The 6 Mistakes of Reading

This is an essay by T. Lloyd Reilly.

The great Roman Philosopher Cicero once postulated an idea that mankind, as a species, has historically made mistakes.  There were six specific mistakes and, after 2000 years still seem to be relevant.  He related the following six mistakes as the most heinous of behaviors:

  1. The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others.
  2. Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it.
  3. The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed.
  4. Refusing to set aside trivial preferences.
  5. Neglecting development and refinement of mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and study.
  6. Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.

After reading and contemplating these mistakes it came to me that we, as a species, make mistakes like these in our day to day lives and never consider the implications.  It has taken some time, but I find it relevant to adapt these mistakes of man to that world within our world where precious few consider the written word as, potentate, companion, and savior all balled up into one tight package.

The First Mistake of Reading

One of the more irksome mistakes society has made is the systematic devaluing of the art of reading.  In a world abounding with possibilities for fantastic opportunities we have surrendered to the images blasted at us through electronic medium and thereby making the first mistake of reading:

1.       The delusion that all there is to know can be received in the most simple of manners by simply turning on the television of surfing the Internet.  Anyone finding solace in anything other than these mediums is both misinformed and ignorant.

We all know people who keep paper libraries and refuse to have internet access or cable television. Most times, this realization elicits comments or thoughts about the relative intelligence of the person refusing to “Get with the times.”  We find it irksome to have to deal with people who are not as electronically enlightened as the rest of humanity.  We tend to negate their value to us, and find others of like ilk to ourselves.  I might remind those guilty of this kind of prejudice that Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and the Wright Brothers never had access to the Internet or cable television.  They owned, wrote, and read books.

The Second Mistake of Reading

2.       The insistence that an idea or dream is not possible to achieve without the resources the current world offers.

I have been approached, or applied to a number of companies that wanted me to write on a number of topics, and provide these articles/pieces in return for monetary gain.  With one of these companies I was tasked to write a critique of the remade film “True Grit” in comparison to the original film.  Written originally in novel form by Charles Portis in 1968 it is a classic western story about justice, determination, and ultimately the struggle between right and wrong.

The original film is heralded as the finest performance by the consummate American Western Hero, John Wayne (he won an Oscar for it).  Both films were fine examples of cinematography and excellent in delivery. The paper I was tasked to write turned out to be for a college sophomore who was taking a film appreciation class and did not have time to watch either the new version (on cable at the time) or search for the original.  He also did not have time to do his own homework.

What the young gentleman missed was the opportunity to know this work in any fashion.  I enjoyed both films, but the book trumped both films combined.  I did not pass this information on, and I have found it unethical to do someone’s homework for them.

What was impossible in this situation is that the young man insisted that he could not write a book report or a film critique without engaging an internet company to provide him with papers instead of allowing him the opportunity to feel the magic of the story told.

The Third Mistake of Reading

3.       The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed despite the evidence that education and hard work can elicit the needed change.

It is quite possible to get an education today without ever reading a book.  I know – I was a school teacher, and literacy coach.  There are many people in this world who do not read or write because of a number of reasons: learning disabilities, environment, or fear prevent them from realizing the full life that reading can give them.  They wish change but resist the tasks that would erase this worry.  This mistake keeps us in the dark and out of the light that reading can bring in our lives

The Fourth Mistake of Reading

4.       Refusing to set aside trivial preferences to read.

“Anti-intellectualism in American Life” by Richard Hofstadter a 1964 Pulitzer Prize winner detailed the struggle that intellectuals face with the majority of the population.  People mostly want to be left alone and not have to engage in anything other than the day to day struggle/joy of life in our world today.  We do not want to give up the Sunday Football game because of the simplicity of the act of watching the ball game.  We want to armchair coach professional athletes and coaches, and boo them when they do not act appropriately by winning.  Maybe it might be different if they knew how much reading a Super Bowl winning quarterback has to read along the way to the big game.

The Fifth Mistake of Reading

5.       Neglecting development and refinement of mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and study.

I did not have to adapt this one.  Cicero said it most eloquently.

The Sixth Mistake of Reading

6.       Attempting to compel others to read as we do.

If you are reading this, than it is most probably not a chore to get you to read.  There is something to be said for jamming a book or idea down someone’s throat.  That something is…do not do it!!  Most of the problem I find in the field of reading is that it is something jammed down our throats and there is but one method to learning how to read and that is in school.

I personally learned how to read by the use of my cousin’s personal library.  My sister and I would spend nights at our Aunt Nancy’s house because my mother worked a graveyard shift.  As a young precocious child (AKA pain in the butt) I was never satisfied to sit quietly and always had to have something to do.  My cousin had a collection of comic books which he let me “read” and that kept me quiet.  I am proud of the start I received into the reading world.  I, unlike others using that medium, did not enjoy the pictures as much as the scribbling’s on the pages.  When told they were words, I wanted to know more and ended up teaching myself the ABC’s well enough to read the “Call of the Wild” by Jack London when I was four years old.

Others were not gifted in the same manner as I had been.  Getting my friends to read once I got old enough to go to school was an uphill battle.  Until, that is, I got a copy of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Dumas and read it to them.  Then everyone wanted to swordfight and get revenge on the teacher for giving them a bad grade.  When it came time to do a book report, everyone did the “Count of Monte Cristo” and would have gotten away with it but for the keen eye of the nun teaching the literature class.  She reassigned the class different books and told us there would be no more kidnapping or mysteriousdisappearances.  I got a C on the book report when I argued that I had originated the interest in the story.  I also got a rap across the knuckles for insubordination.

In conclusion, I find it an easier life if I have rules to follow.  John Donne wrote, “No man is an island” and this implies that if I want what is coming to me in this world. I should be aware of life’s consequences and rewards.  The consequence of not reading only serves to perpetrate the ideal I must read! Often!


T. Lloyd Reilly is a writer with over twenty five years of writing experience. He has lived what some would consider more than one lifetime and has acquired a wide range of knowledge and life experience which he wishes to share through generous application of the written word. For more information about him go to:

Photo: Some rights reserved by MetalPhoeniX.

1 comment

  1. Christina Hamlett

    Excellent points all around and a very enjoyable read! Sadly, I’m reminded of how many times people approach me for advice on how to write a novel and, when asked, “So what are some of your favorite titles and authors?” they respond, “Oh I don’t really have time to read books but I hear there’s a lot of money that can be made from writing them.”

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