On Being “Well Read”: The Journey Vs. The Destination

This post is brought to you by the letter ‘R’…er, this Book Riot video:

As someone who is about to embark on the long, arduous journey that is a PhD in English, I’m beginning to think that well read, rather than being a fixed state of being, is an ideal that we readers and writers strive (or not) toward.

I used to think (and still sort of do) that well read implied an ability to reference and diaolog with books from many genres and disciplines, fiction and nonfiction alike. But one’s definition of well read almost certainly derives from one’s purpose in reading. And this reality complicates any definitions we’d like to throw at the classification well read.

As a writer, for example, I strive to be well read in the specific genres I am writing in, but also to stay current with the breadth of new publications in a given year. I want to be well read in Urban Fantasy as well as the broader genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller, Noir, etc. In order to be well read, I need to be familiar with the classics as well as the up-and-coming writers and stories.

Because there are always more books to be read, more new publications to stay current with, etc., there’s never one precise point at which I can stop and say, “I am well read.” To stop and say that is to immediately delineate the limitations of one’s reading habits. It is, perhaps, to state, “I was well read.” More to the point, however, there is never one point at which I can stop and say “I am conversant in ALL OF THESE THINGS,” because the dialog is always shifting and growing.

And I think this is a good and natural consequence of the state of being a reader; we are always in the state of becoming well read, or, to use a grammar analogy, we are always and only well read in a future perfect continuous sense.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

“Though the road’s been rocky it sure feels good to me.” –Bob Marley

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” –Henry Ward Beecher

“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.” –Joss Whedon

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