What Qualifies as well-read?

This is a question that haunts me often. Is it someone reads classic literature, or someone who reads the times. I'm curious of the many opinions on this subject and would love to hear many points of view about it. Nerdfighter's Unite

Best Answer

  • nietsneknarfrotcivnietsneknarfrotciv Geneva, New YorkPosts: 5
    Accepted Answer
    This is a really interesting question because the way I see it it's actually sort of two questions. Those questions being:

    1. "What does being 'well-read' mean, traditionally speaking?"
    and
    2. "What does being 'well-read' mean, here, now, in our modern world?"

    Traditionally, being well-read was always sort of a status symbol. Having the ability to read was a useful skill, but having the ability and more importantly the time to read widely and deeply and at one's leisure was an indicator of being upper-class. "I'm well-read," historically, was a statement that implicitly said "I don't have to work all day every day just to have enough to eat, so I have time to read books and think deeply about them."

    The aspect of being well read as a connotation of class is still very present in today's world, albeit slightly less so thanks to the internet and the printing press and the industrial revolution. More people nowadays are able to read, and more are required to read books in school, but there are still a lot of people who genuinely don't have time to read books and think critically about them, and there is still a very strong stigma against people of the working class as being "uneducated," partly for this reason. This is a huge problem because it creates a sort of knowledge gap that fosters a sense of false superiority on the upper class, "well-read" side, as well as a sense of bitter anti-intellectualism on the side that does not have access to the privileges that intellectualism entails.

    However, I think the one major difference between traditional and modern ideas about being "well-read" are the ideas about what exactly one must read in order to be well-read. Traditionally, what you had to read in order to be well read was:
    -Greek and Roman Literature, History, and Philosophy (In the Original Greek And Latin)
    -Books by white dudes

    Nowadays however, I think that we place quite a bit more emphasis on reading works from a diversity of voices, and quite a bit less emphasis on learning to read in Greek and Latin. There's still a pretty heavy focus on reading works by white dudes, but in modern academia that lately seems to be considered a very myopic and incomplete way of reading and it has been falling out of favour. More and more, when people say "Oh well I've read Don Quixote and The Golden Bough and Heart of Darkness," there's sort of a pushback of "Those are good, but have you read The Tale of Genji or Pyramids and Nightclubs or Things Fall Apart?"

    I think that overall these are good things. I think it's good that we are starting to listen to more diverse voices and to promote them and encourage listening to what they have to say. I'm a little sad about the loss of emphasis on Greek and Latin (because I am a Classics major) but I also think it's important for knowledge to be accessible and being able to read in one's native language definitely promotes accessibility, and it's my job as a Classics major and the job of everyone who can comprehensively read Latin and Greek to make sure that we have the best translations possible of those texts, so that they are more readily accessible to people unfamiliar with the language if they want to read them.

    I kind of veered off at the end there, but in summary:
    1. Being "well-read" is and always has been a symbol of class, and we need to combat that.
    2. The material one must read in order to become "well-read" is becoming more diverse, and that's a good thing.
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