Reading, the Classics, and creativity

As a college student trying to absorb as much as I can about the world and figure out my place in it, but also the owner of a Google Calendar with less white space than colored, I struggle to find the time to read. In elementary and middle school, I was a voracious reader, with a weakness for fantasy (Red Wall, Lord of the Rings, The Golden Compass), but in high school, I fell into a dark, dark time when the only thing I read was (occasionally) the books assigned for class. Though my track record of reading for class has only declined further in college, recently, I’ve decided to give up (mostly) on television, magazines, and keeping up with the news to open up free time for more in depth outside reading. I’ve always been curious about the way the world works, but only recently did I realize that to tap deeply into the font of human knowledge, tracing the arc of human progress from antiquity to modernity, reading books is indispensable.

What’s in my reading list? Partially because of my staunch advocacy for a liberal arts education (more on that later), and partially because of my belief that to understand something, you must look below the branches, dig underneath the tree, and observe its roots, I believe that a knowledge of the Classics (the Plato’s and Nietszche’s and Marx’s and Confucius’s and Joyce’s)—the philosophical and cultural underpinnings of modern society—is vital to making sense of present day happenings. But recently, in piecing together my summer reading list, I stumbled upon a couple of quotations that have challenged my position on the immense value of reading books, particularly the Classics.

The first, by Albert Einstein:

"reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any person who reads too much and uses their own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking."

And the second, by Japanese novelist Haruki Marukami:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

This presents a dilemma for me, because it just so happens that two principles I value highly are open-mindedness and creativity. Reflecting on Murakami’s pithy words and recalling Howard Roark’s distaste of Classical antiquity in The Fountainhead, I wonder: will strict adherence to the reading of the Classics confine you to predominant world views and chain you to dogma, inhibiting your ability to think big? If books represent knowledge, in the trade-off between knowledge and creativity described by Einstein, how do you balance the two? Do you need to read books to understand the world in a broader historical narrative, or is the Internet and newer forms of media (blogging, micro-blogging, videos) sufficient?

At least for this summer, I’m going to attempt to do it all. It is my hope that this blog will serve as a creative outlet this summer and a fire to forge some of my own premature thoughts and ideas. Writing (creation) will be a counterbalance for reading (knowledge). Blogging—the Ginger to reading’s Fred, the Dionysus to reading’s Apollo. Of course, this blogging thing won’t work without you, my friends—I welcome your musings, suggestions, comments, and perhaps above all, your divergent opinions and critiques. After all, just as Aristotle said in Politics, a potluck dinner attended by many is much tastier than a dinner hosted by one. It is through this collective debate with many different perspectives and opinions that we will all learn and grow.