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What does being "well-read" mean to you?


GayKitten
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Hiiiiii all! It's been awhile, but I'm back this a braaaaaand new coffee-thought question! ^_____^

 

What does being "well-read" mean to you?

 

Some background about me and where I'm coming from: 

 

I grew up in a family of readers, and was the slowest reader of the bunch. I was also an English major in college (which was awhile ago now) but I came away thinking a lot of the English/American/"Western" canon to be very vapid and/or boring. 

 

BUT, since covid, I've been reading more than ever -- and I *just now* am starting to feel like I'm happy with the breadth of books I've read........and I can't figure out why. Like, what metric am I even using to measure my own "well-read"-ness???

 

And obviously, this is a very subjective and ultimately arbitrary question....there is a plurality of ways to be "well-read", and that is very time- and place- and individual-specific. But since I'm exploring it for myself, I'm curious what others think too!  :)

 

Aaaaand here are some random thoughts of mine about that question in no particular order:

  • I specifically DO NOT think that reading lots of books is what makes a person well-read. Honestly, I think it's kinda weird when people flex about how many books they read. Like, it's not a contest? And there are benefits to reading slowly and ruminating on the things you read before moving onto something else?
     
  • I said before that I (basically) think a lot of English classics are boring, but part of my covid-reading-explosion has been finding classics I really DO love. And it's just.....really strange how some things become de facto classics, and other things slip through the cracks. And I wonder how much the landscape of what are considered "classics" will change in a generation or two, when some of the "older tastes" have phased out. (Sorry to be a little morbid... :cthulhu:)
     
  • It's been really eye-opening for me as an American (and "English major") to read classics from other languages. Chinese and Vietnamese literature (in translation) has been especially eye-opening, funny, and enriching to how I think about books/poetry/narrative in general.
     
  • In addition to film, I think music and video games are perfectly valid forms of literature, and *can* contribute to a person's being "well-read".

 

Ummmmm I probably will have more thoughts, but that's probably enough to get the ball rollin'.  ^_^

 

So again: what does being "well-read" mean to you?

 

Thanks for reading and discussing!  :heart:

~Kay (she/her)

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This is a very interesting question, indeed. For me, well-read isn't amount of books that you have read, but rather being knowledgable about all sorts of genres. I could read 1000 books and it be of the same genre, author, etc and know just about that particular thing. However, if I'm well-read, I've got almost a ridiculous amount of trivial knowledge about a multitude of authors from a variety of genres. Essentially, it is the possession of a plethora of knowledge through the books that have read and absorbed into the memory banks. It's the ability to speak about those things that have been learned while also not talking down to someone. 

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I think it means by topic and depth of knowledge, not amount of books.

 

Harlee

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Edited by humanmusic
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Guest Zyphurex

I used to classify well-read as someone whom went through a classical liberal arts education. Not so much for the subject matter learned but how they think and interact. Better described by the American Association for the Advancement of Science: 


 


"Ideally, a liberal education produces persons who are open-minded and free from provincialism, dogma, preconception, and ideology; conscious of their opinions and judgments; reflective of their actions; and aware of their place in the social and natural worlds. Liberally educated people are skeptical of their own traditions; they are trained to think for themselves rather than conform to higher authorities”


 


I still value that idea, but what or how much a person has read is meaningless to me.


 


It’s more about their ability to communicate


and express their ideas. 


 


I wouldn’t really use the term well-read to describe a person anymore. Somewhat antiquated, really. But If I had to define it I would say a well-read person is an open-minded critical thinker.  They’re passionate, curious, and enjoy learning. They listen, communicate well, and can understand and express their emotions. What they've read, the amount they've read, nor a traditional education matters to me.


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Well read simply means someone has read a diverse amount of books dealing with various topics. Reading a million romance novels isn't "well read". That's just a voracious reader of one type of writing. It could be said that they are well read in that one type of writing but not "well read" in the general sense.

 

 

Someone who has read virtually all kinds of books, sci-fi, historical, scientific, grammar, mathematics, fantasy, the dictionary, religious etc. That's "well read" in everything or many things.

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I like everyone else's responses to this. Originally I was going to say just being an active reader, though I think I might need to be more specific. I don't think you need to read a wide range of materials, or read a mass amount of them. I think being well-read is about your search for knowledge, whether that be for educational purposes or entertainment. I work as a librarian, and I think the older people who read political books and books from all over the world are just as "well-read" as the younger people who tend to devour all the books they can find in a certain genre. "Well-read" people to me are just those who value finding out more about the world and the contents in it, whether by actually reading, or by watching all sorts of documentaries/shows/podcasts/etc. Great topic btw! 

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This is literally one of my favorite topics and I actually couldn't wait to get home to share my two cents on the subject!!

 

I'm definetly not opposed to reading and used to read a metric gigaton of books as a kid but slowly stopped around 2018.

 

In place of books, I've consumed countless video essays and other visual content mainly from YouTube. I find it much easier to stay engaged with a topic when I can keep myself occupied with anything from playing a game, to walking the dog or cooking dinner.

 

I personally develop new niche interests pretty much constantly and YouTube just about scratches every itch if you know where to look.

 

Finally, I want to say that I like books (especially fiction or historical autobiographies) a lot but I get so damn invested and i hate it. Stupid brain >:(

 

Anyway, I'm terrible at writing down my thoughts but I really do love the topic and everyone's unique perspective. Thanks again for taking the time!!!

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Diverse basis of knowledge stemming from a wide variety of written works/publications is what'd I'd +1 for the MW Dictionary definition

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Someone who can write full sentences...

 

This is such a sad and honest response from me XD

But honestly, most people that have described themselves as well read are good at writing and very interesting to talk to. It has nothing to do with how many books they have read, in fact I never actually get to find out since I am not really "well read" myself so we never get to talk about that but we usually talk about all kinds of stuff and I just love it that there is so many things to talk about.

 

I haven't heard that term in ages though, I wonder what brought it back?

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There's something intimidating to me about someone who describes themselves as well-read. Like shit am I gonna have to roll up my sleeves and bring out the big guns? Gonna use long ass words and be unnecessarily descriptive just to impress someone who truly couldn't care less about my rageddy ass way of talking lmao
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Thank you for all the thoughtful responses so far! <3


 


It's interesting to see a few different threads emerge so far:


  • "well-read" can be an indication of either breadth or depth of knowledge/reading/expertise in a given topic or genre, but not necessarily both
  • different people have different ideas about what kinds of topics/genres contribute toward being "well-read", which I suppose is essentially a high art vs. low art distinction?
  • communication of ideas is part of many peoples' ideas of being "well-read", though I suspect that communication per se isn't the indicator but articulation of ideas gained from reading. (it occurs to me that there's plenty of people who can articulate their ideas about what they've read either internally or in the right settings, but not necessarily communicate them to any audience or setting.)
  • being "well-read" involves active pursuit of more knowledge/reading/ideas/etc. -- which raises an interesting follow-up question, "when does a person's knowledge / status of being 'well-read' decay from disuse...and what do they become instead of 'well-read'?" 

 


And just to toss a few of my own emerging thoughts in here again too:


  • I think for me personally, I began to think of myself as "well-read" because I filled in specific gaps in my reading that I was aware were important -- some specific English classics, more Black American lit, a lot of sci fi from around the world, and non-"Western" classics and poetry (and modern lit) from China and Vietnam. I don't know why I felt like those were the specific gaps I needed to fill, but to Nymph's question about "what brought it back" for me -- filling in those gaps, like, feels like I've upped my reading game in some significant and tangible way (but which is also totally internal and arbitrary)?
  • One of my philosophical takeaways from being an "English major" is: the study of literature  and literary history/criticism are built on intertextuality, so I'm starting to think that "well-read" to me means "deliberately reading texts to see how they influence each other". My reading list really started growing out of control when different poets' and authors' names started popping up in the sci fi I was reading -- and it was really cool to see a lot of old literary techniques invoked, then go back and read the text it came from while already having a sense of the impact it had. I dunno.....I guess I've just found that to be a really fulfilling part of the reading I've done lately, as opposed to earlier in my life.
  • Interestingly, I've noticed that people are more likely to describe others as "well-read" than themselves, or in comparative terms, "more well-read". This is definitely true of Mommy and myself -- I consider her way more well-read than me, and she the opposite. And when I think of the bookish people in my life, I'd describe all of them as "more well-read" than me. Like, I'm not sure I'll ever feel like I've caught up to the other heavy-readers I admire, and....maybe that's a good thing? Like an anime-rivalry-pushing-a-person-to-greatness??

 


And to your point Narancia -- HELL NO, I honestly expect waaaay more vulgar and terse speech from people I think of as "well-read". I mean, most of the best writing I can think of is usually short, gnarly, and funny, right? :)


 


Thanks all for the wonderful discussion, let's keep it going! ^_^


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  • 1 month later...

Resurrecting this thread, because I'm rereading one of my favorite books from back in highschool (Grendel) and it is _wild_ to revisit something that was so charged for me as a teenager.

Before I vomit like a bajillion malformed thoughts into the reply box, I wanna ask y'all who are reading --

What books did you love as a teen/young adult, that you've recently reread? What was your experience like revisiting those books? Did they feel like a completely new book, or maybe a little disappointing, or something else?

Just curious if anyone else has been rereading books you used to love, and how you're reacting to / enjoying them! ^_^

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To be "well-read" you don't have to read books and be some sort of bespectacled person. This stereotype is very widespread, but well-read people are people who have a lot of knowledge on a variety of topics.

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