My man AC Grayling says, “To read is to fly.” I think that’s wonderful but I also think that to read (if done properly) is to continually run up against how much you should read, or reread. So in fact: to read more is to know less.
I recently reread Catch-22 and obviously got a lot more out of it than when I was 16. The implication is that I should reread all the good books I did when I was a teenager. And then, perhaps when I’m 40, I’ll reread everything I read in my 20s and discover a similar gulf in understanding.
Then there’s what happens when I read a bunch of books on a similar topic. Do I feel I’ve come to terms with the literature on a particular subject? No; I merely appreciate how much I would have to read to do so and then reflect on how I therefore need to disregard all my knowledge in cases where I’ve only read one book about a topic, because that’s like dust blowing in the wind.
By the time I’m 80 and I’ve reread a tight group of about 100 classics at least four times, I should be in a state of healthy juvenility. Apart from maybe science textbooks, good books strip away knowledge and leave you with less than what you had when you began. Taleb, Hume, Marilynne Robinson, Bronowski, Kahneman, (early) Greer, Derrida, Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam — these nonfiction writers spring to mind when I think of who I would recommend to any one who wants to unlearn.
This is some TS Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.