From Forgettable to Memorable

How to Read a Book

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share three emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

The information age promotes novelty over depth and consumption over production. It’s a world where it’s easier to watch, listen, or read than build, converse, or think.

We may feel like we’re learning and thinking while consuming media, but often we are not.

It’s more effortless than ever to do fake work. Ingesting information is important. But we need to show the fruits of our reading, listening, or watching. As Epictetus says:

For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk. Do you also show not your theorems to the uninstructed, but show the acts which come from their digestion.

Epictetus, Handbook 46

Moving from theory to practice requires work.

The surplus of information hides the necessity of sacrifice. It’s easy to jump from idea to idea, topic to topic, or project to project. In order to go deep, one must choose. That means deciding to forsake many wonders. There will be many things I will never learn, but a few I will master.

There’s a book entitled How to Read a Book. The key idea it suggests is reading the great works at least 4 times. That seems about correct to me. Instead of reading anything, moving on, and forgetting – a pattern that resembles a meaningless relationship – books should be read again and again. Engaging with books this way by necessity means ignoring others. After pausing, one must always choose. After choosing, one must show the fruits of one’s study in action.

🎯 Action

Take a moment to reflect on the depth of your information diet and whether you transform study into undertaking.

🔗 Links

🏛️ If you haven’t had the chance to read them yet, check out our earlier letters from this week on living in the information age: Stoic Stillness in the Digital Age and Staying Calm in the Age of Information.

📗 G. K. Chesterton has a quote that captures the essence of action:

Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

The information we’re presented with isn’t just filling empty time, it’s displacing something else.

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