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rpm_pseud0name's avatar

At what point can you claim to be 'well read'?

Asked by rpm_pseud0name (8180 points ) September 6th, 2010

I hear people say this a lot (I never liked the phrase) & I’ve wondered what they’ve read. Is it a matter of quantity or quality? Can someone who reads every issue of People magazine & Stephenie Meyer claim to be well read? Must you read a little of everything – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, foreign text, etc..? What do you feel is the requirement to be able to call yourself, well read?

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48 Answers

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

When you can sit back and laugh at those who flounder while they try to look important ;)

Austinlad's avatar

Good question which I’ve pondered myself. I’ve read tons of fiction, non-fiction, biography and autobiography, history, plays and reference books but have never felt “well read.” Seems to me when one starts calling himself well read, it’s a sure sign that he’s still got a long way to go.

rebbel's avatar

J.K. Rowling can say that she is well read.

Carly's avatar

I think when you’re able to have an intelligent conversation about what literature is and could be, you can be considered “well read.” Kind of like the age old question “what is art?”

By the time you’re able to articulate your feelings on that question, you’ve most likely read A LOT.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

After reading this list, you can say that you’re well read.

SuperMouse's avatar

@hawaii_jake according to the list you linked, I am not – nor will I ever be – well read.

janbb's avatar

Too much still to read to take the time to worry about the answer….

CyanoticWasp's avatar

It’s kind of like running for President. There are no particularly special requirements, and others will make the determination for you. I try to avoid making the claim about myself. Rather, I tend to notice it in others… if they give evidence of having read the same things that I have.

rebbel's avatar

@hawaii_jake
J.K. Rowling isn’t on that list.

muppetish's avatar

Someone who is still reading is well read.

Austinlad's avatar

@janbb, I read you loud and clear.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

When you read often and a variety of sources plus you’ve got some classics under your belt, you can say you’re well read.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I think my answer shows how easy it is to make an arbitrary number of books to satisfy the OP. Very few people have read the entire curriculum of St. John’s college, but it is a benchmark and a valuable one.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I love that list you posted @hawaii_jake. I’ve read some of them, have others on my kindle just waiting to be read, and others I’ve never heard of. It did remind me of one of my favorite poems though (by T.S. Eliot) that I read my first year of college. Now I want to go find it again.

I love reading and have read a lot of variety, but I doubt I’ll ever consider myself well read.

faye's avatar

Okay, I love to read but that list put me in my place!!

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

^ Seriously. I’ve only read 5.2 of those. It’s time to visit the library.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@hawaii_jake I’ve read 4 of the lines in the Freshman year group; 6 in the Sophomore year group, 8 in the Junior year group and and 15 lines in the Senior year group – clearly, I’d have some fun during senior year with those writings!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir : It’s a fun program. You would enjoy it.

@everyone: Just so no one gets the wrong idea, let me state that I haven’t read the entire list. I happen to have a master’s degree from the school, but the master’s degree reading list is shorter since the whole thing is done in 4 semesters instead of 4 years. So, I’ve read a lot of the list but not all of it.

Symbeline's avatar

I read a lot. That said, I don’t think it means much. You’re well read when you know that you don’t have to know how to aim while using a sawed off shotgun.

YARNLADY's avatar

Any person can make such a claim. Most lists that use that criteria can be found on the internet.

wundayatta's avatar

There’s a secret reading list locked in the vaults of the English Majors Society. EMS sends around secret investigators who listen in on random conversations. The ask certain questions designed to assess the person’s literary knowledge. Some time later, those who pass the exam they didn’t know they were taking receive a certificate of “well readership.”

Have you received yours? Hmmmmm? Tell the truth, now.

fundevogel's avatar

@hawaii_jake Nothing personal, but I’m kinda sick of hearing about St. Johns. I had a very bad conversation with a woman whose idea of evidence was that she went there so she most be right. On top of that the fact that she couldn’t put together a coherent paragraph really hurt St. John’s credibility as learning institution as far as I’m concerned. I guess being well read doesn’t automatically make you smart.

talljasperman's avatar

when your read so much that most reading is interpreted as Blah, Blah, Blah

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t think I’ve ever said this about anyone, including myself. I typically spend at least an hour a day reading books, and have for many years; as a student and an English major I read much more than that. Over the decades I’ve consumed a lot of books, and a wide variety of them, classics, modern fiction, nonfiction, philosophical work, poetry, etc.; but it is nothing in comparison with all there is to read, and I’ve missed so many of the standard “essentials” that I can’t even check off all the titles on one of the “hundred greatest” lists. So I don’t know what well-read really is, but I don’t think I’m it.

Like @CyanoticWasp, however, I don’t think it’s a claim that one appropriately makes for oneself. I think it’s a compliment paid by others, in much the same way that one does not announce oneself to be an admirable person, a true lady or gentleman, or a role model for others.

Jeruba's avatar

@talljasperman, I don’t understand your remark. Do you think that you can reach a point where there’s nothing left that’s worth your attention? I don’t think I could get there in a thousand lifetimes.

talljasperman's avatar

@Jeruba i’ve gotten there…the same for most T.V. and movies too…its mostly Blah, Blah, Blah, to me…I need better and better just to get a buzz anymore

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@fundevogel : I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with someone from St. John’s, and I hope I haven’t made any claims about it on Fluther or in any conversation that I can’t back up. Come to think of it, this is only the second question on Fluther that I’ve ever mentioned the place. In any event, if I’m part of your discontent with it, please, forgive me. For my part, I love the school and the program.

I believe that @Jeruba is correct. Being well read is a compliment given to a person. I can’t claim to be well read, since I know that there are three books sitting by my bed, all in various stages of being read, and I have a stack of another three waiting. Once those are all consumed, I’ll find more. It’s never ending, and I’m thankful for that.

@YARNLADY rightly pointed out that there are many lists to go by to judge whether or not a person is well read. I googled “reading lists” and got 334 million hits. It’s a hard subject to narrow down. Here is a list of lists.

I love books, and I love reading. I was attracted to this question for that reason. If anyone wishes to start reading in order to one day be called well read, I applaud them and would do anything I could to encourage them.

fundevogel's avatar

@hawaii_jake I wasn’t around for any of your previous remarks about the school, so no, you haven’t been a part of my distaste. I hope it served you better than it did the person I spoke to.

ducky_dnl's avatar

Someone who has read well over 1,000+ different books in their life. Each book has to be on a different subject whether it be fairytales all the way through to the textbook of medical physiology. I don’t know if I’m well read. Does reading 250 books a year on average make me “well read”? I’m not sure. :P

Btw, at the moment I am enjoying the adventures of my love, Sherlock Holmes.

fundevogel's avatar

@ducky_dnl I Could never read 250 books in a year. Especially when a handful of the books I take up each year require a good bit of digestion.

Jeruba's avatar

@talljasperman, I wonder what you’ve been reading to give you that experience. A diet of popular fiction, for example, is like a diet of fast food. You need something more substantial than empty calories to nourish you. But from your profile it doesn’t sound as if that were your problem.

Had I but world enough and time, I would devote several lifetimes to the subject matter of specialized fields: folklore and fairy tales for one, religion and mythology for another, language and linguistics for another. I would learn Sanskrit, Chinese, Greek and other languages with long histories and study ancient writings. I would follow themes across cultures. I would even read everything written by Isaac Asimov and a few other prolific authors.

As it is, I sample them all in one great unending smorgasbord and find that my appetite never flags.

I also give myself license to ditch any book or movie that doesn’t deliver something worthwhile on a reasonable trial, regardless of how others have rated it.

augustlan's avatar

I have to be honest and admit that I have referred to myself as ‘well read’. I’m pretty sure I’m using the phrase as a kind of shorthand to say “I’m a high school drop out, and I’ve never been to college. Despite that, I read so much that I’ve gleaned a fairly good education along the way.”

To me, the phrase means you’ve explored many different subjects, and been exposed to a lot of different views. Enough to make you a reasonably informed and well-rounded person. I never thought of it as being in the same league as ‘admirable individual’ or any other kind of boast. Now that I see so many do view it that way, I’ll make an effort to say what I mean, and not use my shorthand.

janbb's avatar

@Auggie Let’s hear it for high school drop outs; some of the smartest people I know.

muppetish's avatar

@augustlan “He joined the union and educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, finding wider sources of information than he would have at a conventional school.” He’s always been my proof that one does not need a formal education to be intelligent or wise. One who seeks knowledge will find it wherever they go.

Jeruba's avatar

@augustlan, I don’t think you’re guilty of anything terrible. If someone asked me (as I think someone has from time to time), “Do you consider yourself well read?” I would say something like “I’m not really sure what that means, but I have read a lot of books. Not nearly enough, though.”

You don’t need to tell more than you feel like. You can always say, “I’m mostly self-educated, and my education has come through wide reading.” For us lifelong learner types, that is going to be true by the time we reach later life, whether we’re college grads or not, just because our formal education was so long ago and we’ve take in so much since.

augustlan's avatar

@Jeruba I like your suggestion, ā€œIā€™m mostly self-educated, and my education has come through wide reading.ā€ New shorthand for me!

Jeruba's avatar

Or simply “self-education took over where formal schooling left off.”

augustlan's avatar

By the way, this question was chosen as our Question of the Day! :D

JilltheTooth's avatar

@augustlan : How about taking it to the next level? “In my youth I eschewed the nebulous benefits of a formal education and became an autodidact.” Nobody will question that! Beyond, of course, saying “huh?”

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@JilltheTooth something like this, then?

As a nonager, and disabused of the necessity of conventional norms and notions of municipally funded and state mandated scholastic endeavors, I decamped to engage the more rigorous and fundamentally challenging curriculum of the Academy of Adamantine Raps, from which I have yet to matriculate.

fundevogel's avatar

@CyanoticWasp is that anything like the School of Hard Knocks?

janbb's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Me too – and that’s hard to do, Rocky.

JLeslie's avatar

@augustlan I like @Jeruba‘s suggestion also about using the phrase self educated.

@all I generally think of well read meaning someone reads many different subjects, and reads often. Meanwhile, I have had many many people assume I read all of the time, and I very rarely read a book. I do read articles in journals and magazines related to topics I am interested in. I almost never read fiction, it is extremely difficult for me to get through a story.

zen_'s avatar

I read in three languages, and the more I read I realize how little I’ve read. I don’t think I’m well-read at all, and I don’t think I’ll ever be.

Seek's avatar

I’m in the boat with the people that believe “Well-read” is a compliment given to someone. I’ve been called “well read” by others, but have never referred to myself as such. My list of “books I need to read” keeps growing just as quickly as the “books I’ve read” list.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read 37 of the list @hawaii_jake posted, and am slightly confused at the list of apparent sheet music that is “required reading”, as well as the fact that Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” is on the list, but Boccaccio’s “Decameron” (which predates Chaucer, and is a complete work) is not.

infjman's avatar

It’s all relative. Though a British accept helps lol

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