My Reading Life: with Scott Santens
Five books I love are: The Dispossessed, The Sparrow, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, The New Economics, and The Demon-Haunted World… apparently anything that starts with “the.” The Demon-Haunted World will always hold a special place for me, because it was the first book I ever read by Carl Sagan, and it’s like a war-chest of critical-thinking skills to arm someone for an entire lifetime. Fortunately, one of those people was me.
What is a book you didn’t like, and why?
Back in high school, one of the books I had to read in AP English was Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t stand it. Out of all the books I was forced to read and wasn’t interested in, that was the hardest for me to get through because I kept falling asleep. It was like the book gave me narcolepsy. I loathed it and begged my teacher repeatedly to never subject any future class to it ever again.
What is a funny/interesting/unique anecdote about you as a reader?
I think I may be a bit odd in how I earmark pages. If a page has a quote I like, I’ll fold the upper corner. If the page has a really good quote. I’d double-fold the upper corner. If the page has what I think may be one of the best quotes in the book, I’ll also fold the bottom corner, and it will be a larger fold than the upper corner folds.
How did you first fall in love with books?
I was raised with books. We had a lot of books. As a kid, I had shelves of books. It’s hard to say when I first fell in love with them, because it’s like asking when I first fell in love with my family. They were just always there, and I always enjoyed them. I think I started reading a lot more though when I discovered the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and also Encyclopedia Brown. I consumed all of those voraciously.
What book or books are you planning to read soon?
I’ve got a very large stack building which is really hard to make any dent in when I spend my time focused on writing instead of reading. People send me books that haven’t been released yet, and right now one of those is a book by Hugh Segal that I really look forward to reading called “Bootstraps Need Boots.” There’s also an older book that came highly recommended and I just got called “The Tyranny of Kindness” that I’m excited to read too.
What book do you always recommend?
A book I always recommend is one I already mentioned, Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World. One I haven’t mentioned that I would also include is Aesop’s Fables. Seriously, that’s something everyone can and should read. It’s centuries of accumulated wisdom in bite-size stories that can help us throughout our entire lives.
What book/books changed the way you see the world and your place in it?
Two books that changed the way I see the world are Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In one year I read every book Ayn Rand ever wrote. I loved how as an atheist she put mankind above religion. The way it changed the world for me though is not what people probably think. It’s what happened after which was when I noticed that people practically worshipped her and also denied climate change. This was back in the late 90s. It was just something that really impacted me how an entire group of people could just decide to spread anti-scientific beliefs because to acknowledge reality would mean making some changes. It helped me see that whereas I could read something and find both stuff I liked and disliked, other people took it all or nothing, and could form a religion around an atheist
What was your favorite childhood book?
I had a huge book of Brothers Grimm-style stories that was illustrated and I just loved reading that book in bed as a kid.
Do you have any favorite literary journals?
I don’t read any literary journals. I just read the occasional report or paper in them.
Have you ever read anything that made you think differently about fiction/nonfiction?
The Hero With a Thousand Faces is a book that made me feel differently about fiction, because it describes the Monomyth formula which so many stories follow. Joseph Campbell was amazing in how he saw what was in so many of our stories as humans. So much of that book can be applied to nonfiction too, because once you see why humans keep telling the same stories over and over, our world starts to make a lot more sense.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The first really long book I ever read was A Mirror of Her Dreams, which along with A Man Rides Through It is a two-part series called Mordant’s Need by Stephen R. Donaldson, a fantasy writer. I chose those books at like age 11 because they were so big and the concept of mirror-based magic seemed really cool. I loved those books. I’d love to see them made into a series someday like Game of Thrones.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I can’t think of any author I didn’t like and came to like. I like them or I don’t. Sorry, Jane Austen fans. I’m not giving her another chance.
What book have you read that has most influenced your life?
I suppose the book that has most influenced my life is Manna by Marshall Brain, because it got me thinking about the idea of unconditional basic income as a way of getting us off the dystopian track we’re on, and onto a utopian one that looks more like Star Trek.
Who are your favorite writers?
My favorite writers are: Carl Sagan, Noam Chomsky, Stephen King, and Greg Egan. I don’t tend to focus on authors and instead tend to focus on individual books, but I focused on them.
What do you read on holiday?
My holiday reads aren’t any different than my everyday reads. I just read whatever I’m reading or want to start reading.
Which author (living or dead) do you think is most underrated?
Most underrated author is Greg Egan. He writes some of the best sci-fi out there, and I have yet to see a movie or TV series based off a single one.
Which author (living or dead) do you think is most overrated?
What is your favorite book published in the past twelve months?
My most favorite recently-published book is Crisis 2038: A Novel by Gerald Huff. He was my friend and he died the day after he completed it. It was his final goal in life, and he achieved it. And it’s a great book with a message about the need for basic income before technology starts breaking all of society around us.
Did your parents read to you when you were young?
Yes, both my parents read to me as a kid. I loved it. My sister read to me too, and I also read to her. I also enjoyed writing as a kid too.
Which book have you given most frequently as a gift to others?
I think the book I’ve gifted most to others is actually a series of books. It’s called “The Value” series, and each of them are about some value that’s good to learn, like the value of sharing for example, and they are illustrated, and each one involves some famous person growing up with some kind of imaginary friend that helps them learn the value. I loved them as a kid, and I think they’re great for parents to read to their kids.
What impact can a book have on the reader?
A single book can change everything. Books have a special power. Because of their length, they draw us in, and we can start to see as the author sees or wants for us to see. A book can change our beliefs. It can make an atheist out of a believer, or a believer out of an atheist. It can make a Democrat out of a Republican or a Republican out of a Democrat. It can change things deep within us that we fundamentally identify with. It can open our minds and our hearts to each other. Books are empathy machines and logic machines. They are the torches of humanity that we keep lit and pass around to each other to light the darkness and show us what we’d never have experienced otherwise.
End of Interview
Described by historian Rutger Bregman as "by far, the most effective basic income activist out there" Scott Santens has lived with a crowdfunded monthly basic income since 2016 and has been moderator of the Basic Income community on Reddit since 2013. He is the Editor of Basic Income Today, and serves on the board of directors of both the Gerald Huff Fund for Humanity and also USBIG, Inc. He holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology and his home is in New Orleans, Louisiana where he's lived since 2009.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scottsantens