“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
In Red Dead Redemption II, there’s a character named Uncle who is old and lazy. In any situation that he finds himself in, he manages to weasel out of doing any work. If he doesn’t spend the day sleeping, you could find him at camp, roasting his gang members.
But underneath his lazy front, he’s actually a wise thinker.
You see, Red Dead Redemption II tells the story of the gang’s leader, Dutch, who descends into insanity. He had a philosophy of robbing the rich and aiding the poor, and that had at least given some meaning to their criminal acts. But as the West was becoming more civilized and outlaws were being hunted like wild game, his philosophy was evidently failing.
Paranoid about keeping the gang together, he pursues one failing plan after another, goes against his own teachings such as to not kill in cold blood, and causes the deaths of his beloved gang members. Perhaps he wasn’t changing, but simply becoming more of he really was.
Uncle, even in his humorous and slothful demeanor, was one of the first people to point out at Dutch’s unraveling.
In a conversation at camp, Dutch tells Uncle of something he had read, and with that, a new plan to help the gang make money and escape the law.
“That’s the problem with you, Dutch. Always reading. Always been an issue with you,” Uncle responds.
Uncle points out that Dutch was always busy thinking of egoistic and complicated plans, that he lacked common sense, causing him to overlook more important things that were right under his nose.
As Dutch walked away, Uncle said to the rest of the gang, “He wants to be an American king — with his knights.”
“I heard that!,” says Dutch. “I want no such thing. I just want better than this, for us.”
“Better? Your kind of better,” Uncle responds.
While Dutch is out of earshot, Uncle tells the gang, “There goes the greatest man we know…Even he is lost. This is the age of being lost. The age of running to avoid thinking.”
As much as reading is one of the best habits to cultivate in yourself, you need to be careful not to be a walking encyclopedia. All the books you read are of no use if you don’t put them into practice, if you don’t think critically. There’s no point quoting lines or passages without knowing where they apply — it’s never not about using that knowledge to actually make your life (and other people’s lives) better.
Otherwise, you’d be running on empty — tirelessly going from cover to cover while you lose your footing in your own everyday life.
With that, be sure to take notes in your books — argue with the authors, see where you agree and disagree. Take some time off every month (perhaps a week) where you don’t do any reading, so that you could clear your mind a little.
It doesn’t really matter how many books you could read in a month, or a year — Try not to care too much about those kind of goals. As Mortimer Adler put it, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Make it your aim to get the most out of your reading, and not to merely read the most books.