Quotations about   reading

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I’ve learned to write in the first-person singular while remembering always that my writing must speak to the first-person plural.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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Added on 5-Sep-19 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
Comment (31 Dec 2001)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) American philosopher and writer
Walden, ch. 1 “Reading” (1854)
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Added on 6-Dec-17 | Last updated 6-Dec-17
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A bookstore is one of the only pieces of physical evidence we have that people are still thinking.

Jerry Seinfeld (b. 1955) American comedian
SeinLanguage (1993)
Added on 19-Oct-17 | Last updated 19-Oct-17
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Back in the nineteen-hundreds it was a wonderful experience for a boy to discover H. G. Wells. There you were, in a world of pedants, clergymen and golfers, with your future employers exhorting you to “get on or get out”, your parents systematically warping your sexual life, and your dull-witted schoolmasters sniggering over their Latin tags; and here was this wonderful man who could tell you about the inhabitants of the planets and the bottom of the sea, and who knew that the future was not going to be what respectable people imagined.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Wells, Hitler, and the World State,” Horizon (Aug 1941)
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Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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“Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are” is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you re-read.

François Mauriac (1885-1970) French author, critic, journalist
(Attributed)
Added on 20-Jul-17 | Last updated 20-Jul-17
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A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years’ study of books.

Other Authors and Sources
Chinese proverb

Given in translation in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Hyperion, ch. 7 (1839).
Added on 6-Jul-17 | Last updated 6-Jul-17
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When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.

Christopher Morley (1890-1957) American journalist, novelist, essayist, poet
Parnassus on Wheels, ch. 4 (1917)
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The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
“Morituri Salutamus,” st. 21 (1875)
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Added on 2-May-17 | Last updated 2-May-17
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The book has been man’s greatest triumph. Seated in my library, I live in a Time Machine. In an instant I can be transmitted to any era, any part of the world, even to outer space. I have lived in every period of history. I have listened to Buddha speak, marched with Alexander, sailed with the Vikings, ridden in canoes with the Polynesians. I have been at the courts of Queen Elizabeth and Louis XIV; I have been a friend to Captain Nemo and have sailed with Captain Bligh on the Bounty. I have walked in the agora with Socrates and Plato, and listened to Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount.

Best of all, I can do it all again, at any moment. The books are there. I have only to reach up to the shelves and take them down to relive the moments I have loved.

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) American writer
The Sackett Companion (1988)
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Added on 20-Apr-17 | Last updated 20-Apr-17
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I must say I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go into the library and read a good book.

Groucho Marx (1890-1977) American comedian [b. Julius Henry Marx]
“King Leer,” Tele-Views (Sep 1950)

Commonly paraphrased: "I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into another room and read a good book." A number of uses of this line by Marx are found around the same time frame, with variant wordings. See here for more discussion.
Added on 7-Apr-17 | Last updated 7-Apr-17
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There is more reason for saying grace before a new book than before dinner.

Charles Lamb (1775-1834) Welsh-English essayist
“Grace before Meat,” Essays of Elia (1823)
Added on 30-Mar-17 | Last updated 30-Mar-17
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The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what’s cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don’t like ’em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in ’em, ’cause that’s cool.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Paths of the Dead (2002)

In the essay "Some Notes Toward Two Analyses of Auctorial Method and Voice" by Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Added on 17-Mar-17 | Last updated 17-Mar-17
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I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any Man judge, unless his Mind has been opened and enlarged by Reading.

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
Diary (1 Aug 1761)
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Added on 15-Mar-17 | Last updated 15-Mar-17
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The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you, and to make friends with people of a distant past you have never known.

Yoshida Kenkō (1284-1350) Japanese author and Buddhist monk [吉田 兼好]
Essays in Idleness [Tsurezuregusa] (c. 1330)
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All novels are, or should be, written for both men and women to read, and I am at loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.

Anne Brontë (1820-1849) British novelist, poet [pseud. Acton Bell]
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Preface (1848)
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I am always for getting a boy forward in his learning; for that is a sure good. I would let him at first read any English book which happens to engage his attention; because you have done a great deal when you have brought him to have entertainment from a book. He’ll get better books afterwards.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson “16 April 1779” (1791)
Added on 26-Jan-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-17
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Take a book, the poorest one written, but read it with the passion that it is the only book you will read — ultimately you will read everything out of it, that is, as much as there was in yourself, and you could never get more out of reading, even if you read the best of books.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Stages on Life’s Way (1845)
Added on 25-Jan-17 | Last updated 25-Jan-17
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It is just those books which a man possesses, but does not read, which constitute the most suspicious evidence against him.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) French writer
Toilers of the Sea, Book 1, ch. 4 (1866)
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What refuge is there for the victim who is oppressed with the feeling that there are a thousand new books he ought to read, while life is only long enough for him to attempt to read a hundred?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) American poet, essayist, scholar
Over the Teacups, ch. 7 (1891)
Added on 29-Dec-16 | Last updated 29-Dec-16
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If you would understand your own age, read the works of fiction produced in it. People in disguise speak freely.

Arthur Helps (1813-1875) English writer and bureaucrat
Thoughts in the Cloister and the Cloud(1835)
Added on 15-Dec-16 | Last updated 15-Dec-16
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From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot before the other. But when books are opened you discover you have wings.

Helen Hayes (1900-1993) American actress
On Reflection (2014)
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Added on 8-Dec-16 | Last updated 11-Dec-16
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In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. […] It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.

Samuel Ichiye "S. I." Hayakawa (1906-1992) Canadian-American academic and politician
Language in Thought and Action (1978)
Added on 1-Dec-16 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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Books are a uniquely portable magic.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
Added on 22-Nov-16 | Last updated 22-Nov-16
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You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be —
I had a mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillilan (1869-1954) American poet and humorist
“The Reading Mother”
Added on 3-Nov-16 | Last updated 3-Nov-16
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Books are a delightful society. If you go into a room filled with books, even without taking them down from their shelves, they seem to speak to you, to welcome you, to tell you that they have something inside their covers that will be good for you, and that they are willing and desirous to impart it to you.

William Gladstone (1809-1898) English Liberal politician, Prime Minister
“The Workman’s Opportunities,” speech, Saltney (26 Oct 1889)
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Added on 20-Oct-16 | Last updated 20-Oct-16
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Be as careful of the books you read as of the company you keep, for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as the latter.

Edwin Paxton Hood (1820-1885) English nonconformist minister and author
Self-Formation (1858 ed.)
Added on 22-Sep-16 | Last updated 22-Sep-16
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We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read.

Jules Verne (1828-1905) French novelist, poet, playwright
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)
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Added on 16-Sep-16 | Last updated 16-Sep-16
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I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Two Cheers for Democracy (1951)
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Let us tenderly and kindly cherish therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.

Adams - read think speak and write - wist_info quote

John Adams (1735-1826) American lawyer, Founding Father, statesman, US President (1797-1801)
“A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law” (1765)
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Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man, who spends too much time in the theatre, is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
(Attributed)

Quoted in George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930).
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 28-Jul-16
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There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates loot on Treasure Island and at the bottom of the Spanish Main … and, best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day
of your life.

Walt Disney (1901-1966) American entrepreneur, animator, film producer, showman
(Attributed)
Added on 14-Jul-16 | Last updated 14-Jul-16
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There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing poetry.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet
“There is no frigate like a book” (c. 1873)
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The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode] (1637)
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A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity, and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) Canadian author, editor, publisher
“Too Much, Too Fast” Peterborough Examiner (Canada) (16 Jun 1962)
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Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of trumpet out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John, and Paul.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Journal (1836)
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The best effect of any book is that it excites the reader to self-activity.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
(Attributed)

Quoted in James Wood (ed.), Dictionary of Quotations from Ancient and Modern, English and Foreign Sources (1893).
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The best of all ways to make one’s reading valuable is to write about it, and so I hope my Cousin Elizabeth has a blank book where she keeps some record of her thoughts.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Letter to Elizabeth Tucker (1832)
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One sure window into a person’s soul is his reading list.

Tabor - reading list - wist_info quote

Mary B. W. Tabor (b. 1964) American journalist [Mary Britt Wellford Tabor]
“Book Notes,” New York Times (14 Jun 1995)
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You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
Interview, Life Magazine (24 May 1963)

See also this related quotation.
Added on 17-Mar-16 | Last updated 17-Mar-16
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You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
“Bradbury Still Believes in Heat of ‘Fahrenheit 451,'” interview by Misha Berson, The Seattle Times (12 Mar 1993)
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Added on 21-Jan-16 | Last updated 21-Jan-16
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You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems and suffer and understand, for all that is life.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) Indian philosopher, mystic, orator
Think on These Things, Part 1, ch. 3 (1963)
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Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: This is the ideal life.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Mark Twain’s Notebook [ed. Paine (1935)]
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It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read becomes the very substance and text of my mind.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American author and lecturer
(Attributed)

After being accused of plagiarism. In James R. Kincaid, "Purloined Letters," New Yorker (20 Jan 1997)
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Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature, dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. The are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world, and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
“The Book,” Lecture, Library of Congress (17 Oct 1979)
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Reprinted in Authors' League Bulletin (Nov-Dec 1979)
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You know I’ve noticed a certain anti-intellectualism going around this country ever since around 1980, coincidentally enough. I was in Nashville, Tennessee last weekend and after the show I went to a Waffle House, and I’m sitting there and I’m eating and reading a book. I don’t know anybody, I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book. This waitress comes over to me (mocks chewing gum) “What you readin’ for?” Wow, I’ve never been asked that; not “What am I reading,” “What am I reading for?” Well, goddammit, you stumped me. I guess I read for a lot of reasons — the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress. Yeah, that would be pretty high on the list. Then this trucker in the booth next to me gets up, stands over me and says [mocks Southern drawl] “Well, looks like we got ourselves a readah.” What the fuck’s going on? It’s like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George costume or something. Am I stepping out of some intellectual closet here? I read, there I said it. I feel better.

Bill Hicks (1961-1994) American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, musician [William Melvin "Bill" Hicks]
Sane Man (1989)
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Readers usually grossly underestimate their own importance. If a reader cannot create a book along with the writer, the book will never come to life. Creative involvement: that’s the difference between reading a book and watching TV. In watching TV, we are passive — sponges; we do nothing. In reading, we must become creators, imagining the setting of the story, seeing the facial expressions, hearing the inflection of the voices. The author and the reader “know” each other; they meet on the bridge of words.

Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007) American writer
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (1982)
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Life without literature is a life reduced to penury. It expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing. It shows you possibilities you haven’t thought of. It enables you to live the lives of other people than yourself. It broadens you, it makes you more human. It makes life enjoyable.

M. H. Abrams (b. 1912) American literary critic [Meyer (Mike) Howard Abrams]
“Built to Last,” interview with Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Times: Sunday Book Review (23 Aug 2012)
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Those authors into whose hands nature has placed a magic wand, with which they no sooner touch us than we forget the unhappiness in life, than the darkness leaves our soul, and we are reconciled to existence, should be placed among the benefactors of the human race.

Denis Diderot (1713-1784) French editor, philosopher
(Attributed)

Attributed in Maturin M. Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884 ed.).
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Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Preface (1876)
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If you can’t read and write you can’t think. Your thoughts are dispersed if you don’t know how to read and write. You’ve got to be able to look at your thoughts on paper and discover what a fool you were.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
“Ray Bradbury is on fire!”, interview with James Hibberd, Salon.com (29 Aug 2001)
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A person who does not read cannot think. He may have good mental processes, but he has nothing to think about. You can feel for people or natural phenomena and react to them, but they are not ideas. You cannot think about them.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) American writer
In “Author Rex Stout vs. the FBI,” Interview with Sandra Schmidt, Life (10 Dec 1965)
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Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
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The great inconvenience of new books is that they prevent us from reading the old ones.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
Added on 4-Nov-13 | Last updated 13-May-16
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A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

First attributed to Twain in 1945, but not found in his works. Earliest appearances of the quote date back to 1910, but are unattributed. It's often attributed to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby), but she didn't say it until 1966. See here for more information.Variants:
  • "Who can see the barely perceptible line between the man who can not read at all and the man who does not read at all? The literate who can, but does not, read, and the illiterate who neither does nor can? [Original form.]
  • "The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read." ["Dear Abby", 19 Oct 1966]
  • "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
Added on 13-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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