What happens when you read a hard book? Same thing that happens to your muscles when you lift weights like, say, an 100 pound box of candle wax from the trunk of your car. Well, YOU get a workout. Me? My muscles rip and I end up on the couch moaning. But we’re getting away from the point here. You need to read harder books.
We all lead such insanely busy lives, and do so much multitasking, that there’s no way we can take in really complex or important new thoughts. Most of us are stuck with whatever big ideas we studied in college. Even in the fields we make a living in, we’re more likely to rely on what we learned at school, or pick up pell-mell on the job, than on new reading in depth. How many lawyers with cases to argue and clients to bill can catch up with the latest big ideas on law, or with the big ideas of Plato or Aquinas that they missed out on years ago?
The one stretch of undistracted time most of us have is when we take vacation. The temptation — my temptation, almost always succumbed to — is to go catatonic, escaping the working world into the oblivion of Ludlum. But when I settle into my next holiday, I’m hoping to resist that urge. I hope to use the rare gift of an empty mind to grapple with a big idea or two — with a chunk of Marx, maybe, since I’ve never read a word he’s actually written, or with that Foucault that’s been gathering dust.