A number of librarians, teachers, and professors read this blog and today’s post is for them. Especially if they work with unmotivated students. I stumbled across a fascinating quote by sixteenth century philosopher Francis Bacon this morning. His ideas are very relevant but his prose is so dense it’s easy to blip over. I found him so inspiring I translated him for modern texting-obsessed students. Purists beware: I’ve taken a few liberties with Bacon’s words.
FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS
Ideas from Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
summarized by Erik Johnson
Studying serves three purposes, dude: it trains our minds to focus, which as you know from playing video games, is cool. Studying gives us something to say besides quoting movies, Arrested Development, or Jimmy Fallon. It also helps us handle relationships, buy cars, job hunt, or negotiate family conflicts. While it’s true that some naturally bright people occasionally make good decisions, we can’t rely on luck. People who study do better than hodors, orks, or jackasses.
Spending all day with your nose in a book and never socializing freaks out your parents, offends your friends, and shrinks your world. And reading just to sound smarter than the Kardashians is stupid. But real learning improves our self image, gives us confidence, and trains us to make better decisions. Yeah, some people learn by experience. But we benefit from the experience of others. On the other hand, books aren’t enough. We also need the school of hard knocks.
Some people mock books. Some people admire books from afar. But wise people read and learn from them. Some people argue with everything they read. Some people believe everything they read. Some people read simply to steal quotes. But smart people grapple with, evaluate, and sift what they read.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Some books are for reference: skim them. Some books are for fun: read ‘em and forget ‘em. But some books deserve to be studied. I mean really studied! Read ‘em slowly and let the ideas sink in.
Sometimes people summarize books, lifting quotes here and there. That isn’t the best way to get what an author’s talking about. Distilled books are like watered down drinks. (Author’s note: “ouch!”)
Reading adds to our storehouse of information. Talking increases our ability to have a decent conversation. And writing paragraphs longer than texts, tweets, or a Facebook status sharpens our brains. Writing whole sentences forces us to organize our thoughts and think clearly. If you never write I hope you know how to think on your feet. If you never talk I hope your wit kicks in at just the right time. And if you never read I hope you can pretend to sound smarter than you really are.
WHAT TO READ
History, poetry, math, science, ethics, logic, law, philosophy. If you’re ignorant on some subject you can always find a book that helps. Just like exercise is good for the body, reading is good for the brain. Studying forces us to focus, stay on topic, and return again and again to puzzling ideas, problems, and issues. Read until you get it. Put down your phone and pick up a book!
The Bacon original essay, “Of Studies”
Studies serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best, from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores. [Studies permeate and shape manners.] Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt.