For years now, an entire industry has grown mighty and strong tempting once chaste and honest men, women and children to the dark recesses of convenient lies and phony intellectualism.
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You know it. You’ve probably taken advantage of its services yourself on more than one occasion. It goes by many names: Shmoop, SparkNotes, CliffsNotes. Websites like Lifehacker are teaching people how to pretend to have read a book. Even the once pure and saintly Goodreads has been unwittingly recruited into its dark army! Where one was once forced to admit they had never read the book and probably never would, one can now coast through life shielded from humiliation but deprived of the truth: a book unread is a book inherently unknowable.
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The perpetrators of these literary sins not only feign knowledge of a book’s plot, but also fabricate entire opinions! And for what? To impress bozos at the bar with your Dune expertise? To pacify your aunt with the declaration that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn changed your life too? Does the truth count for NOTHING anymore? And if you don’t believe such gobbledygook is rampant, just check out this “life-hacking” article!
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This is not to say that the entire book summary enterprise is rotten. It provides valuable services to many readers the globe over, from helping students better articulate a certain theme in an English essay to providing an interested party some context about the life of an author. Where this benign service becomes a nefarious tool, however, is when it is used to replace a reading experience wholesale.
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Look, I understand the impulse to fake knowledge of a book, whether it be for a church book club or even a class. Sometimes, such acts of desperation are necessary to survive in our current literature-saturated moment. But one must be careful not to let such behaviors become habits.
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Books work best when they are maintained as refuges of honesty and humility. In our current moment, when distractions seem to pile up on our screens at an exponential rate, the completion of a lengthy, difficult, or even somewhat boring book can feel like a minor miracle. Yes, we are all very busy people, and no one enjoys slogging through a dry tomb at the cost of finite and valuable time. But before you claw the words “Ulysses book summary” into Google Search, take stock of just how you arrived at this moment. Maybe you’ll want to change your reading ways.