Literature and Life

Literature and Life

I love literature. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, before high school, I hated reading. Something in high school changed. I credit a lot of it too one of my high school English teachers.

I first met Mr. Hansen when I was a freshman. He just so happened to be the lineman coach for my high school football team. Mr. Hansen, a portly man with a bit of a double-chin and a military haircut, had an irresistible sense of humor. He wasn’t a person that you’d call funny, but witty. As we pushed the hit sled, the 300 lb bastard would be standing on the back of the sled, sweating over us, yelling: “MOVE! MOVE! MOVE! CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!… MOVE YOUR FEET!”

When I walked into his class sophomore year, I figured that he was just another football coach forced to teach a class that he didn’t have much passion for. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He used literature to relay stories and life lessons. I remember him professing that if us young minds could, we should move across country; we need to get out of our comfort zone to learn more about ourselves. This has always stuck with me. I remember the stories of A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby I was kinda bummed that they are [tearing down the house that inspired the novel], and All Quiet on the Western Front.

“Get out of your comfort zone.” This has since stuck with me.

Read this piece: The Sad Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going to Miss Amost Everything It’s about how so much literature and media is produced that we can’t consume it all. I’ll highlight the most important points:

The vast majority of the world’s books, music, films, television and art, you will never see. It’s just numbers.

Consider books alone. Let’s say you read two a week, and sometimes you take on a long one that takes you a whole week. That’s quite a brisk pace for the average person. That lets you finish, let’s say, 100 books a year. If we assume you start now, and you’re 15, and you are willing to continue at this pace until you’re 80. That’s 6,500 books, which really sounds like a lot.


Now, everything gets dropped into our laps, and there are really only two responses if you want to feel like you’re well-read, or well-versed in music, or whatever the case may be: culling and surrender.

Culling is the choosing you do for yourself. It’s the sorting of what’s worth your time and what’s not worth your time. It’s saying, “I deem Keeping Up With The Kardashians a poor use of my time, and therefore, I choose not to watch it.” It’s saying, “I read the last Jonathan Franzen book and fell asleep six times, so I’m not going to read this one.”

Surrender, on the other hand, is the realization that you do not have time for everything that would be worth the time you invested in it if you had the time, and that this fact doesn’t have to threaten your sense that you are well-read. Surrender is the moment when you say, “I bet every single one of those 1,000 books I’m supposed to read before I die is very, very good, but I cannot read them all, and they will have to go on the list of things I didn’t get to.”

It is the recognition that well-read is not a destination; there is nowhere to get to, and if you assume there is somewhere to get to, you’d have to live a thousand years to even think about getting there, and by the time you got there, there would be a thousand years to catch up on.

What I’ve observed in recent years is that many people, in cultural conversations, are far more interested in culling than in surrender. And they want to cull as aggressively as they can. After all, you can eliminate a lot of discernment you’d otherwise have to apply to your choices of books if you say, “All genre fiction is trash.” You have just massively reduced your effective surrender load, because you’ve thrown out so much at once.

The same goes for throwing out foreign films, documentaries, classical music, fantasy novels, soap operas, humor, or westerns. I see people culling by category, broadly and aggressively: television is not important, popular fiction is not important, blockbuster movies are not important. Don’t talk about rap; it’s not important. Don’t talk about anyone famous; it isn’t important. And by the way, don’t tell me it is important, because that would mean I’m ignoring something important, and that’s … uncomfortable. That’s surrender.

It’s an effort, I think, to make the world smaller and easier to manage, to make the awareness of what we’re missing less painful. There are people who choose not to watch television – and plenty of people don’t, and good for them – who find it easier to declare that they don’t watch television because there is no good television (which is culling) than to say they choose to do other things, but acknowledge that they’re missing out on Mad Men (which is surrender).

I do indeed surrender. I’ve heard that Mad Men is a great show. This clip alone makes me want to watch the show. In short, the main character is pitching a marketing campaign to Kodak for their product that they called “The Wheel”; the main character redefines “The Wheel” as the “The Carousel” as he shows pictures of his family and how the “The Carousel” is like a time-machine that allows us to go forward or go back to relive our memories and to take us home again where we long to be. The clip is very moving and powerful. So, yeah, I’d like to watch Mad Men someday.

I miss fiction. I miss a lot of it. As I said, I surrender. Maybe watching TV isn’t a waste of time. Maybe reading fiction isn’t a waste of time.

It’d be a bit naive to believe that by only focusing on our businesses and things related to our business, it’ll make us better entrepreneurs. Really, it’s our life experiences and our reactions that help to define who we are, and perhaps, help to govern our decisions and actions. Don’t you think?

You might also enjoy:

  1. If Only
  2. Become Master of Metaphors
  3. Which is Better: the Journey or Destination?

If you made it this far, follow me on Twitter: @jprichardson


If you made it this far, you should follow me on Twitter.  


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