Reading is an indisputable good. How could it not be? It’s hard to criticize anyone who takes the time, in this crazy, busy (and shockingly ignorant) world, to sit and read a book.
But if wisdom is our aim, then of course, it’s not that simple. “I cannot call somebody ‘hard-working’ knowing only that they read,” Epictetus said. “Even if ‘all night long’ is added, I cannot say it—not until I know the focus of all this energy…” Spending hours or days in front of books is better than say, hours watching stupid internet videos, but it can still be a waste of time.
Great readers don’t just think about quantity, they think about quality. They linger over the works of master thinkers, as Seneca put it, they read as well as re-read. They read books that challenge their thinking. They read books that help them improve as human beings, not just as professionals. They would never say, as some people sneer, “I don’t have time for fiction.” Some of the best and wisest things ever written come to us in the form of literature!
In an age where far too many people default to breathless journalism or mindless internet streaming, it’s a good start to be bookish, to read a lot, to finish a stack of books each year. But it’s not enough. What you read matters more. How you read matters too. You have to attack subjects you’re not familiar with and spar with them until you are. You have to shy away from the quick or easy reads. You have to take notes. You have to apply what you learn in real, tangible ways. You must, as Epictetus said, make sure that your “efforts aim at improving the mind.” Because then and only then would he call you “hard-working.” Then and only then do you earn the title “reader.”
If you’re looking for a book to improve as a human being, our Daily Stoic Leatherbound Editions are back in stock! The book is 366 days of Stoic insights and exercises. Every day of the year you’ll find one of their pithy, powerful quotations, as well as historical anecdotes, provocative commentary, and a helpful glossary of Greek terms.