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Reading and Writing with John Adams

Earlier today I was looking through some notes I took on David McCullough’s great biography of John Adams. I found there a few quotes from Adams about his love of reading. He was an avid reader who had a very substantial library—far more the exception than the rule in his day. Here is how he spoke of how reading ranked in his life in terms of priority.

I want to see my children every day. I want to see my grass and blossoms and corn … But above all, except the wife and children, I want to see my books.

As with Adams, my books are among my greatest pleasure and when I find I do not have time to read, I miss it a lot. There is pleasure to be found both in the books and in the experience of reading them. A day without a book is just not quite the same as a day with at least an hour or two spent reading.

Adams also said this about the way he did his best thinking:

The only way to compose myself and collect my thoughts is to set down at my table, place my diary before me, and take my pen into my hand. This apparatus takes off my attention from other objects. Pen, ink, and paper and a sitting posture are great helps to attention and thinking.

I, too, find that I can get very little thinking done, and cannot hold my attention for long, if I do not do my thinking with the assistance of pen, ink and paper (or the digital equivalent—a word processor and a keyboard). I love reading, I love writing and, like Adams, I love words. So I suppose one of the reasons I enjoy reading about Adams is that I feel a real affinity with him on that level.