What Did Mark Twain Mean By “Good Books?”

As a bookworm, I am always bombarded with book-related stuff that I see daily on my Facebook newsfeed. Over the years, I have repeatedly stumbled upon this quote by the great Samuel Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain, which reads:

the-man-who-does-not-read-good-books-has-no-advantage-over-the-man-who-cannot-read-them-quote-1
Source: Picture Quotes

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. – Mark Twain

This quote always makes me stop and question myself, what did Twain mean by “good books?” I bet many bibliophiles would agree with him on this one, but even then, I wonder what others think about this.

“Good,” in this context, is such a vague adjective that does not imply anything unless Mark Twain explicitly defined this in one of his writings. “Good” is one of those adjectives (like beauty) which meaning entirely depends on the reader. That said, this single word makes the entire quote irrelevant.

Think about it. If some self-aggrandizing bookworm who prefers non-fiction books were to use that quote to justify that her taste is better than those who prefer Wattpad stories, her statement wouldn’t make sense at all.

Wattpad Reader: Wattpad is life!

Self-Aggrandizing Bookworm: Really? You should read the good stuff! Did you know that Mark Twain said that the man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them?

Likewise, if a World Literature professor were to use the quote to back her claims that classic novels are better than young adult novels, she’d be making a fallacy.

World Literature Professor: So, what did you read over the weekend?

Student: Young adult books! Harry Potter is life!

World Literature Professor: Young one, you should be reading books with substance. Why not try classics? Mark Twain said that the man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them. Mark Twain is a legend. Believe him.

Student:

Young Adult Books:

Floor:

Simply stated, quoting Twain to justify our opinion about which books are “good” is total BS. In fact, the quote itself is a generalization and somehow demeans those who can’t read books. You see, even the phrase “can’t read books” in this context is too indefinite. Was Twain referring to the blind, illiterate, or impoverished?

I know some people who do not read books who are as smart as some bookworms I know. My point is, just because you are a bookworm doesn’t mean you’re smarter than those who don’t read. Although I believe well-read people have advantages over those who aren’t, being a bibliophile does not give us a free pass to insult the intellectual capacity of non-readers.

I hope people would stop using this quote from Mark Twain if their only intention is to humiliate others. Perhaps the better quotation would be from J.K. Rowling:

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Source: Pinterest

If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book. – J.K. Rowling

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