Take Charge

Mr. Elphinston talked of a new book that was much admired, and asked Dr. Johnson if he had read it.  JOHNSON:  “I have looked into it.”  “What (said Elphinston) have you not read it through?”  Johnson, offended at being thus pressed, and so obliged to own his cursory mode of reading, answered tartly, “No, Sir; do you read your books through?” 

—James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, 462  (Everyman’s Library)

“Do not attempt to be a great reader,” [Emerson] told a young Williams College student named Charles Woodbury. “Read for facts and not by the bookfulf.” He thought one should “learn to divine books, to feel those that you want without wasting much time on them.”  It is only worthwhile concentrating on what is excellent and for that “often a chapter is enough.” He encouraged browsing and skipping.  “The glance reveals what the gaze obscures. Somewhere the author has hidden his message. Find it, and skip the paragraphs that do not talk to you.”

—Robert D. Richardson, Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire,173  

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