Reading too much erodes your capacity for original thinking: “I have seen this with my own eyes: gifted natures with a generous and free disposition, ‘read to ruin’ in their thirties—merely matches that one has to strike to make them emit sparks—’thoughts.’ Early in the morning, when day breaks, when all is fresh, in the dawn of one’s strength—to read a book at such a time is simply depraved!” (Ecce Homo,”Why I Am so Clever” §8).
The danger of excessive reading, Nietzsche thinks, is that it leads to an idolatry of the book: we confuse the explication of text for the interpretation of life. The final goal of reading aphorisms is not so much to penetrate their inner meaning (something that Nietzsche seems to deny anyway) but rather to use them as a springboard to other lines of inquiry. “I don’t write treatises,” he continues, “they’re for jackasses and magazine readers.” For this reason readers should, like Roman builders, plunder from older writers in order to build their own edifices: “Error of the philosophers.—The philosopher believes that the value of his philosophy lies in the whole, in the building: posterity discovers it in the bricks with which he built and which are then often used again for better building: in the fact, that is to say, that that building can be destroyed and nonetheless possess value as material” (Human, All Too Human, “Assorted Opinions and Maxims” §201). This practice is by no means original to Nietzsche. Montaigne encapsulates the entire Renaissance practice of imitation by admitting that his work is no more than a careful spoliation of previous texts and thinkers.
— Andrew Hui, A Theory of the Aphorism: From Confucius to Twitter
Montaigne also said — paraphrasing Pythagoras — that our lives are like the spectacle of the Olympics. Some are there to compete, some are there to sell merchandise and hot dogs, and some are there to simply observe, to be spectators of other men’s lives in order to better regulate their own. Likewise, I’m a mere spectator of others’ thoughts, a flâneur of the codex. I was never destined for great, original things. I peek in secondhand shop windows to find slightly-used ideas and metaphors to bring home and polish, and I’m not above carting away a wheelbarrow full of bricks from someone else’s building site. I do my reading before bed, at least.