I overheard a security guard in my office building discussing Dostoyevsky. He was chatting with someone in the lobby, telling them “you HAVE to read The Brothers Karamazov“. It made me think a lot of things, most of which I’m not proud of. My first thought was to judge him negatively. You’re the kind of well-read, sensitive soul who appreciates Dostoyevsky? Yet you’re just a security guard? What the fuck went wrong? You must be a loser. You should be in publishing. Or non-profit management. Or some other kind of “respectable” job. Not wearing a cheap suit with a dumb badge embroidered on the on the pocket and asking people for I.D. Immediately, I became aware that this is a kind of snobbery that’s baked deep into me. It felt shameful.
So I tried to empathize. Maybe he likes being a security guard, precisely because it gives him the free time to read a lot of Dostoyevsky. Maybe he’s actually very enlightened. He’s seen through the rat race. He understands the fundamental meaninglessness of the business world. Maybe he’s a writer. Maybe he’s the next Dostoyevsky! That’s what my brain does. It’s binary. This guy is either a self-sabotaging schmuck, or a secret genius. He can’t be just a guy who likes a book.
Then I felt doubly ashamed, because… I’ve never read any Dostoyevsky. I think I tried to read Crime and Punishment once, but stopped after 20 pages. I’ve had an expensive, formal literary education, but still, this guy is topping me. No one told him to read Dostoyevsky, but he did anyway. It was embarrassing. I wasn’t even angry. It made me want to go and check The Brothers Karamazov out of the library and read it during my morning commute. But that thing has got to be 900 pages long – I’m never going to carry that around in my bag, let alone finish it. Plus it will cut into my podcast listening time. I listen to a lot of podcasts with comedians making dick jokes. And that’s important.