Famous Writers on the Love of Reading

Famous Writers on the Love of Reading

“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”

~Kurt Vonnegut

Today we’ll consider a wide variety of writers and their love of reading. Many writers argue you cannot have one without the other. Reading is as fundamental to writing as the tools used to scribe one’s thoughts. Below is a collection of insights of our favorite writers on the love of reading.

Sir Francis Bacon

“Of Studies”

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

Henry David Thoreau

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust Swann's WaySwann’s Way

“The fault I find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a lifetime give us anything that is of real importance.”

Rudyard Kipling

The Uses of Reading

“If we pay no attention to words whatever, we may become like the isolated gentleman who invents a new perpetual-motion machine on old lines in ignorance of all previous plans, and then is surprised that it doesn’t work. If we confine our attention entirely to the slang of the day—that is to say, if we devote ourselves exclusively to modern literature—we get to think the world is progressing when it is only repeating itself. In both cases we are likely to be deceived, and what is more important, to deceive others. Therefore, it is advisable for us in our own interests, quite apart from considerations of personal amusement, to concern ourselves occasionally with a certain amount of our national literature drawn from all ages. I say from all ages, because it is only when one reads what men wrote long ago that one realizes how absolutely modern the best of the old things are.”

William Faulkner

Interviewed by Lavon Rascoe for The Western Review

“Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut Palm SundayPalm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”

Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Stephen King

Stephen King, On Writing On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. . . .
‘[R]ead a lot, write a lot’ is the great commandment.”

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, The Superstitious Ethics of a ReaderThe Superstitious Ethics of the Reader

“I do know that literature is an art that can foresee the time when it will be silenced, an art that can become inflamed with its own virtue, fall in love with its own decline, and court its own demise.”

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

Harper Lee

Harper Lee To Kill A MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird

“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

Mortimor J. Adler

Mortimor J. Adler How to Read a BookHow to Read a Book: A Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom How to Read and WhyHow to Read and Why

“We read, frequently if not unknowingly, in search of a mind more original than our own.”

David Foster Wallace

An Interview With David Foster Wallace by Larry McCaffery

“I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple. But now realize that TV and popular film and most kinds of “low” art—which just means art whose primary aim is to make money—is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to the reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. Whereas “serious” art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort. So it’s hard for an art audience, especially a young one that’s been raised to expect art to be 100 percent pleasurable and to make that pleasure effortless, to read and appreciate serious fiction. That’s not good. The problem isn’t that today’s readership is “dumb,” I don’t think. Just that TV and the commercial-art culture’s trained it to be sort of lazy and childish in its expectations. But it makes trying to engage today’s readers both imaginatively and intellectually unprecedentedly hard.”

Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino The Uses of LiteratureThe Uses of Literature

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

Orphan Pamuk

Orphan Pamuk The New LifeThe New Life

“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. Even on the first page I was so affected by the book’s intensity I felt my body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the book that lay before me on the table. But even though I felt my body dissociating, my entire being remained so concertedly at the table that the book worked its influence not only on my soul but on every aspect of my identity. It was such a powerful influence that the light surging from the pages illumined my face; its incandescence dazzled my intellect but also endowed it with brilliant lucidity. This was the kind of light within which I could recast myself; I could lose my way in this light; I already sensed in the light the shadows of an existence I had yet to know and embrace. I sat at the table, turning the pages, my mind barely aware that I was reading, and my whole life was changing as I read the new words on each new page. I felt so unprepared for everything that was to befall me, and so helpless, that after a while I moved my face away instinctively as if to protect myself from the power that surged from the pages. It was with dread that I became aware of the complete transformation of the world around me, and I was overtaken by a feeling of loneliness I had never before experienced–as if I had been stranded in a country where I knew neither the lay of the land nor the language and the customs.”

Paul Auster

Paul Auster The Brooklyn FolliesThe Brooklyn Follies

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.”

David L. Ulin

David Ulin The Lost Art of ReadingThe Lost Art of Reading

“This is where reading, real reading, comes in–because it demands space, because by drawing us back from the primacy of the instant it restores time to us in a more fundamental way. It’s not possible to read a book in the present, for books exist in many moments all at once.”

Joyce Carol Oates

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

Mark Edmundson

Mark Edmundson Why ReadWhy Read?

“What’s missing from the current dispensation is a sense of hope when we confront major works, the hope that they will tell us something we do not know about the world or give us an entirely fresh way to apprehend the experience. We need to learn not simply to read books, but to allow ourselves to be read by them.”

Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett The Uncommon ReaderThe Uncommon Reader

“Books are not about passing the time. They’re about other lives. Other worlds. Far from wanting time to pass, Sir Kevin, one just wishes one had more of it. If one wanted to pass the time, one could go to New Zealand.”

John Green

John Green The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard The LivingThe Living

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. She read books as one would breathe ether, to sink in and die.”

Do you have a favorite quote on reading?

A lot of these quotes and passages are well-known and others are what I consider hidden gems that I’ve found over the years. Do any of these authors’ approaches resonate with you? Are there any lines from something you’ve read that remind you of how incredible reading is?

Famous Writers on the Love of Reading

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I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. ~Orphan Pamuk Powered by ConvertKit

3 thoughts on “Famous Writers on the Love of Reading”

  1. “If we confine our attention entirely to the slang of the day—that is to say, if we devote ourselves exclusively to modern literature—we get to think the world is progressing when it is only repeating itself” – Rudyard Kipling

    I love that quote from Mr. Kipling!!!!

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