There are two types of people who have the luxury to read—the rich, and the lazy poor.
Before I dig myself too deep of a hole, let me first say that I adore reading. If I had the freedom to do anything with my time, I can’t think of much better than to sit in a comfy chair by a crackling fire and read.
Also, as an author I naturally expect people to read what I write, so I certainly don’t think it is bad to read. I just think that those who are reading are either rich or lazy poor.
By rich, I don’t mean Gates rich. If you have no debt, a good job, and money in the bank, you’re rich. If you’re a young person who doesn’t have to work, and who has ample free time after his studies, you’re living the lifestyle of a rich person. That may change when you become an adult, but for now, you’re rich.
By lazy poor, I mean a person who does not yet have the life or career he needs or wants, and yet spends his free time reading instead of working to better himself. If a man has debt, is unemployed, or is not on the path to realizing his ambitions, and yet he spend every free moment reading, then he is lazy—the equivalent of a glutton who spends his time eating sweets.
C.S. Lewis, a man whose fame and wealth should have given him the freedom to live as he pleased, said in his semi-autobiography that he wished he could lead a life where he could read whatever, whenever he wanted—but that his work and ministry prevented it.
For if I could please myself I would always live as I lived there [at his tutor’s house]… I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one… Such is my ideal… It is no doubt for my own good that I have been so generally prevented from leading it, for it is a life almost entirely selfish.
My point is that reading is no admirable quality in and of itself. Reading is either a tool to get ahead, or a luxury.
If you spend an hour every morning reading industry news or the latest headlines relevant to your professional niche, or if you’re studying a text of history in preparation for an exam, then you’re not really reading, you’re working. That’s not being lazy, that’s being industrious. It’s also not living in luxury, because you’re not reading what you want to. You’re reading what you have to, to get ahead.
If a man comes home from work every day and immediately throws himself into the latest fantasy novel trilogy, he’s lazy or rich. Gossip magazines, celebrity news, personal hobbies—lazy or rich. I say this because we can spend our free time working on projects while we are young, which will increase our wealth so that when we are older we are rich, and have the luxury to read what we want, when we want. If we’re not doing that, then we’re sabotaging our own future and being poor stewards of our time.
Of course, this doesn’t stop at reading. It includes any sort of entertainment or distraction, including movies, music, video games, TV, and social media. I was inspired to write this entry when I realized that I haven’t seen a movie in the theaters in over a year. Our family has never had TV (I haven’t watched TV since I left home as a kid). This isn’t because I’m not interested in movies and TV. The new Star Trek movie looks amazing. I also really want to see The Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3, and a slew of movies I missed in 2012. And I’m giddy about the new episodes of Arrested Development. But I simply can’t justify the time, because I know that I could be working on a new book, a new blog post, a new movie, or a new song; tweaking my websites to optimize load times to increase visitors and ad impressions, adding new items to my beard store, planning for the next episode of my live show (I get ad revenue when people watch the reruns), and so on. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t justify spending time enjoying distractions like movies, books, and TV, because I know I should be working.
When Hobbies Equal Life
As a veteran of the gaming subculture, I have many current and former friends who live their hobbies. Blizzcon, to them, is bigger than Christmas. They pay thousands of dollars for a trip to California to stand in line, so that they can stand in line to spend more money on toys, and then stand in line to play games that aren’t released yet. They only date people who love the games they love, and who can forgive them their daily 3-or-more hours of gaming, and who will play their scheduled multi-player games with them on the weekends. Their jobs are simply the 8 hours of life they have to waste in order to gain the dollars necessary to buy the next game and pay the electric bill. I know this sounds like a cruel stereotype, but I’m describing friends I know, and also my former self.
In short, I feel like our generation has crafted identities, not based on what one has accomplished, but on the particular kind of entertainment one consumes. This gives one a false sense of achievement when he watches the latest episode of Sherlock, and causes some ignore their future well-being.
Again, my criticism is not that people love video games and go to Blizzcon. It is that some people engage in these luxuries instead of saving for their kids’ college fund, paying off credit card debt, or investing.
Rare, Welcome Vacations
That said, every man needs to take a vacation to reinvigorate his soul. And that, to me, is what movies, books, and TV should be—vacations of the mind. Temporary things we consume infrequently to give our minds a break. I’m all for that. I just feel that many people take these vacations of the mind far too often, to the point where their finances and families suffer.
In an earlier blog post, I explored the idea that travel is also for the rich. I love travel and I work for a company in the travel industry, but I don’t travel much because travel is a luxury. It’s not for lack of desire, it’s because I don’t have the luxury to spend my time (which is money) on travel.
The Haughty Cultured
I have met people who take pride in their travel. People who, like Mark Twain, think that those who don’t travel are uncultured, or even simple.
I’ve observed the same thing when it comes to books, movies, video games, and TV. These cultural distractions have become water-cooler conversations at work. “Have you seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones? You have GOT to see Hunger Games!” If you don’t know these cultural references, so the Haughty Cultured says to himself, then you’re a barbarian, uncultured, a Philistine–one disconnected from the world, and out-of-touch with reality. A man like that is a strange eccentric, and doesn’t really deserve to be part of your crowd or click. He may not deserve to work at your company, or in your department, because you can’t relate to him, thinks the Haughty Cultured. In this way the industrious are mocked and punished by those who are either rich or use their time poorly–the latter to feel better about their poor use of time.
I’m baffled when I chat with people who can recount every catch-phrase from Dr. Who (which I enjoy), because they’ve watched every episode and Christmas Special on Netflix dozens of times, which equals weeks of streaming TV. How do they find the time?
So then, books are luxuries for the rich, who have the time to culture themselves, and harmful distractions for the lazy poor, who use their time poorly. For the working poor (formerly known as the middle class), they serve as both distractions to avoid, and dainties to enjoy infrequently until you’re rich.
Addendum: I suppose one could argue that keeping up with the latest cultural fictions and myths keeps you relevant, which can help your career. Good point. Maybe I’ll use that excuse the next time I fire up Netflix.