“I confess I have been a rake at reading. I have read those things which I ought not have read, and I have not read those things which I ought to have read, and there is no health in me — if by health you mean an inclusive and coherent knowledge of any body of great literature. I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.”
Robertson Davies, from his essay, “A Rake at Reading,” in The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books, 1996
Robertson Davies has long been one of my favorite writers. Witty, wicked, malicious, a fabulous storyteller — if you don’t know his books, you have a treat in store. But now he has become one of my favorite readers as well. A hero among readers, you might say.
In this age of specialization and ponderous academicism (if it isn’t a word, it ought to be), even reading has become subject to systematicization and directives. It is a serious activity, to be carried out seriously. Well, seriously, I object. Since reading was my refuge in childhood and has been one of my greatest pleasures in life, I rebel against having it made a subject for “shoulds” and syllabi. Books, real books, not how-to tracts or sensationalist exploitations, are to come upon serendipitously, to roam about in, to dip into or to devour as one’s appetite dictates.
“I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.” Yes, Robertson Davies! YES.