How To Read Well

The Bookworm (Spitzweg), Carl Spitzweg

The Bookworm (Spitzweg), Carl Spitzweg

some highlights from Simon Sarris's reading well.

The act of reading

  • Reading is alluring. It has a nameless quality beyond satisfying desires for information and pleasure
  • Reading is nearly solitary. At the beginning you are alone with just the characters. By the end, you are alone with just the author
  • Reading is letting someone else model the world for you.
  • And after finishing a very good book one is driven a little mad, forced to return from a world that no one nearby has witnessed.

Read for the stories

  • The goal is not to digest information, but to layer over your reality with a fresh coat of moss. Your own world becomes colored by these stories, so it is worthwhile to spend time seeking the excellent works from across cultures and history.
  • A person who reads no great stories will be influenced by the few stories he does come across in life, for better or worse — and I think mostly worse.
  • a life that is sown with stories is one better positioned to think and dream.
  • He who has no poetry in himself will find poetry in nothing. A person that reads no stories is unready for life. A person that reads many stories will be open to yet more stories.

Read more fiction

  • But I think what is most valuable to read are the category of works that resist summary, and the commonplace nonfiction books rarely fulfill that.
  • on fondness for non-fiction: I think this arises from a belief that superior knowledge of the world comes from non-fiction. This thought is attractive to people who build systems, but over-systematizing and seeing systems in everything can be a failure mode.
  • Careful descriptions and summaries miss too much of the world. Hard distinctions make bad philosophy
  • Reading fiction helps you become an unsystematic thinker, something that is equally valuable but more elided by some engineers. It is easy to maintain an intellectual rigidity. It takes more care to maintain a loose poeticism of thought.