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

One thought 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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