Reading is alluring. It has a nameless quality beyond satisfying desires for information and pleasure. Despite more colorful and interactive media, reading text somehow remains more refined, more seductive. There is a visceral feeling to good reading. Partly this is because reading is nearly solitary.
"It is easy to maintain an intellectual rigidity. It takes more care to maintain a loose poeticism of thought." This is an underrated sentiment in a time of polarized ideologies!
This is a great list of rules (that aren't really rules) for reading. I feel like you managed to capture the romance of reading and some good reasons to prefer fiction. For me, I think much of the alluring nature of reading comes from a feeling of absorption. When I read, I become absorbed in a narrative that's different from the self-narrative that most of us experience day in and day out, and generally speaking, much more pleasurable!
I can't recommend Zweig’s biography of Fouché enough. Give it a try.
The part about audiobooks is spot on. Best time to listen to a good book in the tube!
I have read about how to read. I have also read people's recommendations for books. But has anyone written something on how to select books? I mean without anyone's recommendation, how do you choose fiction books?
This was well written and advised! Sophisticated works call for a slower reading pace. While I often find myself reading faster when the story flows well, I need to remember to savor the story. But, how do you feel about borrowing books with due dates from libraries? Unfortunately, at the moment I am unable to purchase the books I want to read. As a workaround, I have been utilizing the library and maintain a journal to record memorable quotes since annotating the borrowed books isn’t proper etiquette (though many people do 😅)
Thank you so much for this post. As an engineer 'think in systems' person who has FOMO about reading anything but non-fiction, I needed this nudge to pick up something fiction. That spark of joy was missing in my life.
As always, enjoyed this piece. And wish to read more from you on loaning books to people in your community. Gifting books to friends. And what will be the first books you hope your children will read?
My best to you Simon!
Excellent points. I agree with reading within an era. Awhile back I got heavy into the 19th century Russians, and I read both the big classics and nonfiction works around the era allowing me to put everything into proper context enriching the experience.
“When one reads, or at least when I read, it is always very slowly and in a voice.” Personally the more I am enjoying a book the faster I find myself reading. I become so engrossed in finding out what happens next that I begin to fly through the pages without noticing.
Thank you for your lovely essay. Given your reading list, can I recommend "The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo" by Tom Reiss? It is a biography of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (father of Alexander Dumas) and is quite fascinating.
As someone who likes both fiction and non-fiction, I've arrived at the conclusion that the ideal form for fiction is the novel, designed to be savored and long enough to get lost in; while the ideal form for non-fiction is the magazine feature, a la The New Yorker or The Atlantic, just long enough to inform, reinforce, and contextualize, but no longer.
It feels nice to have some non-fiction wisdom to support my decision to read almost nothing but fiction.
Amen! "[R]eading represent[s] a conversation between reader and author—the former living and the latter sometimes dead. It is a simple act that leads to an inheritance of wisdom from generations past.
He taught me to read with a critical eye, but to read everything: fact and fiction; classics and crap; bullshit and Bible."
More here: https://www.whitenoise.email/p/read
I feel that so often people around me feel the need to read non-fiction because “that’s what adults read” but I’m reading non fiction all the time: blog posts, podcasts, forums etc. When I sit down to read -- and inherently single-threaded activity -- I want to read fiction. That’s how you learn about the intricacies of humanity and yourself. Non fiction can tell you WHAT but fiction can tell you WHY.
Buy books on a whim, yes and many of them will be fantastic - just read Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill which is very submersive and enriching.
Thank you Simon for your throw of the grappling hook up on to a platform where we can take a look into the landscape of a mind grown from reading high quality fiction gifted by other-worldly writers.
This was a great read.