John D. MacDonald on the reason we must read
November 15, 2013
I love a perfect storm.
In this case for me it was the convergence of two treatments of the same essay, Reading for Survival by John D. MacDonald.
First F.C. Etier wrote a blog about it on Caleb and Linda Pirtle, then it came up in a conversation I had with an avid reader.
If you haven’t seen the essay, please Google it, and you will find several places where it is available as a free download either as a pdf or Word document. It runs to about thirty pages and features MacDonald’s famous protagonist Travis McGee and his erudite sidekick Meyer.
MacDonald states the theme of the essay like this:
The theme will be the terrible isolation of the nonreader, his life without meaning or substance because he cannot comprehend the world in which he lives.
That’s a mouthful, for sure.
MacDonald amplifies his statement with another quixotic quote of his own.
The best way to make my words fall usefully upon deaf ears is to use such colorful language that it will be quoted, sooner or later, to a great many of the nonreaders.
He wrote that in October 1985, so I guess my quoting it in 2013 falls in the “later” rather than “sooner” category.
It is impossible for me to do a spoiler on the essay because no brief statement of the argument is anything compared to reading it in its entirety. However, MacDonald’s argument runs along these lines. In the ancestral days of human beings, those days before man had become his full-blown modern entity, our ancient predecessors managed to survive in their world by virtue of their memories, which informed them of the actions that would lead to survival or ruin.
Fast forward to the present.
In the modern world, according to MacDonald, nothing has changed. The only difference is that the knowledge available to the species in books has now replaced the limited memory any person can hope to carry only in his head.
In other words, if one is to avoid falling prey to the carnivores of modern society, he must rely on the wisdom found in books for guidance.
It is a fascinating concept.
Reading may serve to entertain, but in a larger sense it is essential to survival in the modern world, an environment where the Siren songs of half-baked saviors seek to wreck us on the rocks of ignorance.
Take a few minutes of your precious time to read Reading For Survival by John D. MacDonald.
It will be time well-spent.