To Lucilius: A Plan of Reading, Seneca
I’ve been reading widely, but not deeply. I began the year with the expectation of diving into a big philosophical novel—1,000-plus pages. Instead, I’ve been skipping among countless authors, sampling tantalizing bites like hors d’oeuvres from an expansive buffet. It’s been delicious. And yet I’ve been craving a longer meal, a chance to live with one story, within one imaginative universe, beside a character who talks to me off and on during the day, day after day. Books are companions, and so are their authors. And though I am not a consumer of social media (as my neglected friends know), I crave the experience of deep reading. A graduate school professor of mine was fond of remarking that the purpose of an undergraduate education is to learn how to read a book, while the purpose of graduate education is to learn how to read one book well. He was only mildly facetious. To read one book or author well is an exercise in patience and sympathetic understanding—neither requires agreement; both open our minds and deepen our hearts. When we read carefully, we linger in the book’s pages and in the author’s company. But we also linger in our own. Don’t give up entirely the distraction of many books and authors, but make time to rest with one. What book or author has been nagging for your attention? Who is asking for intimate attention? Prepare yourself for a friendly feast.
Todd Breyfogle, Denver, Colorado