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.