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What does it mean for a journalist today to be a Serious Reader? (cjr.org)
21 points by frgtpsswrdlame 120 days ago | hide | past | web | 14 comments | favorite



It's curious that there's so little written about serious reading. Are voracious omnivorous readers so rare? Or are they just too covert in this era of overt public posturing?


Need a serious reader be voracious or omnivorous?

I can think of a short list of books that would collectively qualify a reader as serious.


No, but voracious reading is a lifestyle where book reading is central. That's increasingly rare in a hyperconnected world increasingly attuned to a brownian cacophony of messages and tweets.

I think serious reading correlates with serious thinking, else there'd be no social outlet for all those curiosities and passions. The OP associates voracious reading with professional writing, where one practice reinforces and drives the other -- a rhythm of life that unsurprisingly seems to thrive mostly among urban writers for periodicals. I've heard that many (most?) novelists are also profound book readers, but often do so from more rural settings. Yet I often wonder where such folks find social sustenance comparable to the urbanite reader/writer. Or maybe they've just learned to live a solitary life of the mind.


I'd like to see that list, please!


OK. I'll define this as "10 books that I'd recommend to my 40-years-younger self to prioritize", and leave aside the problem that 2 or 3 of these would not yet have been published.

  The Iliad
  Shakespeare
  The Life of Johnson
  Federalist Papers
  Pride and Prejudice
  Ulysses
  The Waste Land
  The Selfish Gene
  The Making of the Atomic Bomb
  Infinite Jest


12 hours later and I still want to put Herodotus in there but can't pick one to replace with him. Sigh.


A good start toward finding great books is past Pulitzer winners, and the works of literary Nobelists.

The Modern Library has composed a list of the 100 greatest nonfiction and 100 greatest fiction books.

The NY Times annually posts a list of 100 notable books.


Beware the version of the Modern Library list that was voted on by the public. That was before people realized that any such vote would be carpet-bombed by Randroids and Scientologists, which is exactly what happened.

Here's a good "list of lists" for great books:

http://www.interleaves.org/~rteeter/greatbks.html

I've generally used a subtractive approach Bloom's massive "Western Canon" list for generating my own to-read list, cross referencing with other lists to determine what to cut, with supplementation from areas it does not and does not claim to cover (the East, which damn is it a lot of work to find good sources for Eastern works in English translation, science, history, et c.)


I guess it's well that the conversation is going on. The novelist Larry McMurtry used to run a used bookstore, Booked Up, in Georgetown. In a memoir of his time in the the book trade, he remarked that he quickly perceived that a) in Washington the true stars were the journalists, and that b) most of them just didn't read. He named Joseph Alsop as an exception. Perhaps things have since changed in DC. (McMurtry moved his operation to Archer City, Texas, about twenty years ago, not from disappointment with the journalists but for lower rent.)


Funnily enough, this article is one of thousands of articles I have read which are contributing to my own reading problem, as seems to be the case with many of the Journalists quoted in the article. The massive size of the media, all the angles and interpretations of all of the dizzying number of events has began to suck me in like a trap, while Slaughterhouse Five sits mostly unread. I think I'm slowly coming to the realization though that the news really isn't all that valuable to me, and I read way too much of it, and far too few books.


> I think I'm slowly coming to the realization though that the news really isn't all that valuable to me, and I read way too much of it, and far too few books.

Keeping up with the news has about as much value as watching soap operas. Maybe it's fun for you and that's fine, but the notion that it's making one a better person or allowing one to contribute meaningfully to society is mostly BS.

Blah, blah, informed electorate. Meanwhile most people have little or no grasp of the basics of political philosophy and economics, the history of both, are terrible critical readers, know little about the actual structure and functions of their government, and so on, so if your concern is being able to evaluate policy so you can make better choices in the voting booth start with those things. Which... means reading books and journals, not the newspaper or Twitter or whatever.

Wading in day-to-day news is useless or harmful without that foundational knowledge—again, except as shallow entertainment, which if that's what you're into and you enjoy it that's fine but don't subject yourself to it because you think it's making your life or anyone else's better. Even with a good understanding of the relevant topics it's mostly a waste of time unless your job is writing about it (as it is for some of the people in TFA).


I think good news should present current events in the context of such ideas, with explanations for their implications in government or the economy. There are plenty of media outlets that do this, with various biases of course. The Jacobin for instance presents everything from a socialist perspective, where the reader can understand issues and events in he context of a Marxist analysus. Many of their contributors are well versed in the key works of this academic tradition so the reader is spared from having to be as deeply familiar with them in order to get the same level of insight into what the news has to do with the economy and politics from such a perspective.


> Blah, blah, informed electorate. Meanwhile most people have little or no grasp of the basics of political philosophy and economics, the history of both, are terrible critical readers, know little about the actual structure and functions of their government, and so on, so if your concern is being able to evaluate policy so you can make better choices in the voting booth start with those things.

This is so true. I am always surprised at how many otherwise intelligent news junkies I encounter who, for example, don't understand the difference between the House and Senate.


Well, maybe. I'm not sure how much good it has done David Brooks.




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