Intellectual reading

Some readers read like college professors, memorizing interesting paragraphs and delving into every – and I mean EVERY – facet of the book. How do they do it? I admit I am in awe of them. Their reading has a scholarly approach, analyzing and comparing the themes or writing style from one book to the other with the amazing result that they sound smart – or even intellectual – when they say stuff such as, “I much prefer the literary connotations in X instead of the literary clichés in the earlier Y.”

Know anyone like this?

Oh dear…. I think to myself. The horned gremlin on my shoulder expounds, “Intellectuals are so annoying.” The angelic fairy, nervously wringing her hands on my other shoulder, adds, “And so intimidating.”

My theory is that this marks one of the great divides between the literati and readers like me. The literati view books as intellectual pursuits – the means by which they develop their mind.

I view books as imaginary journeys into foreign lives and read for the story. If a theme strikes a chord or leads to a thought-process: HURRAY! Nevertheless, I read with my heart and enjoy the winding path of the story more than anything else.

I have vivid memories of one of my teachers from high school, trying to guide the class through Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being – and I did not get it. The story did not intrigue me nor did it make me curious. It was the insurmountable mountain of reading that caused heavy sighs and rolling eyes within minutes.

Today, I cannot even remember the storyline; it was lost in intellectual pursuit. I understand that my teacher wanted to give us the experience the transcendence of reading literature, but it is not something you can gift another. In my opinion, however, it can be achieved with any old story – not just intellectual literature.


  1. The Brain in the Jar

    Oh boy, do I have a lot to say about this. I guess it’s because I’m one of those ‘intellectual readers’.

    Anyway, here goes:

    1. Reading is an intellectual activity, as opposed to sensory. Compare reading a book to tasting foods or listening to music. Music and food are sensory – hearing and tasting. It’s a physical sensation. Even if you break down why one song works and the other doesn’t, you will never get to the core. The content of reading is purely abstract. It’s not a visual medium. There’s no visual difference that makes one page prettier than the other. It’s only the meaning that makes it important. That’s why critics talk so much about the meaning behind everything.

    2. All good critics will know when to enjoy a simple, entertaining story. Being a critic means having the ability to explain why a book or a film or a song works. Rejecting fun is just as bad. A critic starts from the conclusion that the piece works, and then proceeds to ask himself why.

    Fun stories and attempts at making big, meaningful books are up to the same standard. I’ve read and seen many books and films that try to be meaningful, but failed. I’ve also seen many that just wanted to tell a simple, fun story and succeeded in it. There’s still an art to writing a fun adventure. Case in point: The Transformer films vs. Commando. Commando is short, brisk, relies on charisma and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a crazy action film. Transformers is a bloated two-hour fest with ShakyCam. See? I just explained why one works and the other doesn’t, when both only want to entertain.

    3. The problem with ‘reading with your heart’ is thatplenty of times you may fall to bad emotional appeals. I don’t think an emotional appeal is always bad. The Fault in Our Stars did it right (I can show you my review of it if you want). I just think it’s important to recognize when there’s substance behind the emotions or not. It’s a skill of thought that you practice in books and then use it in everyday life.

    1. amkaer

      Thanks for the wonderful comment!
      I especially like your example with Transformers versus Commando, because my distinction isn’t about refraining from giving a critique or following that with an argumentation, ergo your example, but (trying to) qualify a critique with isms and other intellectualizations along the lines of Transformers is a product of a Marxist post-industrial World view or the kind.
      In my opinion, these intellectualizations remove the reader from the experience of reading or watching a movie, looking at art or tasting a meal. I would rather hear your honest down-to-Earth opinion than a discussion of a novel is modern, post-modern or whatnot.

      1. The Brain in the Jar

        People who know what they talk about when they explain things in simple terms. If you can explain an idea clearly, it shows you understand it.

        There’s a reason jargon exists. Terms like that allow us to put concepts in small words.

        People tend to use big words to seem smart, true. A critical person will know when someone is just writing a lot of letters. A good critic also knows what the work is trying to achieve, and talks about in that terms.

        Transformers is an action film. It was created solely to entertain. As you saw, I judged on these terms and compared to other action films. If someone started comparing Transformers to King’s Speech or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, he better have some good logic to connect between these.

        I think you just encountered a lot of bad critics. If you ever been to GoodReads, there’s the reviewer Keely who writes great reviews. He knows a lot, and he knows how to express his many ideas in short paragraphs. He’s my model critic.

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