Twenty years ago, in my senior year of high school, the English honors teacher, Mr. Jeffrey Naruszewicz, ended the class period by going around the room asking each us what university we were planning to attend. When it came to me, I answered, “Wheaton College,” and assumed that he would simply move on to the next student. But he didn’t. Instead, he stopped, turned his head to look back at me, and said this:
“That’s a good fit for you. Just make sure you keep reading books that piss you off.”
And then he moved on. Now some might object to the “salty” nature of his advice, but truth be told, it’s one of the best pieces of guidance I’ve ever received. Reading books that “piss you off” means you read books that don’t agree with your understanding of the world. Reading books of this nature means exposing yourself to other ideas that are in deep conflict with your own perspective. It means refusing to accept the construction of “strawman” arguments in favor of reading arguments by people who have a radically different worldviews. In the end, reading books that challenge you means becoming a life-long learner as opposed to being someone who is comfortable in the mistaken notion that the world is easily understood and categorized.
Last night, as I began a new book entitled The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are, I couldn’t help but think back to my old teacher. He would be proud of my selection. For this is the kind of book that is fearless in its orientation. It’s the kind of book that is not afraid to take a very sharp blade to the throats of our sacred cows on both the left and the right.
Indeed, no sooner is the author finished slashing away at the “privileged status” of the heterosexual majority, when she openly assails the cultural belief that sexual desire can form the core of a human identity. She’s looking at the right, she’s looking at the left, and she’s taking shots at everyone. It’s an audacious book; and one that I suspect will earn its rightful place among my Top-10 books of 2012.
But that’s not really the point of this post. The point of this post is to ask you: are you still reading books that “piss you off?” Or have you settled into a genteel reading cycle where the books you read simply confirm what you already know to be “true?”