Reading as inclination leads

The following quote has stuck in my mind for many years:

A man ought to read just as inclination leads him: for what he reads as a task will do him little good.

I first ran across the quote in Spivak’s Calculus in college and have largely followed its advice ever since.

I did not, however, remember that the author of the quote was Samuel Johnson. This morning I was reading James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson and was pleasantly surprised to run across his quote in context.

Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together. A man ought to read just as inclination leads him: for what he reads as a task will do him little good. A young man should read five hours in a day, and so may acquire a great deal of knowledge.

This passage made me feel better about having skipped over large parts of the biography that I found tedious. Perhaps Doctor Johnson would approve.

Related post:

Reading old books

3 thoughts on “Reading as inclination leads

  1. Seeing this today prompted me to finally dig up this one CS Lewis quote that pops into my head occasionally:

    “It is a very silly idea that in reading a book you must never ‘skip.’ All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them.”

    -CS Lewis (from Time and Beyond Time)

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