Why You Should Stop Reading New Books (For Now)

Why You Should Stop Reading New Books (For Now)

I hated history classes in high school. In fact, I hated them in college too. But then somewhere around age twenty-two I got really interested in history. But, I wanted to study it on my own, not have someone tell it to me.

I went on history reading binges. I’d read half-a-dozen books about Joan of Arc, then on to the Crusades, then a book about the history of salt, a few books about the history of England, Genghis Khan and Charlemagne. I probably read two hundred books over about three years. I learned lots of random stuff, but the greatest thing I took away from all that reading was this: It’s all been done before.

King Solomon said it much more poetically: What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecc. 1:9)

There really are no new problems. The problems may have more layers of complexity, but the principles that solve those problems have probably been discovered throughout millennia of human thought and divine inspiration – then forgotten.

And that’s why I’m beginning to think that what we might just need in our world today is not the courage to go bravely into the future, but rather the courage to look bravely into the past. Look at the fact that we aren’t as unique as we may think. Our problems aren’t as bad as we may think. It’s all been done before. And solutions are out there. Patterns are also there that will help us predict the results of decisions we are currently making.

But it takes recognizing that the old way is often the best way. Rather than despise those of the past as unenlightened or uncool, maybe we should consider that they might have had a corner on some truth.

Here’s a suggestion. Put a temporary, personal moratorium on reading anything written after 1945 for a while. See what happens. Go back and read some old stuff. Chesterton, Rousseau Augustine, Plato, Pascal, Rochefoucauld (one of my favorites), DeTocqueville – read wide and diverse material. (If you can’t bring yourself to read old stuff, read about old stuff.)

It’ll take some courage and resolve, but I’m certain you can do it. And the benefits, well, we’ll all benefit from it but I’m also certain you might not be as shaken by what you see going on around you. After all, it’s nothing new. J

People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. – G.K. Chesterton