The Choice of Books

“The true university in our days is a collection of books”, said Carlyle, the most forceful English thinkers of the last century. The meaning of this is that any man, even without passing through the gates of a university, might give himself a thorough education by reading widely in a good library. Some of the finest and most cultured persons, - like Robert browning, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarojini naidu, - educated themselves in this way.

But there are so many books published these days: not all of them are good; some are positively mischievous. The problem for the reader is how to choose what to read and what not to read. It is really a difficult problem. For the grown-up man, whose tastes are formed, the problem is there, but it is not disturbing. For the young however, it is apt to be extremely perplexing. There must be some rules to guide, some men to advise them.

It is best, in the first instance. To read only the classics of literature. By classics we men as those books which have become recognized for their excellence. Suppose one wants to read novel: it is best to begin with the works of well-known and established writers, - with Scott and dickens, with Bankimchandra’s ananda-math, or Rabindranath’s gora. Or perhaps it is poetry that one wants to read: one can begin by reading to poetry of Madhusudan or of Rabindranath, of words worth or keats. By reading the classics, the best books of the best authors – one’s tests will be formed: one’s judgment will be trained: one will develop the habit of being satisfied only with the best of everything. Having once read the best, one will disdain to read what is second best.

Regarding classics, however, a warning is necessary. There is the danger of a blind veneration developing into an attitude of intellectual snobbery. As if to express admiration for a great writer even without understanding him were a merit in itself. Such an attitude prevents proper exercise of one’s own judgment more than anything else. It people had gone by the dictum ‘never read any but famed books’. Many worthy writings of today would have remained neglected. It the cult of modernism, i.e. the vanity of being modern, is bad, equally so is the uncritical contempt of the moderns that many intellectual highbrows are too fond of reclaiming. One of the objects of studying the ancients is to be able to appreciate whatever is good and wherever it is found. They study of classics forms one’s taste and judgment. Once this is achieved the reader can be left to himself.

Modern books are not to be neglected or despised. Modern poetry or novels should, however, be read only after one’s taste has been formed by reading the classics. But books on general topics for getting knowledge and information must be always read. It is useful to consult reviews of books published in respectable journals. For the beginner reading whatever comes to one’s hand is no good; hence one’s choice must be guided by ‘knowing’ men. Of course, reading of a particular books may be dictated by some urgent need. It these days, it is necessary to know a great deal of many things. Books on history, on politics, on popular science – these should always be widely read. With regard to these, it is wise to consult one who knows, - a teacher or a well-read Liberian. Attempt should always be made to get the best available books. One should show some preference for books dealing with the people and problems of one’s own country. This would certainly help develop greater respect for other cultural heritage; or the north and the south Indian know of each other’s historical background. It is good to read Indian know of each other’s historical background. It is good to read hooks on these and acquire respect and tolerance for each other.

It has to be remembered that the choice of books is often dictated by the needs of one’s vocation. Everyone must, if there is any desire of self-improvement, read books that convey the latest information on the subject in which he deals. The man who has stopped reading as soon as he begins to earn, many soon find that he has ceased to earn according to his growing needs. For specialized knowledge of one’s vocation is sure to increase efficiency and general usefulness.

When one has picked up considerable acquaintance with the world of books. It will be found that one has unconsciously developed a peculiar instinct for choosing the right sort of books suited to one’s needs and temperament. For the world of books has its highways and by-lanes. The highways are known to all, and guidance is easy. But by-lanes is the book-world are fully as interesting and can yield much pleasure. When one has picked up an insight into these, one is no longer merely a reader of books but a connoisseur as well; not only a bibliophile but a bibliolater. He is himself a lover of books and expert in the world of books. For a man of culture, no pleasure can be greater.

As in other matter of books, what is good for one man may not be so for another man. A person’s reading is determined as much by his education and culture as by the circumstances of his life. Thus no reading could be compulsorily prescribed for all manner of men surrounded by books as the students is, he is more likely to be attracted to those books which bear on his prescribed course of study then general reading. On the other hand, out in the wide world, one’s interests grow; tastes are more specialized; and books are picked up for a variety of reasons not always connected with one’s vocation.