What Makes a Person Well-Read?
It doesn’t take much to make people believe that I’m a well-read literary type. I put a bunch of thick hardcover classics on my bookshelf in my living room, so all my guests assume that I’ve read them. I’ve memorized a few quotes from literature to make me sound smarter than I really am. And I make sure not to talk about football around my intellectual literary friends.
So when I heard there was a list of the 20 most well-read cities in the U.S., I thought, what would it take to make a well-read city? After all, if I can fool my intellectual literary friends into thinking I’m well-read, what can a city do?
Being well-read is a trait that a city would probably want to have. When other city lists come out (fattest city, city with the most crime, highest taxes city), most cities don’t want to be on those lists (except a couple cities are proud of their high taxes).
After a little research (because a little research is all that I’m willing to do), I found out what the four factors were in being on the Most Well-Read City list:
1. Book sales
2. Magazine sales
3. Newspaper sales
4. Amazon Kindle sales (This list of well-read cities was compiled by… Amazon. I guess that’s important.)
Magazines count as being well-read? I feel cheated. All these years I spent finding used, yellowed hardcover editions of classic literature so that I could be considered well-read, and all I had to do was put a bunch of Newsweek and Playboy magazines out there. If you count comic books as magazines, I could have put my complete collection of The Avengers out there, and I would have been considered well-read by all friends and colleagues.
Newspapers also count? I didn’t even know people bought newspapers to read them anymore (except in the bathroom). Evidently, clipping coupons and looking for store sales makes a person well-read. All those years, I could have been saving money instead of pretending to read big books.
To me, the fact that Amazon used its Kindle sales as part of its criteria (while ignoring digital sales from other booksellers) invalidates its own list. If Barnes & Noble comes out with its own list, cities that have lots of Barnes & Noble stores might be the Most Well-Read Cities.
It’s not that Amazon has put out a highly flawed, publicized list that chaps my hide. It’s that I spent years of effort convincing my friends, peers, and coworkers that I was well-read. Now Amazon has changed the meaning of well-read and made all that effort wasted. That really ticks me off.
Now just because Amazon has redefined well-read doesn’t mean their version has to stick. We traditionalists (even a fraudulent traditionalist like me) can still influence what well- read means and what it doesn’t. What characteristics go into being well-read?
- Does any book count?
- What books are worth more than others?
- Should newspapers and magazines count?
- If digital books count (and they probably should), shouldn’t ALL of them count (not just the ones on Kindle)?
- Should the digital-only books count as much as traditionally published books?
- What kind of scoring scale should be used to rate the varying kinds of literature?
I probably don’t have the right to be upset. After all, I’ve always faked being well-read. It’s the well-read literary types who have actually read the classics that should feel cheated. Or should they? Is all reading considered equal?
That’s probably for people much smarter and much more well-read than me to decide.