29 April 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Restrictions

God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book – one genre – period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

*Whether you believe in God or not, pretend for the purposes of this discussion that He is real.

Well, first I’d conclude that God had a evil mind for coming up with something like that ... once my atheist brain had gotten over the shock!

This quickly came down to a choice between mystery and history. In the end I chose the latter, because I couldn’t bear not to. The thought of never again being able to read a book for the purpose of expanding my knowledge was too dire to contemplate.

I love learning. I love browsing the shelves and, as I did on my last library trip but one, pull an interesting-looking volume off the shelf just because it’s about the seventeenth century and I don’t know much about the seventeenth century. (Or London graveyards or Napoleonic-era codebreaking or whatever.) There’s been a lot of discussion about education here lately, with the launching of a national curriculum instead of each state for itself. With each new announcement - grammar, geography, and above all history - I feel increasingly that either I’ve been poorly educated or I have a memory like a sieve. So much of what will now be standard I don’t remember being taught, and could well not know but for my own voracious reading.

And I hate feeling ignorant, not only because it’s unpleasant in itself but because the Guilt part of my brain tells me that, being the family’s certified Gifted & Talented, I ought to be well-informed.

Ergo, history. I came to my love of history late (i.e. post-high school) and have been devouring it ever since. And if I could define the genre as any non-fiction book about anything that happened prior to, say, 1945, my restricted reading could cover an awful lot of territory.

Let’s see ... there are books about etymology, so I could acquire some new words while picking up all sorts of facts about the evolution of languages and whatever period the words originated in. There’s science history, so I could read a bit of geology or palaeontology or physics or chemistry or astronomy or botany or....

The history of art, the history of fashion, the history of music, the history of architecture, the history of one country or civilisation or another ... whatever I wanted to read about, I could find a history book to cover the topic. And improve my geography, too, with all those pretty maps :-)

And a knowledge of history makes me feel more engaged with current events, by giving me the ability to draw comparisons to things which have gone before and put present issues into a larger context. (Complaints about modern street violence always make me think of the Mohocks; the 21st century’s not that bad.) Someone or other once said something to the effect that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it; but before you have a chance at remembering something, first you must learn it.


  1. I love learning, too ... which is why I picked non-fiction. I supposed that might be cheating a bit, though.

  2. History really is an excellent answer!

    Glad I found your blog!

    Here is my BTT answer on Rose City Reader.


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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776