On books and pretending to have read them.
I’ve always been inarticulate, particularly in groups when the social anxiety ramps up. I have a tendency to lock onto some obscure, often not very meaningful detail, and wax incomprehensible. Summarizing is not a strong suit, and I cannot, for the life of me, exude an air of mastery over anything so much as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Yet, what baffled me when I returned to the States five years ago, was how much that skill, online or off, has usurped genuine knowledge. There seemed to be more value placed on knowing about something, more so if that thing could be dismissed with a clever reference to theory or more appallingly, a wikipedia link.
Before the internet we called that jousting with a trashcan and a garden hoe.
Even worse is that it now gets the nod from self-help manuals like Pierre Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books that You Haven’t Read,” which Tracy Seeley, a vanguard in the slow reading movement, sees as a more sinister sign of our fraying focus.
And it’s phony as all get up, too.
I’m the first to admit that I’m as insecure as the next person, but I’d prefer to use that anxiety as a guide. What haven’t I read? Where am I woefully ignorant? And then I’ll go out and pick up a book, try to gain at least a meager grasp over what I know I don’t know. It’s not a very efficient system, a little too random, but more often than not the serendipity pays off in ways that I would hope are more creative than the simple art of name dropping.