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Grammath

Are you well read?

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R.O. - I'm only joking, I don't "tell" her to read anything.... in fact she's poo-poo'd my suggestions recently to read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Cloud Atlas. Pretty much everything she does read though is half-inched from my pile!

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During my degree I covered 8 modules - Shakespeare, Victorian, Renaissance, Restoration, Irish Literature, Literary THeory, Modern Literature (20th Century), and 19th Century American Literature. This was quite well rounded and I read a lot of plays, novels and poetry within each of these topics. I would consider myself to be relatively widely read, whether or not that's the same as well read I don't know!

 

I think I would consider someone to be well read who has read widely and actively. I think it's very easy to read passively, reading the words, but not really taking note of their effect or any underlying themes. I'm guilty of reading passively a lot of the time, although I think that's a by-product of uni! Having had to speed read hundreds of books yet take enough from them to make it worthwhile kind of deadened my brain to the worth of literature for about a year! I don't think it's any kind of specific book you have to read to be 'well-read' either, although it would make sense to have a grounding in the classics - after all they're not classics for nothing, and it is interesting to see how they have influenced modern day writers.

 

Basically anyone who can read a novel and the only comment they can make is along the lines of 'i liked/didn't like it' is not IMO well read. A person who comes along and reads the exact same books but can make some kind of worthwhile comment or evaluation on the book I then WOULD consider to be well read. In summing up (eventually!) IMO it's the WAY you read rather than just WHAT you read that is important.

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Good post, Seraphina. In fact, "I liked it!" ;)

 

Seriously, you've made the link that someone who is well read is probably capable of expressing themselves (either on paper or verbally) in terms of explaining why they liked or didn't like a book. Not sure whether that's quite what you meant, but it's a worthy point.

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I agree with MFJ - very astute post Seraphina! I can empathize with the 'deadening brain' aspect, too. Even though I was a voracious reader since pre-school days, after doing my degree at uni I felt like I never wanted to look at a printed page again! It soon wore off, though. :P

 

I would be interested in what authors your American Lit class covered. Your syllabus sounds a lot like the one I had.

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I would be interested in what authors your American Lit class covered. Your syllabus sounds a lot like the one I had.

 

We didn't really have set texts or authors as such - we were pretty much free to read around each topic as we pleased. It was basically a case of 'hello, you're doing American Lit this term...go away and read now'...! Some of the recommended authors which I read were Poe (which I liked, although it wasn't really what I was expecting), Herman Melville's MOby Dick and Billy Budd, Sailor (quite boring), Emily DIckinson (loved it), Henry James (liked some of it), Thoreau, Emerson and the Transcendentalists (didn't really engage me). Those were the main ones touched on in lectures and things. I have to say American LIterature wasn't my favourite topic - I found it rather dull in comparison to the 19th Century British Literature, although I'm glad it introduced me to Dickinson and Poe. And everyone who considers themselves even slightly 'well read' should have read THe Turn of the Screw! ;)

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We didn't really have set texts or authors as such - we were pretty much free to read around each topic as we pleased. It was basically a case of 'hello, you're doing American Lit this term...go away and read now'...!

 

I like your way much better! We got told which authors/books we had to read. I once taught an Adult Education class in American Lit and tried a different approach than the usual (which is read Mark Twain, Nathanial Hawthorne, etc.) by assigning four books on different periods in the settling of America, i.e., The Last of the Mohicans, The Virginian, Giants in the Earth, Death Comes for the Archibishop. The class was pleased that they got something different than expected. At least that's what they said to my face! ;)

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I like your way much better! We got told which authors/books we had to read.

 

Yeah it was good, but it was more than a little bit daunting! We didn't even get set essay questions, we had to make those up ourselves too! No set texts, no set essays....sometimes I just felt like shouting SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!! But I definitely wouldn't be as widely read if I'd had a list of set texts!

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"Are you well read?"

 

Now what does that mean?

 

 

A lot of the aura that surrounds a "well read" person comes, in my opinion, from being just well informed enough about famous/popular writers, and movements/genres of literature, to be able "wing it" when asked general questions in a social setting :D

 

 

For example, I've never read Little Dorrit by Dickens, but I've read several of his other books, and so I know the time period the novels are set in, the trademark vivid charactersiation, the social themes Dickens explored, the complex plots, etc.

 

 

Example :

 

(well read person on train)"I'm just reading Little Dorrit...."

 

(crafty Omega) " Oh really? Dickens is such a joy. His characters are so vivid! Have you read Bleak House? (which I HAVE read!)

 

(well read person thinks Hmmm, I'm meeting another well read person!) :)

 

 

QED!

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I am a school teacher at a classical school, so I must be versed in the Classics. I love the great books.

 

You could follow a method like, The Lifetime Reading Plan. But I truly believe that the Renaissance Reader, one who reads a great variety of books, is what I would term well-read.

 

I am reading one non-fiction and one fiction book at all times. My appetite for books truly depends on my fancy at the time. I am one of those people who reads everything there is on a topic for a period of time and then doesn't touch it for years. (non-fiction)

 

Or I will read a series of books in a particular genre and not come back to it for a time. I have found that reading an isolated book is a sure way to not remember it. An example would be to read Walden, Brave New World, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1984, and then Catcher in the Rye. To be totally immersed in an idea and let it change you. That is my goal when I read.

 

Entertainment value comes second for me. I want more than anything to explore the ideas that are out there. Seeing how they play out in fiction is one of the joys of literature.

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I suppose that, since I started this thread, I ought to put in my two pence worth on what I think it means to be "well read".

 

My take is that it means one is widely read and has at least dipped a toe into most types of writing and read in sufficient quantity to have developed personal tastes.

 

So, when I make that resolution I do it with a determination to read more of the acknowledged classics in the kinds of fields I like. I've got to the stage in my reading where, when I say that, I feel I am knowledgeable enough about literature to have a fairly good idea what sort of book I will like and what is highly regarded in the genres I prefer. For example, I like crime writing and thrillers, so it is my intention to read Chandler, Buchan, Conan Doyle and Simenon as well as more modern favourites.

 

There is an element of snobbery too, I suppose. I recognise my pride means I'm unlikely to get over my prejudice towards Jane Austen (see what I did there? ;) ) for example, so, since reading should ultimately be about pleasure for me, I refuse to try and force myself to try to like authors I've tried previously and disliked, just because they are recognised as "greats" - life's too short.

 

I also have more admiration for books that, when published, may have been regarded as "pulp" but have stood the test of time, rather than those that have made a self-conscious effort to the status of literary classic. Hence, while I have a fondness for an element of surrealism, I don't have the patience to read avant-garde efforts like Joyce and Proust.

 

I have a degree in American Studies and a personal bias toward American literature, so it also means I'm going to try to fill in some of the gaps where I just didn't get around to the book whilst ploughing through my enormous undergraduate reading list. Hence, for example, I read "Tender is the Night" last year and am reading "East of Eden" at the moment.

 

Cheers to those who've said they like this thread too *blush*.

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There was an interesting discussion on the radio today on this very subject, betwen Mariella Frostrup, Lisa Jardine and Christopher Booker.

 

What it boiled down to was that to be 'well-read' is to become richly knowledgable about books, and is a lifetime pursuit (unlikely to be achieved by anyone under 50).

 

It is achieved by reading a variety of the available books, fiction and non-fiction, From historical periods and today, and to be able to recall and use them in conversation .

 

Being 'well-read' refers to the way in which the reading has informed the intellectual outlook of the reader, and the capacity for projecting and communicating that to others.

 

There is a reading list!

 

The Bible

The Odyssey

The Iliad

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Never at Rest (biog of Isaac Newton) by Richard Restall

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

Middlemarch by George Eliot (listening to the current radio dramatisation won't do!)

and the poems of Tagore

 

 

I'm never going to make it, owing to my failure in the area I've italicised

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There is a reading list!

 

The Bible

The Odyssey

The Iliad

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

Never at Rest (biog of Isaac Newton) by Richard Restall

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

Middlemarch by George Eliot (listening to the current radio dramatisation won't do!)

and the poems of Tagore

 

 

I'm never going to make it, owing to my failure in the area I've italicised

 

I wonder how they came up with that reading list! Seems slightly odd to me! And if it's anything to go by, having myself read most of the Bible (misguided youth! ;) ), Parts of The Odyssey, most of The Iliad, (what a chore...both of them! All I remember about them is being incredibly bored, but then I was only 16 or so),Middlemarch (great book, but puzzled why it is on this list?), and The Second Sex (drove me mad, silly feminist nonsense most of it! :mad: but at least it makes you think i suppose...) by the age of 23, I think I'm doing quite well!

 

I'm useless at remembering what I read though, so I could read every book in the world and still not consider myself well read! I agree with their notion of what well read is, but I am curious about the reading list!

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A listener had contacted the programme asking for a suggested reading list of five books to read in order to become 'well-read'. These were the books they discussed. Can't remember if they reduced this list down to a final five.

 

I'm sure that my reading has 'informed my intellectual outlook', but due to the seive like quality of my brain I'd be hard pressed to point to any particular literary sources. :o

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Right now I'm very aware that there are lots of Big Books I haven't read, ... anything by Rushdie, ...

Try "East, West" by Rushdie. It's a collection of 9 short stories. That would be another author you could add to your list then.

 

(I have never read War & Peace :D )

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You can definitely be well-read in different areas of literature. I'm not a big non-fiction reader, but I do consider myself to be steadily amassing knowledge of the classics as well as reading what I enjoy from contemporary literature. I'm not well-read yet, but I think it's a lifetime pursuit.

 

I will admit to reading for improvement, but I'm a literature student, so I think that's allowed.

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I wonder how they came up with that reading list! Seems slightly odd to me! And if it's anything to go by, having myself read most of the Bible (misguided youth! ;) ), Parts of The Odyssey, most of The Iliad, (what a chore...both of them! All I remember about them is being incredibly bored, but then I was only 16 or so),Middlemarch (great book, but puzzled why it is on this list?), and The Second Sex (drove me mad, silly feminist nonsense most of it! :mad: but at least it makes you think i suppose...) by the age of 23, I think I'm doing quite well!

 

WHAT!!!! ALAS POOR WILL ... NO SHAKESPEARE? NO JOYCE?

 

I can only surmise that the list they proposed was one solely for diversity?

 

I do know I own several reference/non-fiction books by Harold Bloom, Clifton Fadiman and others that speak directly to the WESTERN CANON and also are devoted to discussing HOW TO READ A BOOK. They are excellent to have on hand when I want to understand how to answer questions like this and to learn how GREAT BOOKS are chosen. Several years ago a book titled GREAT BOOKS was a huge bestseller in the US.

 

GERBAM

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I wonder how they came up with that reading list! Seems slightly odd to me!
Not odd in the slightest. So much fiction has Biblical allusions that may otherwise skip over heads if a person hasn't read the Bible. Similarly, the Greek histories. I'm unaware of the rest though.

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I'm fairly certain that there must be thread on this already but I can't find it, so I'll make a new one.

 

From a comment on another thread, what do BGOers consider well-read? Is it the breadth of the material read, or the depth of the material or is there some set standard that needs to be reached in order to be considered well read, such as all of the classics for example?

 

I read all of the time (reader's-block - thankfully rare - excepted), and I just read what I fancy. I always want to read faster so that I can at least get close to making an impact on the TBR but other than that I don't really give it a second thought.

 

So BGO-land, what is well-read?

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I'm fairly certain that there must be thread on this already...

Your suspicions were correct, Luna! It's a good one to revive, though, so I've merged the two ready for some fresh thoughts.

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Thanks David, I did search but confess to not reading throught the entire list of 500 or so threads.

Gosh no - that would take ages! Obviously I remembered we'd had such a thread in the past, but I found it with the search function. If you perform a search within Central Library you can group likely words to narrow the search. So I entered "Well Read" (inside the speech marks to ensure it looks for those words together) and it came up with just 17 likely threads, including this one.

 

Apologies if you knew how to do that anyway, but I thought I'd note that it's a handy way to find things. :)

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Wow, what a great thread. There was an interesting debate on Radio 4 the other day on whether it is harder to be a polymath in modern times. The conclusion was yes, it was because the breadth and depth of information available to read and learn is so vast now that to even crack a tiny fraction of it would take a lifetime. I wonder if the same arguments apply to being well read?

 

On a slightly different note, am I well read? I really don't think so, I read a lot, and I can talk about what I have read, but there are a large number of areas that I haven't even touched. Having said that my colleagues think I am some sort of literary genius simply because I read so much more than they do. I guess it's all relative!

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Gosh no - that would take ages! Obviously I remembered we'd had such a thread in the past, but I found it with the search function. If you perform a search within Central Library you can group likely words to narrow the search. So I entered "Well Read" (inside the speech marks to ensure it looks for those words together) and it came up with just 17 likely threads, including this one.

 

Apologies if you knew how to do that anyway, but I thought I'd note that it's a handy way to find things. :)

I did a search on the whole board and not in speech marks so that's why I got a bigger list to search through. I didn't already know that and will bear it in mind for the next time.

 

I like this definition best :

What it boiled down to was that to be 'well-read' is to become richly knowledgable about books, and is a lifetime pursuit (unlikely to be achieved by anyone under 50).

 

It is achieved by reading a variety of the available books, fiction and non-fiction, From historical periods and today, and to be able to recall and use them in conversation.

 

Being 'well-read' refers to the way in which the reading has informed the intellectual outlook of the reader, and the capacity for projecting and communicating that to others.

I can recall books I've read sufficiently to converse about them - most of the time! - but how these books have informed my intellectual outlook I have no way of knowing or measuring, let alone projecting. Then again, I keep being told to 'speak english' and that I'm 'using too many long words' by my father so is that one way of measuring? I certainly have a broader vocabulary than my next door neighbour - I wouldn't have thought that was hard, though - and a husband of one of my father's friends (again, not hard) and my speech is definitely informed by the material that I'm currently reading, which can get comical on the odd occasion that it's Shakespeare!

 

So am I well read? As Nellie points out it's all relative. I read all the time and a wide variety of material, both fact and fiction and from all different time periods and in different styles. The aforementioned neighbour doesn't read at all but my father reads as much as I do, just different subjects. There are gaps, like insufficient amounts of poetry and somewhat lacking in the classics.

 

Still, I do have the time to fill in these gaps before I'm fifty and practice being eloquent about it.

 

Thanks everybody. :D

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I'm not at all well read. I got into literature in a more seriouse way a few years back and started a literature degree...so I haven't had an awful lot of time to read more widely. Someday though.

 

Unless of course the internet counts? lol.

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