What I haven't learned from reading

23:35, Jul 03 2014

During the Great Car Debacle of a few weeks ago, I got to talking to a friend on Facebook. To be totally clear, I know nothing at all about cars. Zero. I've always relied on the kindness of petrol station attendants to help me pump the tyres, and AA mechanics to change my oil and do whatever else that keeps the car going on the road.

My friend also knows next to nothing about cars, and she's an avid reader. Coincidence? Actually, probably, but let's take these two stories and call them anecdotal evidence. 

Because I've spent a great deal of my life immersed in books, to the point where I can be quite antisocial if I have a novel I'm really dying to get back into waiting at home, there are a lot of other skills that I have sacrificed at the altar of literature.

It's not just cars I don't have a clue about. I am also quite useless at the traditional womanly arts like knitting, sewing and oh...I don't know, flower arranging. I can cook quite well, but I would have no idea how to hang stuff on the wall, paint a room, repair a broken kettle or change a tyre.

I have wondered of late if all the time I've spent reading has been perhaps a little mis-spent? Have I let life pass me by because of books? Am I a reader-holic?

If I take the last 15 years of my reading life into account, at let's say on average about two hours a day, that's over 10,000 hours of my life that I've spent with my nose buried in a book. They say that to be a genius at something, you need to spend 10,000 hours at practise, developing that talent or skill.


So I'm officially a genius at reading. Somehow, that doesn't sound very impressive...

Of course, that's not to say that books don't give you a lot of useful life skills. Most readers are interesting conversationalists because they know a lot of random facts. There is also research to prove that reading increases empathy. The whole of human history - our society, culture, philosophy and yes, even things like mathematics, science and engineering, placed at such high value today, are contained in books.

But of course, reading about something isn't the same as doing. I can, for example, read several novels about a top violinist and perhaps learn something about music, composition and the back-stage politics of violin performance - but I still wouldn't be able to pick up a violin and play a flawless piece. Or any piece at all.

On balance though, like with most worthwhile things in life, the positives outweigh the regrets. I enjoy reading, and I think it's been a way of honing my mind and opening it up to other perspectives and forms of knowledge I wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to.

Still, it would be darned useful to know how to fix my own car...

What about you? What things do you wish you could have learned instead of reading?

I'm on Facebook or Twitter or you know...around.