Schopenhauer had quite a lot to say about reading. He liked good books, but was highly skeptical of most books, and especially of contemporary ones.
Here he is – in dialectical* opposition to most of my other posts about reading – on the effects of reading too much:
When we read, someone else thinks for us; we repeat merely his mental process. It is like the pupil who, when learning to write, goes over with his pen the strokes made in pencil by the teacher. Accordingly, when we read, the work of thinking is for the most part taken away from us.
Hence the noticeable relief when from preoccupation with our thoughts we pass to reading. But while we are reading our mind is really only the playground of other people’s ideas; and when these finally depart, what remains?
The result is that, whoever reads very much and almost the entire day but at intervals amuses himself with thoughtless pastime, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who always rides ultimately forgets how to walk. But such is the case with very many scholars; they have read themselves stupid. For constant reading, which is at once resumed at every free moment, is even more paralysing to the mind than is manual work; for with the latter we can give free play to our own thoughts.
Just as a spring finally loses its elasticity through the constant pressure of a foreign body, so does the mind through the continual pressure of other people’s ideas. Just as we upset the stomach by too much food and thereby do harm to the whole body, so can we cram and strangle the mind by too much mental pabulum. For the more we read, the fewer the traces that are left behind in the mind by what has been read. It becomes like a blackboard whereon many things have been written over one another. Hence we never come to ruminate; but only through this do we assimilate what we have read, just as food nourishes us not by being eaten but by being digested.
On the other hand, if we are forever reading without afterwards thinking further about what we have read, this does not take root and for the most part is lost. Generally speaking, it is much the same with mental nourishment as with bodily; scarcely a fiftieth part of what is taken is assimilated; the rest passes off through evaporation, respiration, or otherwise.
In addition to all this, is the fact that thoughts reduced to paper are generally nothing more than the footprints of a man walking in the sand. It is true that we see the path he has taken; but to know what he saw on the way, we must use our own eyes…Arthur Schopenhauer – from Parega and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays
Food for thought – if digested. #mentalpabulum
The question for me is: What kind of books did Schopenhauer write?
*Funny – Schopenhauer hated Hegel
More on books and reading:
Deep Literacy: what it takes
Kevin Kelly on deep literacy
Tyler Cowen on reading fast, reading widely and reading well
Neil Gaiman on reading fiction, empathy and changing the world
Books as network opportunities
Folk art and reading as rivals
Misreading the mind: Ezra Klein and Nicholas Carr on transactional reading and contemplation
C.S. Lewis on reading the originals