Robservations addendum: Tesson adds strength to the notion of ‘overreading’

Sylvain-Tesson. Picture credit: Thomas Goisque

In a kind of addendum to my “Robservations” essay in which I suggest with the help of nineteenth-century German philosopher Schopenhauer and French philosopher and spiritual writer, Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges that reading too many books is bad for you, I present reinforcement in these words from Sylvain Tesson (with a little help from Nietzsche), found in probably the best and most profound book on living the (temporary) solitary life that I’ve read in a very long time, Consolations of the Forest (Allen Lane):

Today, struck by Nietzsche’s warning in Ecce Hommo, I’m leaving the books alone: ‘I’ve seen this with my own eyes: gifted and rich natures “inclined towards freedom” who have “read themselves to death” by the time they are thirty, mere matches now, which must be struck to give off sparks – their “thoughts.”’ Compulsive reading relieves the anxiety that comes with tramping through the forest of meditation in search of clearings. Volume after volume, the reader settles for recognising the expression of thoughts he was ‘working on’ intuitively. Reading is reduced to either discovering the formulation of ideas that had been floating around in one’s mind, or to the simple knitting together of connections among the works of hundreds of authors.

Nietzsche describes poor exhausted souls who can no longer manage to think unless they ‘look it up’. Only the squeeze of lemon can awaken the oyster.

Hence the appeal of those people who see the world with eyes free of all reference, for whom memories of reading never come between them and the substance of things.

More food for thought there folks, and I’d very much welcome your input on this. Is there much danger to be found in overreading? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below and let’s keep the conversation going.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. I’m not sure this is really about over-exhaustion from reading. There are always people who prefer to have their opinions given to them – whether from books, Tv or newspapers, on everything from philosophy to economics to whether they enjoyed Eastenders last night! And it’s always easier to let someone else do the ‘work’ for you, even when that ‘work’ is thinking!

  2. Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

    Thank you for your input, Mary. I get what you say, but it’s the point Nietzsche makes about people ‘reading themselves to death by the time they’re thirty’ that gives this piece its main weight with regards to overreading.

    I agree that some folks like to have their opinion given to them, but at the expense of not thinking for oneself? Nah..not for me, but alas it seems more and more common for folks to ‘think by proxy’ so to speak #sadtimes 🙁