Modern books are not to be neglected or looked down upon. Modern poetry or novels should, however, be read-only after one’s taste has been enlightened by reading the classics. But books on general topics for getting knowledge and information we must go through always. It is useful to consult reviews of books published in respectable journals. For the beginner, to light upon whatever comes to his hand is not good. Of course, reading of a particular book may be dictated by some urgent need. In these days, it is necessary to know something of everything and everything of something. Books on history, on politics, on popular science and information should always be widely read. With regard to these, it is wise to consult one who knows a teacher or a well-read librarian. An attempt should always be made to get the best available books on the subject. For art is long and time is short. One should show some preference for books dealing with the peoples and problems of one’s own country.
“The true university in our days is a collection book” said Carlyle the great English thinker and essayist of the 19th century. It means that any man, even without passing through the gates of a university, might earn a thorough education by reading widely in a good library. Some of the finest and most cultured persons, like John Keats, Robert Browning, and Rabindranath Tagore educated themselves in this way.
But there are so many books published, in these days; not all of them are good; some are positively harmful and not readable. The problem for the reader is how to choose what to read and what not to read. The young reader is at sea to choose the right books. There must be some rules and some able persons to guide, some men to advise them.
It is best, in the first instance, to read only the classics of literature. By classics, we mean those books which have become recognized for their excellence and stood the test of times as also received the stamp of approval of readers in all ages. Suppose one wants to read a novel; it is best to begin with the works of well-known and established writers, with Scott and Dickens, with Victor Hugo (France) ‘Her Miserables’, ‘Donquixote’ (Cervanttes), with Bankimchandra’s ‘Anandamath’, or Rabindranath’s ‘Gora’, with Tolstoy’s Anna Kernina or Sarat Chandra’s ‘Srikanta’. By reading the classic, the best books of the best authors one’s taste will be formed; one’s judgment will be trained; one will develop and cultivate the habit of being satisfied only with the best of everything.
Regarding classics, however, a warning is necessary. Blind and uncritical adoration is unwanted. Such an attitude prevents the proper exercise of one’s own judgment. If people had gone by the dictum ‘never read any but famed books’, many worthy writings’ of today would have remained neglected. Pornographies or other printed nonsense should be avoided by young readers. One of the objects of studying the Ancients is to be able to appreciate whatever is good. The study of classics certainly improves taste and judgment. Once this is achieved, the reader can be left to himself.
It has to be remembered that the choice of books is often dictated by the needs of one’s vocation. Everyone must, if there is any desire for self-improvement, read books that convey the latest information on the subject. The man who has stopped reading as he begins to earn is the man who regards the entrance door to the room of the library as the library itself.
The world of books has its highways and by-lanes. The highways are known to all, and guidance is easy. But the by-ways in the book-world are fully as interesting and can yield much pleasure. The reader then is himself a lover of books and an expert in the world of books. For a man of culture, no pleasure can be greater.
Books have been divided into great books and good books. Great books are, of course, the classics that have received the stamp of profitable satisfaction of readers down the ages. But good books are those volumes which elevate the mind, stimulate our morals, and entertain our vacant hours as our best companions.
As in other matters, so also in the field of books what is good for one man may not be so for another man. A person’s reading is determined as much by his education and culture as by the circumstances of his life. Thus no reading could be compulsorily prescribed for all manner of men surrounded by books as the student is. He is more likely to be attracted to those books which are exciting and pander to low tastes and levity. On the other hand, out in the wide world, one’s interest grows; tastes are more specialized; and books are picked up for a variety of reasons, not always connected with one’s vocation.