Schopenhauer Loved to Read, But He Disparaged Most Readers

readers

 Schopenhauer’s essay “On Reading and Books” is easily available on the Internet.  Schopenhauer, an avid reader himself, bemoans the resistance of most readers to books with the misfortune of having been written more than a decade ago.

friendly criticism of Schopenhauer‘s essay provides balance to the general dyspepsia of Schopenhauer towards most readers. This balance is called for because of Schopenhauer’s apparent delight in despair about humans in general.

Schopenhauer correctly notes that for books to sell well and thereby attract a large readership, they must conform to some average reader and whatever level of literacy she or he will tolerate.  I certainly sympathize because as a writer of texts, I and my co-authors are required to pitch the text to 11th grade readers. If something requires language more nuanced or abstract than this target reader will consume, then no book contract is in the offing for you. Publishers with their gargantuan hunger for profits do not see themselves as creators of a more discerning audience, but rather as corporate servants of readers who demand contemporaneity and, increasingly, as few words as possible. In a philosophical moment they might even claim their behavior is facilitating the democratic spirit.  And I suppose, unfortunately, it is.

Schopenhauer did not say the following, but I think he would agree: Reading is not in and of itself beneficial. Rather, how and what you read is the key to squeezing all the wonderful potential benefits from that experience that so many of us love.

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