I see variations of the statement, “Here’s is a list of books I read recently that I haven’t the time and/or inclination to blog about”, on the blogosphere from time to time. Without fail, the makers of such statements then proceed to share a list of titles (usually 3-5) with the blog’s readers. This puzzles me. What could be the motivation for somebody to publish their reading lists, and just the lists, sans further comments?

Perhaps we all, at one time or another, make lists of things we read; perhaps they serve as reminders of what we want to peruse next; perhaps they function as markers to congratulate us on what we’ve already digested. But to commit that list to a permanent and public form like a blog post? To essentially rattle off that list to the world? Why?

It could be that the writer hopes to spark some interesting discussion (or just provoke any kind of interaction really) from his readers by listing books’ titles. If this is the case, then wouldn’t a note or two on each book be (weakly) more effective? If the writer is simply just too lazy or busy to provide such notes, then why go through the trouble of writing the list at all? Surely the making, writing, and publishing of such lists take more time and effort than not going through the motions at all?

Here’s my hypothesis to solving the puzzle: we do such things for validation. These posts are little self-advertisements. They say, “Look at me! I read. And a lot! And not trivial, risible stuff either.”. I hope you will forgive me for the rather unkind narcissistic light this speculation bathes us in. But if we’re can believe Scott Turow, even grown, mature, bright, accomplished men & women desperately need external validation. (He was talking about first-year law students at Harvard, but the point applies more generally.) Turow wrote thusly

For many of us, then, the feeling had grown pronounced of being faceless, lost in the mob — and the only kind of distinction available was to be known as good, right, quick, adept . . . Thus a striving for a sense of identity began to be mixed in with our hopes for success.

Let’s assume for the rest of this post then that my speculation is true, that people publicize what they read to win a measure of validation from their readers (even if the readers are faceless, unknown, and give no indication of extending such validation). What drives us to such impulse for validation?

In this particular case, I would guess that the reason lies in the asymmetry in recognition between reading and writing. We’re rewarded, praised, lauded, and paid when we produce words, not when we consume them. Even learned persons respected for their erudition are respected insofar as they manage in their output to showcase their learned wisdom — to reflect and mirror back what they’ve read, absorbed, distilled and finally build on. In brief, they’re respected not for the actual learning but for convincing others — partly by telling them — what they’ve learned.

So given this sharp discontinuity between input and output, between consumption and production, between learning and informing and yet the close links between the activities, it’s understandable that some of us would seek to endow our reading (input/consumption/learning) with some of the authority of writing (output/production/information). The easiest way to do that is to write out our reading lists.

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2 Responses to Validation

  1. AZ says:

    the ultimate lists movie, is making similar points:

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