Quotations about   reading

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KEATING: When you read, don’t just consider what the author thinks, consider what you think.

Tom Schulman (b. 1951) American screenwriter, director
Dead Poets Society (1989)
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Added on 17-Jun-22 | Last updated 17-Jun-22
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It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

Charles Francis Potter
Charles Francis Potter (1885-1962) American Unitarian minister, theologian, humanist, activist
Speech, Dayton, Ohio (Apr 1927)

Often misattributed to Oscar Wilde. More discussion here: What You Read When You Don’t Have To, Determines What You Will Be When You Can’t Help It – Quote Investigator
Added on 30-May-22 | Last updated 13-Jun-22
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If you cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use reading it at all.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
“The Decay of Lying” [Cyril] (1889)
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The verse is mine but friend, when you declaim it,
It seems like yours, so grievously you maim it.

[Quem recitas meus est, o Fidentine, libellus:
sed male cum recitas, incipit esse tuus.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, epigram 38 (1.38) [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]
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"To Fidentinus." (Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

The verses, Sextus, thou doost read, are mine;
But with bad reading thou wilt make them thine.
[tr. Harington (fl. c. 1600)]

The verses, friend, which thou hast read, are mine;
But, as thou read'st so ill, 't is surely thine.
[tr. Fletcher (c. 1650)]

My living lays were those that you dispense:
But, when you murder them, they yours commence.
[tr. Elphinston (1782), 12.14]

O Fidentinus! the book you are reciting is mine, but you recite it so badly it begins to be yours.
[tr. Amos (1858), ch. 2, ep. 33]

With faulty accents, and so vile a tone,
You quote my lines, I took them for your own.
[tr. Halhead (fl. c. 1800)]

The book which you are reading aloud is mine, Fidentinus but, while you read it so badly, it begins to be yours.
[tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

The verses, friend, which thou has read, are mine;
But, as though read'st them, they may pass for thine.
[tr. Bouquet (<1879)]

You're reading my book to your friends as your own:
But in reading so badly your claim to it's shown.
[tr. Nixon (1911)]

That book you recite, O Fidentinus, is mine. But your vile recitation begins to make it your own.
[tr. Ker (1919)]

Fame of how bad you read endures.
Though that's my book, just call it yours.
[tr. Ericsson (1995)]

Although the lines are mine (their worth assures) --
By badly singing them, you make them yours.
[tr. Wills (2007)]

Dear Rud, the book from which you are
giving a reading is mine
but since you read so badly
it's yours.
[tr. Kennelly (2008)]

The book that you recite from, Fidentinus, is my own.
But when you read it badly, it belongs to you alone.
[tr. McLean (2014)]

That little book you're reciting is one of mine, Fidentinus; but you're reciting it so badly, it's turning into one of yours.
[tr. Nisbet (2015)]

That verse is mine, you know, which you’re
Reciting, But you quote it
So execrably, that I believe
I’ll let you say you wrote it
[tr. Wender]

The poems thou are reading, friend, are mine;
But such bad reading starts to make them thine.
[tr. Oliver]

Added on 4-Feb-22 | Last updated 15-Apr-22
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Study has been for me the sovereign remedy against all the disappointments of life. I have never known any trouble that an hour’s reading would not dissipate.

Charles-Lewis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher
Mes Pensées [My Thoughts] (1720-1755)

Alternate translations:

Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the vexations of life, having never had an annoyance that one hour's reading did not dissipate.
[Source]

Study has been to me a sovereign remedy against the troubles of life, and I have never had a grief that an hour's reading would not dissipate.
[Source]

Added on 21-Jan-22 | Last updated 21-Jan-22
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I know that the Bible is a special kind of book, but I find it as seductive as any other. If I am not careful, I can begin to mistake the words on the page for the realities they describe. I can begin to love the dried ink marks on the page more than I love the encounters that gave rise to them. If I am not careful, I can decide that I am really much happier reading my Bible than I am entering into what God is doing in my own time and place, since shutting the book to go outside will involve the very great risk of taking part in stories that are still taking shape. Neither I nor anyone else knows how these stories will turn out, since at this point they involve more blood than ink. The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.

Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) American minister, academic, author
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, Part 1 (2006)
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There is a class of people wanting to be called philosophers, who are said to have produced many books actually in Latin. For my part I don’t despise them — I’ve never read them. But since those selfsame writers proclaim that what they write is neither systematic nor properly subdivided nor correct nor polished in style, I pass by reading what would bring no pleasure.

[Est enim quoddam genus eorum qui se philosophos appellari volunt, quorum dicuntur esse Latini sane multi libri; quos non contemno equidem, quippe quos numquam legerim; sed quia profitentur ipsi illi qui eos scribunt se neque distincte neque distribute neque eleganter neque ornate scribere, lectionem sine ulla delectatione neglego.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 2, ch. 3 / sec. 7 (45 BC) [tr. Douglas (1990)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

For there is a certain Set of such as assume to themselves the name of Philosophers, who are said to have Books enough in Latin, which I do not despise, for I have never read them; but because the Authors profess themselves, that they write neither with distinction of Terms, nor distribution of Parts, nor elegancy of Language, nor any Ornaments; I neglect to give that reading which is no ways delightful
[tr. Wase (1643)]

For there is a farther certain tribe who would willingly be called philosophers, whose books in our language are said to be numerous, which I do not despise, for indeed I never read the: but because the authors themselves declare that they write without any regularity or method, without elegance or ornament: I do not choose to read what is so void of entertainment.
[tr. Main (1824)]

For there is a certain race, who wish to be called philosophers, whose Latin books, indeed, are said to be numerous, which I have no contempt for, really, because I never read them; but, since their authors themselves profess to write without either order or method, ornament or elegance, I neglect a reading which affords me no delight.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

For there is a certain class of them who would willingly be called philosophers, whose books in our language are said to be numerous, and which I do not despise, for indeed I never read them: but still because the authors themselves declare that they write without any regularity, or method, or elegance, or ornament, I do not care to read what must be so void of entertainment.
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

There is, indeed, a certain class of men who want to be called philosophers, who are said to have written many Latin books, which I do not despise, because I have never read them; but inasmuch as their authors profess to write with neither precision, nor system, nor elegance, nor ornament, I omit reading what can give me no pleasure.
[tr. Peabody (1886)]

There is a certain class of authors, who wish to be called philosophers, and who have apparently published many books in Latin. I do not, indeed, condemn them, because I never read them, but because they themselves confess that they have not written their books clearly or in a well-arranged manner, nor elegantly or with any ornament. I avoid the sort of reading which offers no enjoyment.
[tr. @sentantiq (2015)]

There exists a class of men who lay claim to the title of philosophers and are said to be authors of a great many books in Latin. These I personally do not despise, for the reason that I have never read them; but as the writers of these books on their own admission avoid in what they write a systematic approach, due subdivision, correctness, or a polished style. I have no interest in reading what brings no pleasure.
[tr. Davie (2017)]

Added on 9-Aug-21 | Last updated 9-Aug-21
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With many readers, brilliancy of style passes for affluence of thought; they mistake buttercups in the grass for immeasurable gold mines under the ground.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) American poet
Kavanagh: A Tale, ch. 13 (1849)
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There is a pleasure unknown to the landsman in reading at sea.

William McFee (1881-1966) English writer
“Something to Read,” Harper’s #829 (Jun 1919)
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There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) Russian-American poet, essayist, Nobel laureate, US Poet Laureate [Iosif Aleksandrovič Brodskij]
Press conference, Library of Congress, Washington (17 May 1991)

On accepting the US Poet Laureateship.
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Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary [Dictionnaire Philosophique], “Liberty of the Press” (1764)
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Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.

Mason Cooley (1927-2002) American aphorist, academic
(Attributed)
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Dreams, books, are each a world; and books we know,
Are a substantial world, both pure and good:
Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness will grow.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) English poet
“Personal Talk,” st. 3 (1846)
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A novel which survives, which withstands and outlives time, does do something more than merely survive. It does not stand still. It accumulates round itself the understanding of all these persons who bring to it something of their own. It acquires associations, it becomes a form of experience in itself, so that two people who meet can often make friends, find an approach to each other, because of this one great common experience they have had.

Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Irish author
“Truth and Fiction,” BBC Radio (Oct 1956)
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Long books, when read, are usually overpraised, because the reader wants to convince others and himself that he has not wasted his time.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) English novelist, essayist, critic, librettist [Edward Morgan Forster]
Commonplace Book (1985) [ed. Gardner]
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What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.

J. D. Salinger (1919-2010) American writer [Jerome David Salinger]
The Catcher in the Rye, ch. 3 (1951)
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There are books one needs maturity to enjoy, just as there are books an adult can come on too late to savor.

Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) American author, poet
“The Consolations of Illiteracy,” Saturday Review (1 Aug 1953)
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Reprinted in The Province of the Heart (1959).
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“If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master — to do as he is told to do. Learning will spoil the best nigger in the world. Now, if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) American abolitionist, orator, writer
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, ch. 6 (1845)
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Quoting his master, Auld, chastising Mrs. Auld for teaching Douglass to read. Frequently paraphrased down to "Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave."
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The owner of the library is not he who holds a legal title to it, having bought and paid for it. Anyone and everyone is owner of the library who can read the same through all the varieties of tongues and subjects and styles, and in whom they enter with ease and take residence and force toward paternity and maternity, and make supple and powerful and rich and large.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) American poet
Leaves of Grass, Preface (1855)
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Reprinted on the wall of Atlantis Books, Oia, Santorini, Greece.
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She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) American writer
Work: A Story of Experience, ch. 2 (1873)
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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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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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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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A bookstore is one of the only pieces of physical evidence we have that people are still thinking.

Jerry Seinfeld (b. 1954) American comedian
SeinLanguage (1993)
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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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“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).
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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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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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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.
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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)
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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.
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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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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)
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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)
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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)
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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)
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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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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)
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Books are a uniquely portable magic.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000)
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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”
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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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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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More quotes by Hood, Edwin Paxton

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)
Added on 15-Sep-16 | Last updated 15-Sep-16
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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)
Added on 10-Aug-16 | Last updated 10-Aug-16
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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 theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
“What Life Means to Einstein,” Interview with G. Viereck, Saturday Evening Post (26 Oct 1929)
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Reprinted in George Sylvester Viereck, Glimpses of the Great (1930).
Added on 28-Jul-16 | Last updated 24-Feb-21
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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)
Added on 7-Jul-16 | Last updated 7-Jul-16
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More quotes by Dickinson, Emily

Reading good books is like having a conversation with the most distinguished men of past ages — indeed, a rehearsed conversation in which these authors reveal to us only the best of their thoughts.

[Que la lecture de tous les bons livres est comme une conversation avec les plus honnêtes gens des siècles passés, qui en ont été les auteurs, et même une conversation étudiée en laquelle ils ne nous découvrent que les meilleures de leurs pensées.]

René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician
Discourse on Method [Discours de la méthode], Part 1 (1637) [tr. Cottingham, Stoothoff (1985)]
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(Source (French)). Alternate translations:

The reading of good books, is like the conversation with the honestest persons of the past age, who were the Authors of them, and even a studied conversation, wherein they discover to us the best only of their thoughts.
[tr. Newcombe ed. (1649)]

The perusal of all excellent books is, as it were, to interview with the noblest men of past ages, who have written them, and even a studied interview, in which are discovered to us only their choicest thoughts.
[tr. Veitch (1901)]

I was aware that the reading of all good books is indeed like a conversation with the noblest men of past centuries who were the authors of them, nay a carefully studied conversation, in which they reveal to us none but the best of their thoughts.
[tr. Haldane, Ross (1911)]

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past ages, who are their authors, and even a studied conversation in which they unfold to us only the best of their thoughts.
[tr. Kennington (1964-76)]

The reading of good books is like a conversation with the best men of past centuries -- in fact like a prepared conversation, in which they reveal only the best of their thought.
[tr. Ascombe, Geach (1971)]

The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries.
[Common translation, unsourced]

Added on 16-Jun-16 | Last updated 30-May-22
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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)
Added on 2-Jun-16 | Last updated 2-Jun-16
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