From The Guardian:
Take this, for example. Maxim Gorky once claimed that “everything which is good in me should be credited to books”. You find this quoted a lot, as if it carried some generalisable weight. Yet I don't believe it can be true, quite, even of Maxim Gorky, who led an intermittently miserable life. It's a blind and callous thing to say. What about the influences of his family (particularly his grandmother), or his many friends? Nothing good whatsoever emanated from them? If I were his father I'd give him such a slap. You good-for-nothing thankless Gorky you, you book-ridden ingrate, you louse… But, of course, one recognises this sort of overstatement. You have to feel passionately about a subject to talk this foolishly about it. An astonishing number of “lovers” of books and of reading frequently say similarly questionable things, at least if you quote them out of context – which is what people tend to do. I'm doing it too.
Let's take the following, by way of almost random example, from Charles Kingsley: “Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book.” Gosh. Any living man? Any book? Nothing else can compete? Flowers? Sunsets? Palladian villas? Pastrami sandwiches with extra pickles? Rubbish. One remembers Norman Mailer's definition of a “conservative” as one who, given a choice between saving the life of a man and that of a tree, will ask to view the tree and to meet the man before making his decision. You have to look at what is in front of your nose, after all. It's not too much to ask.