One of the worst phrases in the English language is, ‘Do you believe everything that you read?’ To me, that’s like saying, do you believe your friends?
I cannot see how one who bandies that phrase can have known many critical books or have many good friends, for that matter.
Trust in books, as with good friends, begins with trust in oneself.
Some of my best friends are good books. I trust them and their authors as I trust my good friends, because I trust myself in choosing them both.
A friend is a source of spirit, challenge, and understanding. If your books are not providing those things, you’re reading the wrong ones. If your friends are not providing those things, likewise you have the wrong friends.
Some might say friends-and books-should provide enchantment, agreement, and benefit, and surely they sometimes provide these things, but when in a relationship of communion, these things are the outcome of spirit, challenge, and understanding-all of which grow from truth, which stems both from you and the friend, through intelligence, and benevolence.
I don’t need to know everything about a friend, certainly not right away- to trust him.
It’s the same with books. I trust good books because I am honest, and kind, and intelligent with myself, and so I recognize these qualities in their pages, as I trust the flesh and mind of a human friend.
I don’t try to get all I can out of a friend and finish with him, seeking new friends. I establish a life-long relationship with him. I return to him from time to time and experience-as a result of our meeting- soulfulness in me, in him, and between us; not use.
It’s the same with good books. I do not read them cover to cover as fast as possible, discarding them in some obsessive quest to give myself a sense that “I finish what I start”, racing through them with a sense of esteem, as if trying to make it to a finish-line, or like a boy with a bag of cookies, who can’t leave some for later. It’s more like enjoying- even getting acquainted with-a box of gourmet dark chocolates, or a bottle of fine wine.
One returns again and again, over time, to a good friend, be he man or binding & pages, taking pleasure in renewed novelty, relief after longing, and the refining of one’s feelings and perspectives through meditation and insight, between encounters with one’s friend.
Reading a book slowly, like meeting a friend over the years, deepens and broadens one’s sophistication, taste and maturity.
Having a friend-in a book or person-is having a conversation; a relationship based on long term emotional and intellectual communion. It’s not an affair, based on short-term selfish needs.
Having a trusting relationship with myself is what gives me the confidence to choose friendships, in people and books. That’s how I can trust in whom I befriend, and in what I read. As my life-long friend, Professor Adam Hoffman once said, “You have to read with confidence.”