He was a Lithuanian and he claimed to have never read the same book twice.
His was a fierce position, and at first glance his argument seemed reasonable. He maintained that since life is short, and there are so many books out there, to reread one of them would mean sacrificing the reading of another. For whatever reason, this was something he could not abide. He went as far as to say that people who do anything more than once are time-wasters.
I listened to him and nodded along – I am if nothing else a polite young man – but I soon found that like so many people’s arguments, his shared two things: it was well-rehearsed, and it was complete horseshit.
Of course, I didn’t tell him I thought that. Whilst I don’t claim full responsibility for Anglo-Lithuanian relations, whatever I can do to help our cause…
But back to his argument, which I bring up today because he was not the first or the last person to express something like this to me. Where it falls apart is quite simple: the hidden assumption that life is about a desperate cycle of novel consumption from cradle to grave. And if that isn’t horseshit, then I don’t know what is. I just don’t believe that.
Yes, life is short. Or rather, life is finite. You’re never going to read all the books. You’re never going to have all the jobs. You’re never going to live in all the houses… But this is not a bad thing. This is not cause to spend your life desperately trying to cram in as much as possible and never stopping to smell the flowers.
You see, the point of life is not to read as many books as possible before you expire. Nor to visit as many sunny places as you can. Or to kiss as many boys as will kiss you.
No, it is to really do whatever it is you do. To engage as fully and deeply as possible with those books that you do read. To soak up every last ounce of those sunny places you do visit. To savor every last drop of saliva you share with those boys that you do kiss.
So sorry Mr Lithuania – I wish I could remember his name – but I respectfully disagree with you. In all things, go for depth first. Go for quality over quantity. And if, as you do so, you accidently end up prolific, inadvertedly being someone who has read lots of books, been to lots of sunny places, kissed lots of boys… then you can treat that as the side-effect of a life well-lived, rather than as your raison d’etre.