Read Books from the Past and See Your World Change

I have a huge peeve. No, no, this isn’t any kind of pet. This is a full on peeve that affects everyone, in my opinion. I suppose it arises out of two problems, and one leads to the other.

The first, and the driving thrust here, is that no one seems to know shit about history. Even in the slightest. There’s what happened five minutes ago, and then there’s largely nothing unless someone on Facebook has the mental capacity to remind you about something that happened in the past and show its relevance today.

The second part of this problem is what leads to the first: Nobody reads. Now obviously people read blog posts and Facefuck…err…Facebook posts or Tweets, but no one really tears into a good 500 or 600 page or more book anymore (to say nothing of the fact that there are even fewer writers that are willing to compile such an opus that would need that page count). And that’s important that it has length. That it delves deep into what’s going on. That it takes the time. That it goes for breadth.

In brief, my peeve is that I feel no one knows history because nobody reads.

Now, before you confuse me, to learn history from reading, that doesn’t mean it has to be a non-fiction book. It may even be more important that it’s fiction. If you read a fiction book from the 1960’s (take a work from Ian Flemming perhaps–you know, James Bond?) you won’t just get a picture of what life may have been like back then (no matter how exaggerated), but you’ll get a “feel” for it. You’ll get some parlance, some culture, some idea of not just what literally was, but also what it felt like. It’s a powerful experience that I think even videos from back then (or earlier) can’t really replicate.

booksAnd so this is my challenge to you. I want you to try–in a fun way–to experience real history with only the filter of an author’s imagination. Read some fiction from way back. It doesn’t have to be the 60’s. It could be the 40’s or 50’s. Hell, it could be the 80’s, and maybe even the 90’s (though reading stuff pre-World Wide Web is helpful since after that everything seems to read the same, which is what I’m challenging you to break free from).

It could be science fiction, too. Read some James “Motherfucking” Blish (sorry, he’s so amazing I can’t really mention him without using an expletive of some kind). Or perhaps try some A.E. van Vogt? Voyage of the Space Beagle, perhaps? That’s a Hell of a book. In fact, if you read that, you’ll run into a word you may have never heard before: “Nexialist”. It’s an exciting concept based around the idea that a person’s capacity to learn and develop skills is endless, and that it’s worth it to learn all that you can.

Reading books from the 20th Century is going to open up many words and phrases you’ve forgotten. Old colloquialisms that really shouldn’t have ever fallen out of usage. You’ll find concepts that I’m sure many people would wish had stayed buried in the past, or that people had hoped you wouldn’t discover that what they’re saying now was already said decades ago by someone much smarter back then.

Learning about the past–even the past from only decades ago–will make your grounding in our present reality all the firmer, and perhaps all the more exciting. Of course, it may depress you, too. You’ll quickly discover the standards and quality that people used to demand of the world around them and their possessions…and you’ll find today is a sorely lacking world in that regard (regardless of what some will say about modern triumphs of “capitalism”…you’re going to find it’s not that triumphant).

You’re welcome to read non-fiction, as well, of course. Some people have an obsession with reading about World War II. I don’t exactly get it, but hey, whatever floats your boat. If you do read about World War II, however, you’ll quickly discover some interesting factiods. Oh, you’d like to know one? How about the fact that the United States didn’t really win the war against the Nazis? Oh sure, they may have put the nail in the coffin for Hitler and Company, but the US didn’t really win the war. That credit should go to the USSR. The German military machine never recovered from those harsh winter battles with the Russians, and the USSR is responsible for 80% of Nazi deaths during the war. But how would you know that, having never read–or read about history or from something in our history?

What a pity.

But, I have laid down the gauntlet (do you know what that means?). The die has been cast. Do you have the moxie to read a book from decades past? Do you have the chops to even read a book? Can you do it without getting distracted? Can you get lost in the world that the author–fiction or non-fiction–had brought to life for all to enjoy? Can you handle what a real look into the past could do to your present?

Make the time. And be patient with the books. Those books have been patiently waiting for you for decades, after all.

Carpe lucem!