Although many people may not realize it, browsing your local library’s collection may be one of the best ways you can spend your free time. Some people may wonder how a quick glance at random information can benefit their everyday experience. I argue that a shallow understanding of many topics is an essential part of being a well-rounded shallow person. The beauty is, most other people are also shallow, so, armed with your broad new vocabulary, you can use meaningless words and phrases to appear more intelligent than you really are.
Here is an example of what I mean.
Say you are at Mississippi Museum of Art and you see an attractive person studying a certain work. If you’ve read any of Joann Prosyniuk’s Modern Arts Criticism you could say something like this: “No artist, of course, lives in a vacuum, in no context, beyond influence. O’Keeffe’s myth of her own life may have helped to sustain her, but it may also have inhibited her painting. What is really astonishing about it, though, is the extent to which, even after her death, the myth remains unexamined, and continues to serve as a basis for the discussion of O’Keeffe and her work in the scholarly and curatorial world.” What does this statement mean? Who knows? Certainly not you, but the chances are your new friend will not either and that’s the point. Some of you may say, “But what if the work was not by O’Keeffe?” So what! Just replace the name with whoever it is by and you’ll come out looking like a genius.
Let’s take another example.
What if you head downtown to Underground 119 to listen to some jazz? Without fail someone will say something innocuous like, “I really like this band." If you’ve read any of Michael Erlewine’s Music Guide to Jazz: The Experts Guide to the Best Jazz Recordings you could say something clever like “Sure this is good but nothing compares to Ken McIntyre’s recording of Stone Blues. This particular album has a lush, somewhat obscure sound that clearly paved the way for what we’re hearing tonight.” Did you just hear what you said? Words like “lush” and “obscure” have little or no relationship in that context. The point is you said it with conviction (using “clearly” always sells!) and with a look of sage understanding that should fool all of those within earshot.
Music and art are only two of the many subjects you can gain a superficial understanding of while browsing your local library. There are titles on architecture, philosophy, political theory and countless other complex subjects that deserve our limited appreciation. So turn off that episode of Bernie Mac (or, wait until it’s over) and go to the library to enjoy the enrichment of simplified learning! (Of course, in order to save yourself a great deal of embarrassment, you could also dig a little deeper and truly understand what it is you're talking about.)
Prosyniuk, Joann (Ed.) Modern Arts Criticism, Vol. 1. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1991
Erlewine, Michael (Ed.) All Music Guide to Jazz: The Experts' Guide to the Best Jazz Recordings, 2nd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Miller Freeman Books, 1996