Is there value in reading books?
It may sound like a stupid question to some. If you think or know so, move on swiftly. This post is motivated by a web-based conversation I had the other night. I mentioned some book in a forum as a reference – not a recommendation to purchase. Someone then responded, within a few minutes that they had bought it. I then responded that a good used version was £3.29. He then responded “Arrgghh.. too late, I just bought it new at considerably more.” I knew that brand new, it was around £30. I got the book for free (non-pirated). Then last night in conversation with another colleague they show me a snapshot of their online basket for a book costing £30. What a coincidence. So all this got me thinking a) about cost b) time involved in reading and c) benefit. To be clear – I’m not talking about magazines or other reading materials. I’m not going to define what a book is!
People read books for the following reasons:
- Education and knowledge – and related purposes.
- Enjoyment, pleasure, entertainment.
- Hope of understanding something better, or gaining greater insight
- Search for wisdom.
- Because the media or somebody they know recommended a good read.
- A need for distraction – relief of boredom or worry or similar.
- Unconscious drives – to fathom something that they are not quite aware of (no lists – that’s a whole PhD thesis right there).
- It’s the cultural thing to do e.g. like sitting at the side of a pool with book in hand (doing some of the above).
- For narcissistic purposes (or other egoistic purposes) i.e. to fool themselves or others that they are so educated, wise or whateverrrr, for reading A, B or C bestseller – or to do some name-dropping at some social gathering.
- Just so they can recommend the book to someone else – never mind that they haven’t read more than a chapter or two; only to satisfy a need to feel that they’re helping other people.
People acquire books to read by the following means:
- Borrowing from a library or friend (or whatever).
- Stealing them – physical books or online piracy.
- Legitimate purchases.
- Gifts or benefits of a job.
I’m sure the above are not complete.
Some will jump on this captioned book like rabid squirrels! Did I imply it was a bad book? I did NOT!
Just to be 200% clear – I’m not here to tell people what to read or hold anything against people reading books of any sort. Right – I have nothing against people reading books. Some books do not need to be fully read. They can be just references, to check into when needed.
Up to 2020, there is an explosion of written books in the form of e-books and tons of audiobooks. The latter means that it is quicker to have a book read to the would-be reader. Most of my books are therefore audiobooks. I’m guilty of purchasing about three times as many books than I can read. Some I never start reading. Of those I start reading, I simply cannot find enough time – with competing priorities – to finish them i.e. cover to cover. Some books were so good that I would have read them again cover to cover, or read parts of them over several times. Other books I would have thumbed and realised, ‘Oops waste of money and time‘.
But recently I’ve been spending more time on Scribd.com. For £8.99/month I would have access to zillions of e-books (in text form) and another zillion of audiobooks. Searching up there for some of my favourite topics, throws up loads of well written and interesting stuff. I then realise that I could easily spend the rest of my time on earth reading all of this. Well no – I’m certainly not stupid!
So then I had to think again about cost, time and benefit. It’s really quite simple – but loads of people just do not think. Like why did the Gods grant us the ability to think? Pretty wasteful innit! For me – and this isn’t advice for anybody – I have to think about the balance that suits me (as per Venn diagram above). In the simplest terms, ‘Is it worth my while‘? So with the Scribd experience where my cost is fixed, I could spend endless time reading loads of educational stuff that is very interesting or gripping – and then what have I got for my time? Sure – I can then say ‘I’m more educated‘. But what next? In other words it boils down to what is the value for my time spent (once cost is fixed)? Value is a difficult one. To a drug addict, cocaine is worth the cost! Some will not get it. It’s quite possible to get ‘addicted’ to reading loads of very entertaining or educational books. The addict will always find value in satisfying their addiction. But is that really good value? I think not! Others may surely think differently.
Yes – I know that not everything has a monetary value. Education is often seen as something that doesn’t have a monetary value – except that people spend loads of money getting educated. And people generally find better paying jobs if they’re more educated. Alternatively, I say that ‘benefit’ can be quantified in monetary terms.
- It’s for each person to decide what value they get out of books, relative to cost and time spent read them.
- I can only speak for myself. So I say to myself that I’ll be looking more carefully at my time spent reading books in terms of future real value to me.
- I therefore refuse to adhere to traditional mantras that ‘reading of good books is good’.
- A more balanced approach will be adopted to the reading of books.