules, then, which I have to offer, are — (1) Never read any book that is not a year old. (2) Never read any but famed books. (3) Never read any but what you like; or, in Shakespeare’s phrase, “No profit goes where is no pleasure ta’en: In brief, sir, study what you most affect.” Montaigne says, “Books are a languid pleasure,” but I find certain books vital and spermatic, not leaving the reader what he was; he shuts the book a richer man. I would never willingly read any other than such. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Books”, qtd. in Reading in Bed)

Far be it from me to question the wisdom of the sage of Concord, but this practical rules for reading is 60% nonsense. By all means, do read what you find pleasurable; but dare I suggest — notwithstanding Mr Emerson’s advice — that you do consider reading books younger than a year if they take your fancy, and that you indulge yourself in in authors of lesser fame every now and then? Who knows, perchance they’ll join the pantheon of famed scribblers thanks to your discovery!

I’m being unfair to Ralph Waldo, of course. After all, He was faced with the prospect of having to choose among library books whose number in his day “may easily exceed a million.” A tough call indeed! Wait a minute. 1 million? That’s actually less than a hundreth of the available items at the Library of Congress! So what remains is, once more, Shakespeare: “No profit goes where is no pleasure ta’en: In brief, sir, study what you most affect.”

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