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This Is How Reading Is Supposed to Go

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It was some time around the year 141 CE that Junius Rusticus gave Marcus Aurelius a gift. Before all the things he would teach this young future emperor—about character, about truthfulness, about getting to the point, about forgiveness—was, Marcus would recall most gratefully, Rusticus’s gift of “the remembrances of Epictetus, which he supplied me with out of his own library.”

How well-worn this copy must have become! As Marcus would say, Rusticus had taught him to never be satisfied with just “getting the gist” of things he read, but encouraged him to read deeply, repeatedly, and forcefully. Considering how many times Marcus quotes Epictetus from memory in Meditations, it’s likely that he treated this copy of Discourses like a bible, returning to it time and time again. Certainly, by the time Marcus died, there must not have been much left of this prized possession, so well-traveled it would have been, and made of such fragile materials. Rather than the rich leather volumes we are used to seeing in private libraries and museums, the books of ancient Rome were constructed of papyrus and wrapped in thick rolls, unsuitable for long-term preservation.

We can imagine that Seneca’s copies of Zeno, Cleanthes, Chryssipus, and Epicurus must have been similarly well-worn. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works,” he advised Lucillius, “if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere…And the same thing must hold true of men who seek intimate acquaintance with no single author, but visit them all in a hasty and hurried manner… There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

That’s what we Stoics do. We don’t just get a book and put it up on our shelf. We devour it. We take notes. We fold pages. We throw it in our backpacks and suitcases when we travel, it sits on the front seat of the car in case we have a few minutes. It moves with us from college to our first apartment to our first home and then, if it’s really good, perhaps, one day we’ll give it to our own children—or to a friend in need, as Rusticus did. 

Books are made to be broken in. They are quarries of gems to be mined, wells to be drawn from, sturdy posts to lean on, shoulders to cry on. Just as we never step in the same river twice, to paraphrase Marcus and Heraclitus, we never read a book the same way. That’s why we read and re-read, note and discuss, write and flag. 

The beatings our books take in the process? It’s a beautiful sight. It’s a sign they are doing their job. It’s evidence of accumulated hours and, hopefully, much wisdom too. It’s the highest praise you can give an author—to really engage with the material, to make it your own, to have a real, two-sided conversation.

It’s been almost four years since The Daily Stoic was published. This little book, the first collection of all the Stoics in centuries and certainly the only one to ever put them in a page-a-day format, has sold nearly one million copies in 20 languages. It’s quite possible that your copy, having been cracked open hundreds of times now, is looking a little worse for wear. 

So we have good news. We are releasing a premium leather-bound edition. This limited edition comes with a host of new features to distinguish it from the original work: a genuine leather cover with a gold foil-stamped logo, gilded-edge pages printed on premium-grade paper, all-new illustrations to delineate each section of the book, and more. Each book comes inside a custom box (great for gift-giving) that holds the book as well as a special letter from the authors, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. The book is now on sale, but this first run has only a limited quantity—don’t miss your chance to own this beautiful new edition of The Daily Stoic, buy yours today.

P.S. This was originally sent on August 4, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.