george santayana

Today’s topic: Reading.

Mission: Find a quote that highlights the awesomeness of bookish pursuits.


“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

~Albert Einstein


“Books are a uniquely portable magic . . .

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

~Stephen King


I’m not feeling the genius quote.

I love to read.  Last year I read 95 books.  They didn’t zombify my brain.  At least not in terms of creative pursuits.  In 2012, I managed 72 blog posts, first drafts for two different stories, one second draft on another, and final edits on my debut YA contemporary novel, Come Back to Me.  I also painted, glued, glittered, and tried to take some photographs.

Diverted mind?  No, not in terms of creativity, anyway.  I wish Einstein had looked into theories on doorways and the brain.  How many times have you walked from one room to the next only to wonder what you went there for?  It’s got to be those crafty door portals.  They divert my thinking every time.

Evil, mind erasing portals.

But I will give Al some props for the lazy part.  Because I have to admit my house now qualifies as a National Dust Bunny Preserve.  Maybe even international.  But hey I’ve been too busy being creative (okay, maybe I also watched a horrifying amount of TV).

Mostly though, I agree with Stephen King.  Because I also believe books are a uniquely portable magic.

And because I’ve read Misery, you don’t go up against a writer who hobbles authors in his books.

What do you think?  Are books a portable magic, or an outlet that diffuses creativity?  Can you see the wisdom in both?


Have a spectacular week!

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51 thoughts on “Stephen King vs. Albert Einstein: To Read or not to Read

  1. colin falconer

    Look, I like old Albert but even a genius isn’t right about every damn thing. I’m with the K-man on this one. It’s been proven in clinical trials that kids who read develop greater empathy (eg Raymond Mar, in the Annual Review of Psychology in 2011) and creative skills than kids who don’t. And the worst kind of adults are the ones that stop being kids at heart. QED, Albert! Great post, Colleen! And books are better than dust bunnies …

      1. Anonymous

        I disagree with that, I mean don’t get me wrong, you’re right about reading being a fantastic pastime, and has many many benefits, but I think your interpretation of what Einstein says is wrong.

        I believe Einstein is saying: “Read books and learn things, that’s good, but don’t stop there. Add your own ideas into the mix, expand and develop other peoples ideas to make a better one. Don’t just learn and remember then stop. Improve on it. Otherwise you fall into the habit of lazy thinking”

        Just a thought… I enjoyed reading your article, and I intent to read more!

  2. Jennette Marie Powell

    Maybe Einstein was speaking more of nonfiction, where we read someone else’s ideas and research, rather than work out our own. However, I’ve heard that zombiefied brain can result from watching Jersey Shore… LOL! j/k 😀

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Yeah, I imagine the quote is taken out of context a bit. Imagine what he’d say about Snookie’s book becoming a best seller a couple of years ago? Ack.
      I do believe I’ve zombified the part of my brain that completes housework. I’m ok with that. 🙂
      Thanks Jennette!

  3. Kassandra Lamb

    Love this post! Einstein said that because (1) he was a math geek, not a word geek; and (2) I think he was dyslexic. I know he had trouble in school. So maybe reading was very hard for him and he couldn’t lose himself in the creativity of the story.

    And I think you’re on to something with those door portals erasing our memories. LOL

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      That’s very interesting Kassandra! The brain is super fascinating, especially when it comes down to the creative vs. analytical. And of course I can see the judgments received in school affecting future studies, thought processes and opinions.

  4. Patricia Tilton

    Ha! Ha! There is some truth to Kasandra’s comment. He may have found reading a challenge. And, door portals erase my memory everytime I walk through — think it has to do with distraction and I see something else to do and forget what I enterred for. As far as reading, it stimulates so many parts of the brain that I can’t help but see it as creative because we have to envision in our minds what’s happening — and that is creative!

  5. Paul

    Talk about relativity! I’m sitting at Einstein Bros. Bagels reading your post. OK, not one of my better segues but this time Al is wrong (great bagels, though)! My firm belief, as an ex-English teacher, is that the greatest gift you can give your children is a love of reading. And it doesn’t much matter to me what you read. My kids leaned towards comic books- as boys will. One is now an accomplished artist, the other loves science fiction and fantasy and has a larger library than I do. He works twelve hours or more each day and volunteers on holidays so his co-workers can have the day off. Lazy? Hardly. Maybe he is not creative in the sense Al meant, but not all of us have the need to create.

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Yes, the love of reading is definitely a gift. Well said! And if Einstein had an issue with reading, I wonder what he would’ve thought about a bagel place with his name on it?? 🙂

  6. Ruth Schiffmann

    What a fun post, Coleen! Love the dust bunny preserve. I may have to use that line on my husband 😉
    And I much prefer Stephen King’s way of thinking on this matter. Reading is stimulating, for sure.

  7. Leigh Moore

    Maybe a little of both? I agree, they are portals, but maybe for some people they can become excuses for procrastination as well? 😀

    and omg… don’t talk about dust bunnies… 😀 <3

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      They must be called dust bunnies because someone else thought it would be easier to name them, rather than take the time to get rid of them. Right?? 🙂

  8. Reetta Raitanen

    I’m definately with Stephen King on this. If you want to write good books, you need to read a lot to be able to gauge what good writing is like. And by analyzing and thinking on what you read, you’re not just passively consuming.

    But like Leigh says, it’s easy to just read other people’s words instead of making your own stories. I sometimes feel my own creativity diluting when I read a lot. Especially if the book has a strong voice and is really good. It’s hard to see different ways to tell that kind of a story anymore.

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Reetta, I agree with you about reading actively. And that’s interesting about diluting creativity with too much reading. I’m going to wonder a bit on that one.

  9. Patricia

    Albert Einstein, what does he know? He was so obviously a math guy. He had absolutely no appreciation for words. Now Stephen King, can barely perform simple math equations, but is a genius with words (don’t tell him I said that and I have no idea if that is a truthful statement or not, I’m just trying to make a point). It depends on if you’re left-brained, or right-brained.

    There’s no creativity in math – it’s black and white – right answer or wrong answer. But reading makes you think and contemplate and speculate. Stories can have multiple endings, multiple points of view, different slants on the same subject. Nothing black or white about it, all shades of gray.

    Good question to ponder though.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  10. Anonymous

    I love being transported elsewhere by a book! It definitely can inspire creativity….as evidenced by your year of amazing accomplishments!! PS….love the picture of that cute little boy….;-)

  11. 4amWriter

    When I’m in a good book, I will forego everything that is unnecessary, like you talk about your house–I am the same way! You will not catch me dusting the living room if I have a good book waiting for me. Feeding the kids? Eh, they know how to use the microwave. Kidding. Actually, I make sure there is plenty of cereal and milk for them when they go hungry.

    I do side with SK because I think the pros outweigh the cons when good books are in question. Trashy books — now that’s another post altogether. 🙂

  12. Leigh Covington

    Definitely portable magic. Although I supposed if you never got off your butt and did anything else, you wouldn’t be using your creativity. I don’t seem to have that problem. In fact, I wish I had more time to sit and relax!

  13. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen

    Portals to creativity and to intelligence. My daughter is an avid reader (like her mom:D) and she finds writing essays for University so easy.. because language patterns for writing are firmly entrenched:) Interesting topic! xx

  14. Karen McFarland

    First of all, your creativity is on fire Coleen! You are rockin’ the keyboard! If I were you, and I was that productive, I wouldn’t be worried about dust bunnies. Just sayin’. Keep it up girlfriend! Interesting comparisions between Einstein and King. Both creative, but in different fields. Math is an exact science, whereas writing/reading isn’t. So I think their statements come from different spectrums. Cool post! 🙂

  15. Joanna

    Love the discussion in the comments from this though-provoking post. I am no mathematician, but I suspect they would balk at being labelled completely non-creative. I think they would say pursuing the problem-solving they do is a creative pursuit. I think I would have to agree to some extent with both quotes. I read over 200 books a year, and i think many of them do help to stimulate my creative juices and empathy etc, but I know that I can also use reading as an escape route, which isn’t always, ahem, beneficial!

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      My husband is a design engineer and his sort of problem solving demands creativity too . I think it would be interesting to read about the differences in the creative processes for various industries.
      And yeah, reading is an escape. I feel like I wear different hats depending on what I’m reading. Sometimes a story inspires me to want to go write and sometimes I just sit back and go along for the journey. 🙂 Thanks Joanna!

  16. Alarna Rose Gray

    Firstly, Coleen, let me say I am in awe of your output!! Forget dust bunnies, who cares about them against that list of writing and reading achievements…? I’m looking forward to hearing about the pending debut!

    As for the quotes. It’s easy to tell we are among writers here 😉 But I am going to go against the grain and side a little with AE. For me, a good book, digested well, feeds the soul long after I’ve finished reading. Too much input on that score, however, totally fries my brain and confuses creativity. It’s something I always feel guilty about… But that’s me.

    1. Coleen Patrick Post author

      Yes, I kinda figured the comments might be skewed. My husband is an engineer, he’s very analytical. He likes to solve puzzles, problems, etc.which demands maybe a different kind of creative resource. He does not read much fiction at all. I think it’s interesting to consider the range of creativity in relation to what sources of inspiration we are drawn to.
      Thanks Alarna!

  17. Pat O'Dea Rosen

    Hi, Coleen,
    What you call dust bunnies, I call cat toys. You read that right; dust bunnies have their purposes.

    I’m with King. Writers have to write, read, and write some more. Stories fill the well.

    As others have said, Einstein views reading as a passive activity. In contrast, active readers use their minds and emotions. Engaged readers aren’t lazy.

    (I’m interested in Kassandra’s comment about Einstein and dyslexia. There’s a story there.)

  18. Emily R. King

    I don’t get it. How can books be bad for you? I guess if you dream instead of do, I could see his point. But I read to improve my writing. I hope that means I’m exempt!

  19. Maria

    Wow! Coleen, you are wonder woman, do you have a day job too? Clearly all the reading is firing your imagination. I am hopeless at getting reading time, I’m thinking maybe if I go part-time at work, I’ll get to do more.

    Can’t read on the commute as I drive to work, and once home its battle stations until around 9pm, then I need to write. Or sleep!

    I know reading definitely helps with creativity.

    1. Coleen Patrick

      Right now I feel lucky to say that my day job is writing. Here’s to being able to keep it that way! My last part time job wasn’t that demanding but I remember having a really hard time transitioning to something else when I got home (other than TV), It’s not easy to find that time! Thanks Maria.

  20. Kourtney

    I kinda think Einstein’s statement applies to only the most passive reading. When the reader isn’t engaged in the story and is just being told a story. Or if they are reading lots of published scientific papers that use a lot of words to say very little. Maybe he’s referring to some of his contemporaries’ scientific papers that take forever to come to no real conclusion?

    For me reading is an active, mind-engaging pursuit. I’m trying to solve the mystery and anticipate what will happen next. I’m analyzing what the writer is doing right and what isn’t working for me as a reader. I side with King on this one. 🙂

    1. Coleen Patrick

      Yeah I imagine it was that kind of reading and maybe also what Kassandra said about him having trouble in school. It would be interesting to know what he meant!

  21. Born Bookish

    Although Einstein’s quote “Imagination is more important than knowledge” is my favorite quote of all time, I guess he doesn’t see reading as a way to expand the imagination =/ I would have to agree with Stephen King on this one then. Reading definitely inspires
    creativity rather than killing it.

  22. Chris Edgar

    Heh, the equivalent for me would be listening to show tunes, and I am more on the Stephen King end of the spectrum right now in that I am more inspired (although sometimes a bit intimidated) every time I listen to someone else’s song. But maybe that attitude will give way to the more Einsteinian perspective when I’m further evolved in the craft. Who knows?

    1. Coleen Patrick

      The consensus seems to be that immersing in creative things–books, music, etc– inspires creativity. Maybe Einstein was only talking about those that then didn’t act on that. 🙂

  23. Julie Glover

    What I struggled with was the phrase “reads too much.” How much exactly would that be? I think reading increases creativity, but your brain also needs a little down time to sort through thoughts and creative ideas. Too often in our society, I find that people don’t read enough and don’t let their mind wander enough. So yeah, both. Very interesting, Coleen.

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