You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

About the title

I discovered the play on words in "you are what you read" wasn't quite as original as I'd thought after I created this blog. But I haven't found any other elucidation of the concept anywhere else.

Like the old saying goes, we are literally what we eat: the molecules in our bodies are made up of the food we eat and the liquids we drink. I was reading a while ago about how children's personalities are formed by their early experiences. Their thoughts and feelings reflect how they are treated by their caregiviers, the toys they play with, etc. They are, literally, what they experience.

In the same sense, all our minds are shaped by the words we read. Every novel, story, article, or blog we read fills our minds with new information, through which we filter everything we read after. Our thoughts and points of view are framed by the thoughts we've created in the past. Obviously there are other sources of information out there: radio, TV, conversations with real people. But the written word provides a critical element of logical, organized thought. It's where we get a lot of our hard facts.

Every time we encounter a new word, it expands our minds. The word eldritch, for example, conjures all sorts of images and feelings based on the particular stories we've read it in. Likewise the word Orwellian means so much more to me after reading 1984. People may have slightly different concepts of what a word connotes, depending on where and when they first heard it or read it.

I've tried to fill my mind with good books; not just stories that are entertaining and fun, though that's important too. Books have to be intelligent, feature smart and complex characters, deal with major adult issues (this doesn't rule out stories with children--some stories about children can have a big impact with adult themes), have an original plot--or at least treat a plot in an original way. They must avoid stereotypes, both in characters and plot devices. I can't tell you how tired I am of seeing some of the same stories over and over. When a character in a TV show or movie gets trapped in a game or simulation (holodeck, matrix, training exercise), I start to roll my eyes. Not again!

Someone who reads nothing but romance novels or westerns or mysteries will fill his or her mind with dead stereotypes, flat characters (or melodramatic characters, which can be worse), and simple themes and concepts. Those minds will be built out of those simple elements. On the other hand, if you read more complex literature, your mind will grow, and it will yearn for more. Moreover, literature builds on itself; many stories are retellings of older tales.

Here's how I try to break down my reading: one part sf/fantasy or other fun novel, one part "literature" or some other well known or critically acclaimed book, and one part nonfiction. This last suffers a bit, so it's really a 2/2/1 split, or more realistically a 4/2/1 split. This is OK though. I figure I read more than the average American, so the fact that I read, say, four nonfiction books a year instead of twelve still leaves me four ahead of most.


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