Bertrand Russell on book clubs

I’m currently reading Bertrand Russell’s “The Conquest of Happiness” and have been finding some quotable material.

A snooty take on reading clubs (oh my!):

The competitive habit of mind easily invades regions to which it does not belong. Take, for example, the question of reading. There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it. It has become the thing in America for ladies to read (or seem to read) certain books every month; some read them, some read the first chapter, some read the reviews, but all have these books on their tables. They do not, however, read any old masterpieces. There has never been a month when “Hamlet” or “King Lear” has been selected by the book clubs; there has never been a month when it has been necessary to know about Dante. Consequently the reading that is done is entirely of modern books, which, of course, are seldom and never of masterpieces. This also is an effect of competition, not perhaps wholly bad, since most of the ladies in question, if left to themselves, so far from reading masterpieces, would read books even worse than those selected for them by their literary pastors and masters.”


I’d say Mr. B.R.’s missing a few boats here.

Me, I often read not for pleasure or to show off, but to learn.

I will admit my attempted reading of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil” during my college years was purely out of vanity. I wanted to look cool and intellectual holding a philosophy book.

I’m finding that reading a philosophy book now, with my writer’s hat on, is quite interesting, though. I’m picking up all sorts of nuggets I can link to various theses. If I ever wind up writing a fiction piece, I’m beginning to think I should frame it around a philosopher’s work.

If I can understand them. I *am* a woman. I may have trouble reading a masterpiece.


The sexism we women have had to deal with! (Alas, that we still deal with.)

Russell’s writings from the 1920s-30s sound not far removed from a page of advice from a late 1800s Hearst’s Chicago American, recently posted on social media by a bookshop-owning friend of mine:

If your happiness depends on the common sense and cheerfulness of a mature woman, let her gratify, in your company, the intellectual vanity which distinguishes her.

Give her good books to read, and marvel loudly and enthusiastically that she should understand them. Never mind if you really don’t think she understands them very well.


2 thoughts on “Bertrand Russell on book clubs

  1. mary engelhard says:

    Pity the individual- this one happens to be a sexist male in his ivory tower- who does not try to see through the veil of their own milieu. It is tough, but at least try!


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