Philosophy, Travel

In Reading from the Stoic Seneca Today…

I started reading Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic today and, as expected, the first paragraph of the first page and each one henceforth was a philosophical punch to the gut of what I thought I knew. The point in the first letter in regards to both traveling and reading/collecting books is, of course counter to what we think today. The point he makes is that traveling constantly or continually unsettling yourself and moving from place to place is not a quality to be admired. He says, in fact, ‘Restlessness of that sort is symptomatic of a sick mind.’

Ouch. I hadn’t been ready for such a personal attack so early in the book.

The reasoning he gives for it is one that, as a generally restless person, I can attest to. That in traveling from place to place, one may find hospitality, but not any real friendships. 

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

He holds the same notion for books as well. Again, counter what is our modern, common practice. Seneca recommends, rather than attempting to read as diverse and different a grouping of books and authors as possible, to read only (or at least a majority) what are unquestionably great works. 

That it is a negative to read broadly, rather than spend extra time to properly digest only works that are specifically great was not a notion I’d heard before. Though I can say from my own experience, I’ve read a ton of books from mediocre author and don’t remember anything from them. On the contrary, I remember classic works I’ve read that I still hold up as great books I can continually learn from in every rereading.

The first case in point book I’d point to is Jane Austen’s Emma. (Mostly because I just started rereading it yesterday and am reinvigorated in why I love it.) There are a multitude of classics one can read and reread, always coming away with a new understanding of the ideas presented. There are more recent books I’d include as well. Patrick Ruthfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles and Andy Weir’s The Martian are ones I often return to as books of particular value.

One last quote from Seneca: “Nothing is so useful that it can be of any service in the mere passing.”

Though Seneca’s advice to focus on quality over quantity is obscured in today’s saturated book market (and as a new author, this advise certainly doesn’t help me) it is a sound notion. One that may well be followed for a stronger reading constitution and, as is the objective, a stronger mental robustness and understanding. 

If, when I think of this advise, I feel any somewhat that it is outdated or not applicable, I’ll return to the page and a half of concise conscious writing. Reminding myself that a person who can pack so much meaning on several topics I haven’t even hinted at here, must have a firm grasp on how to think deeply. 

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