A good book can teach you about the world and yourself?

I’m reading a book. The title is “How to Read a Book.”

It’s about learning how to read a book for understanding, rather than information or entertainment (ex — popular fiction, business, self-help). Books from authors like Homer, Nietzsche, and Jean-Paul Sartre. There’s even a list of recommended books at the end, listed in order of the authors’ birth, from 9th century B.C. to 1918–2008.

But what good are these books? Are they really so great? Should I prioritize them — with their dubious usefulness in my life — over business and other immediately practical books?

I am not into philosophical discussions (of the useless kind), especially of “shoulds,” that can never be true in the real world — things like, why people *should* all be equal, “good” stuff like yourself as a professional or your products *should* succeed without having to market, or good intentions *should* be enough.

I have no interest in becoming a pompous, pretentious, navel-gazing prick that’s useless to the world.

Still, I love reading. Learning the skills to be able to enjoy and appreciate the great books would be an end unto itself.

I’m reading Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I’ve been ogling War and Peace (recommended by Mark Manson) and Ulysses (recommended by Neil Strauss) in the bookstore, wanting to buy them… But stopping myself, because they will just add to my pile of abandoned books.

Hope to finish these guys someday

I have this vague idea that they will write their way into my heart and enlighten me in some life-changing way. Teach me life’s most important questions like why are we here, where do we go, and how come it’s so hard (thank you, Jack Johnson).

Do they “work?” I don’t know. I’ve never finished them.

Really, I am just wondering if you can help me understand the value of attaining the skill of reading the great books, the books over my head, that will stretch me. Will reading them lead to a life well-lived, a life I could not have accessed otherwise? Or is it just to become a know-it-all who talks everyone’s ears off about having read all these books that only other people who’ve read them care about?

What “great books” (however you define it) have you read? How has it made real life better for you?


This post first appeared on Medium.com.