Then came the phase when I only wanted to read non-fiction, since I felt that my small bit of valuable time should only be spent reading material that directly fed my knowledge base. Fiction exasperated me: although it was entertaining, what could I really learn from it? And if I did learn something, it would be one glimmer of truth after wading through dozens of pages of the story line.
After all, we only retain a fraction of what we read. After I read an entire book, what I remember can probably only fill a page or two.
Maybe it's worthless to read the classics, since I will only remember a thought or two of what the books are about, and this thought will probably be quite similar to what common knowledge of the book is, as reflected in cocktail party chatter. For instance, I've never set readerly fingers on Hemingway's An Old Man and the Sea, but I know from the intellectual grapevine what it's about, and what its essential breakdown of symbolism is.
For every book published, there should be the full version, for readers who want the pleasure of the story or who actually know how to deconstruct the narrative and find symbolism, and then there should be an abridged version. I don't mean a scaled-down, Readers' Digest-esque version; I mean the page of the actual content that will be retained.
The only potential problem is that people tend to remember different things after reading the same book. Once, I lent a textbook on public policy to a friend after I had read it and traced over the important points with a yellow highlighter. When she returned it to me, she said, "My God, Erica, you highlight the strangest parts!"
Also, what if this page of learned content could not be expressed in our coded language of words? What if it was better expressed in a picture or another non-textual medium?