I just got through reading At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft and I thought it was pretty bad.
It felt like a twelve year old wrote the book and he was trying to impress with his knowledge of the dictionary.
This is an experience I’ve had a lot with older books.
They either fall into one of two categories : pretty bad and absolutely amazing.
It’s like tossing a coin when you read an old book. You can’t tell if you’re going to enjoy it or not. This is especially true of the so called classics.
So why do I make the effort to read them? What’s the big appeal?
People Thought and Lived Differently
It’s very hard to travel to another country to get to see how people live. It’s even harder to spend enough time in a foreign land and see how people think. But with books you can do all of that, and you can even see how people lived and thought way back in the the day.
And it’s always Fascinating!
I’m constantly surprised by how people lived and thought only a few hundred years ago.
I recall reading the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila. She was a nun who lived 600 years ago. It was incredible to see how this woman thought. Her dedication and commitment that she had to prayer was truly astonishing. She literally prayed eight hours a day and it would occupy most of her waking hours.
It was said that she could experience the rapture of god – and that was my motivation to read it.
After reading the book, I came to believe that if you pray or do something diligently for all your waking hours then perhaps you too could experience a profound event.
Even as someone who is agnostic, I learned a lot from that book.
People lived, work and thought very differently in eras past, and it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of that.
Makes you Less Judgmental
I found that learning about different people by reading their thoughts and ideas makes you less judgmental. Even of their ideas and thoughts are diametrical opposed to yours.
When you sit down and read old books, you get to see a persons worldview in intimate detail. In particular you get to see how they arrived at their ideas.
The fantastic thing about a book, is that it’s a one way street. Ideas flow in one direction to you the reader. You’re forced to sit, read and listen. And when you get to the end of the book, you’re in a position to make an informed opinion about what you read.
A good example of this is State of Fear by Michael Crichton. He is my favorite writer but in this book he puts forward the idea that Climate Change is a scam. I read the entire book slowly, reflected on the thinking and come to the conclusion that a brilliantly intelligent man misinterpreted the scientific facts. It doesn’t mean I don’t like Michael Crichton anymore, it simply means I can follow his line of thinking even though I disagreed with some of his work.
A tweet can enrage you, but reading a book and seeing the thinking of a person, you will leave you way less judgmental.
One of the most interest books I’ve read is War is a Racket by Butler D Smedley.
He was one of America’s greatest Generals from during the early 1900s who won numerous medals. He came to the conclusion after serving in many wars that his men fought and died in vain for interests other than defending his country. He spoke about the abhorrent motivations of corporations and banks in these wars and conflicts.
It highlighted an eternal truth echoed in the title of the book, that war is a racket – it made me realize that somethings will always be true no matter which century.
Reading old books will shine the spotlight on values that never change.
It’s always easier to read a contemporary book. The language is more familiar. The pacing and style of writing is easier to digest. But old books hold an immense amount of value. Not only about how people lived and thought back then but also about how we’ve changed.
And it’s make me wonder if we’ve changed that much at all.
The old books are a wonderful mirror that can give insight into who we are.