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Seneca on Reading

Why the company of great and favorite writers should be kept often.

Letters to a Stoic has had a profound effect on me when I first read it. It has really shifted my way of thinking, helped me find myself and improved by day to day life.  And while you are always torn to reread or rewatch something that you loved, something that you think and feel is special, I still made myself do it. Sacred cows need to be profaned. In this post I will not talk about the whole book and every letter that impacted me once again. I want to focus on the second letter or the “Letter on Reading.”

Let’s look at some of quotes and what they tell us.

You should be extending your stay among writers whose genius is unquestionable, deriving constant nourishment from them if you wish to gain anything from your reading that will find a lasting place in your mind. To be everywhere is to be nowhere.

It is easy to be scatterbrained in this age of ours. So many things jump out at you at every moment. And yet we have to struggle and impose our will on the times when we are free from obligations, making them count, using them as a means to better our present and our future. Spending time with some of the greatest writers, or some of your favorite writers is one such way. There is so much new stuff every day and we are almost crucified between all that new, shiny books or TV shows, commercials or ranking telling us that we can’t be a part of the world if we don’t consume that media. But its important to take a step back and remember all those writers, directors, show runners who gave you your peak experiences and return to them, either in the form of a rewatch/reread or following their work closely.

Additionally, don’t shy away from classics or big books with complex ideas. They are the perfect opportunity to grow and experience new things. Old doesn’t mean archaic and new doesn’t mean revolutionary or essential. In most cases it is the other way around.

Food that is vomited up as soon as it is eaten is not assimilated into the body and does not do one any good; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent changes of treatment; a wound will not heal over if it is being made the subject of experiments with different ointments; a plant which is frequently moved never grows strong.

Stick with the proved. It is easy to switch on something that euthanizes your brain, especially when you are alone at night and tired. A lot of people will reach for a Chuck Lorrie sitcom, or even porn. But try and be better than that. Maybe watch The Americans instead or read a poem by Horace.

▪ Each day, too, acquire something which will help you to face poverty, or death, and other ills as well.

Everyone, naturally, is frightened by those three potential human conditions. The great authors, or classic authors, like Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych, the works of Doestoevsky, Charles Dickens, Voltaire all do the hard lifting for us, showing us what facing those calamities might be. So don’t shy away from your shadows, they are always there. Face them, learn from them and grow.

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