Thoughts on the Importance of Reading from a Departing Book Editor
To date, assuming the position of Book Editor of The Arch Conservative, the publication’s very first, has been one of my greatest joys and proudest achievements. It has been a position that has compelled me–or rather encouraged me–to read more widely, think more critically, and edit more carefully. My mind is sharper as a result of having occupied this position; and for that I shall always be grateful. But, as with all good things, this, too, must come to an end. Fear not, though, for I leave the position to a bright, inquisitive mind and familiar name–Nick Geeslin. But before I leave my duties as Book Editor to take on my new duties as Editor in Chief, I wanted to leave readers with a few final thoughts–and, I must confess, an exhortation–about a subject very near and dear to my heart: books.
“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote. I cannot see how anyone could. Books are the sharpening stones on which our minds become more acute, more familiar with our own nature, more prepared to take on the world, more likely to avoid the mistakes of those before us, and, by the same token, more apt to embrace the attitudes and habits of the greats who have preceded us. It is through books that we may engage with the dead, as well as see with our minds places that we cannot with our eyes. Indeed, as my grandmother is fond of saying, “I’ve never really been anywhere–but I’ve been everywhere in a book.”
Although today there are more and more people going to university, there are fewer and fewer people who are truly educated in the traditional sense of the word. As William F. Buckley Jr. frequently pointed out (in the 1960s!), to understand the deterioration of education in America, one only needed to compare the Lincoln-Douglas debates to the Kennedy-Nixon debates (And then compare those to the Trump-Clinton debates). Alas, with each passing day, it becomes easier and easier to forgo the wisdom (and unique pleasure) of books.
A dangerous combination of apathy–and even contempt–for the value of books and a predisposition to the cheap thrills of social media, YouTube videos, and the like, has placed our society in a precarious position. Precarious because, as James Madison advised, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
If I could spur you to do one thing it would be this: Read more. What to read? In truth: It really doesn’t matter. Emulate Edmund Burke and pursue “prolonged, undisciplined reading.” Take the advice of Teddy Roosevelt: “The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be”; or that of James J. Kilpatrick: “Read for information, read for style, read for instruction, read for the sheer love of reading . . .” In short: For God’s sake, just read!
Reading–particularly the reading of books–is the most enriching mental activity in which we humans can engage. There is nothing quite like being utterly transfixed by a book, one that has grasped you by the collar and won’t let you go. I encourage you, dear readers, to surmount the activation energy required to pick up that book on your nightstand, dust it off, open it up, and allow yourself to get lost in it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, because, to once again quote Mr. James J. Kilpatrick, through reading books, “we borrow wealth and pay no interest on it.”
Ross Dubberly is the Editor in Chief of The Arch Conservative