I wonder why it is that reading literature as a hobby is considered somehow better than watching basketball. I mean for an adult. I totally get why kids should be reading literature.

But for adults. If a person doesn’t enjoy reading Dickens, then what’s the point? To learn about Victorian England? Where is that going to get them? To experience interesting description? But if they don’t enjoy experiencing it, then, again, what’s the point?

And it’s not even as though they’ll get some social benefit out of it. Are they going to suddenly be more desirable to women? Probably not. Or, maybe to some women, but then loving basketball will make them desirable to other women.

Memorizing baseball stats for your little fake league is no less *productive* than reading Shakespeare. Maybe it’s more productive. But the guy who knows the Shakespeare gets a sort of mix of, “wow, isn’t he smart” and “wow, isn’t he weird.” He’s not smart. Reading Shakespeare doesn’t necessarily take brains. But he is weird.

I don’t have time to write a post today.

5 Responses to Value

  1. Kevin April 5, 2007 at 11:49 am #

    1) What evidence is there that more value is placed on reading Shakespeare than watching the NBA? The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry with merchandising outlets, cable channels, and millions of fans devoted to it. I’ve checked my Dish lineup and while I can find 14 different Pay-Per-View channels for basketball, there aren’t any Shakespear channels. I’d say the evidence is that society places a greater VALUE on basketball knowledge.

    2) You, and probably most of the people you hang out with on a daily basis, probably think that Shakespeare knowledge is more valuable, but you’re in a hurry and can’t think of why that is. It’s because you were raised in an environment that places great value on permanent culture. While it’s great if you actually enjoy Homer, the environment in which you were raised places value on reading Homer even if you hated it, because Homer is important influence on our culture, and it’s part of your responsibility as a person to not merely exist and produce offspring, but to imbue those offspring with knowledge and appreciation of the culture.

    3) If you grew up in an inner-city neighborhood with a peer group that placed no value on Dickens but great value on hoops, you’d probably spend your weekends studying basketball stats and practicing your jump shot, even if you hated it. It’s the environment your raised in.

    4) Regardless of your peer group and regardless of societies failings in this area, the point of view that knowledge of Shakespeare is more important than knowledge of Basketball stats is the correct point of view.

    Understanding and being able to pass on the permanent culture is a very important responsibility and is more likely to attract a suitable, long-term mate that is equally interested in passing on our culture. There is plenty of evidence that knowledge of art is beneficial, but it’s not necessary to use evidence. It’s self-evident. We keep making the stuff and learning the stuff. Art that has survived centuries and helped build a culture, or art that has been quickly absorbed into the culture due to its strength or beauty, is worth knowing and passing on to your children.

    Basketball stats and pop culture is ephemera, with a very limited shelf life.

    As long as we’re not talking about Steinbeck. I hate Steinbeck. No one should ever have to read Steinbeck.

  2. BruceS April 5, 2007 at 3:47 pm #

    Kevin, I was with you until you dissed the great John Steinbeck. Now Flaubert, he should be shunned with great vigor.

    People should read what *I* consider great reading. Knuth, Pratchett, Pushkin, and, yes, Steinbeck, whether they “enjoy” it or not. Reading, and being able to quote from these writers should be the sole, or at least the main, consideration in determining one’s value as a human.
    Knowing anything about basketball is surely a negative. Hockey doubly so. Baseball, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable, as long as you don’t get carried away and start memorizing statistics or something like that.

    “How do you *know* she’s a witch?” (from the British MP)

  3. weeklyrob April 6, 2007 at 6:51 am #


    The evidence that I have that people think that “reading literature as a hobby is considered somehow better than watching basketball” is that just about everyone I’ve ever spoken to about it thinks that reading is really good and that smart people read and that they wish they personally read more and that they’re impressed by people who read literature.

    Obviously a lot of people prefer to watch sports, but I think that those people still would be more impressed by someone who reads literature than by someone who watches hoops. Not just in my social group.

    The fact that there are sports channels doesn’t have anything to do with whether people are impressed by the guy who knows the names of the players more than by the guy who can quote Shakespeare.

    2. You’re exactly wrong about what I think is more important. I think that knowing Shakespeare, or reading Homer, is a waste of time if you don’t enjoy it, or enjoy knowing it. I’m not any more impressed by someone quoting Shakespeare than I am about someone quoting sports stats.

    The whole thing about permanent knowledge is interesting, but I don’t think I can get onboard. My knowing Dickens isn’t my PASSING ON Dickens. My knowing it doesn’t help humanity in any way. I’m not using it. I’m just reading it to enjoy it. And anyway, they’re just novels. And Shakespeare wrote popular plays.

    I suppose if I try to get my children to enjoy it, maybe I’m passing it on in some way, but my Dad doesn’t read Dickens, and we all know that kids eventually do the opposite of what their parents want.

    The permanent knowledge will be passed on by those who appreciate it, and those who don’t appreciate it are appreciating something else. What we consider permanent now may not be interesting at all to future humans, who just want to know who the 2004 NBAA MVP was.

    But I’m in the minority. And my social group, just like practically everyone else’s, watches sports and almost never reads Dickens. But they think that people who do read Dickens are spending their time in a more valuable way. You do too, I see, and that’s ok with me. 🙂

    3. Yeah, again, just about EVERY social group, including mine, has a lot of sports going on. The males in my family (excepting one of my three brothers) love sports, and have ESPN going all the time. You don’t have to live in the hood to feel pressure to know sports. No one I know has ever made me feel pressure to know Dickens.

    The point is that knowing Dickens impresses people. A guy who knows in-depth football thinks that I’m smart for reading A Tale of Two Cities. And I’m saying that he’s using just as much of his brain figuring out strategy and remember relationships on the gridiron.

    He’s enjoying his hobby and I’m enjoying mine. This was long and rambling, and I won’t go edit it, ’cause I’m supposed to be putting together IKEA bookshelves right now!

    Bruce: I’ve only read Of Mice and Men, but I liked it! I’m glad no one said Faulkner, because, as I’ve mentioned before, I hated having to read him in college.

  4. BruceS April 6, 2007 at 3:31 pm #

    I can’t recall the full list of Steinbeck books I’ve read, but none of them disappointed me. Of course, you know I also liked some Faulkner. My point was that we all value different areas of knowlege differently, though there are, of course, trends among different social groups. Some seem to value sports stats knowlege very highly, while others are impressed by someone who knows lyrics of ’60s songs. Many people are not only not impressed by a knowlege of literature, they actually disrespect anyone who shows such knowlege.

  5. weeklyrob April 7, 2007 at 5:47 pm #

    You can always find some people who think X. But my guess is that the majority of people probably believe that knowledge of literature is an admirable thing.

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