Reading Fiction As Meditation

Josh Guilar
3 min readApr 4, 2016


Or: why reading is a good way of slowing down

I think it was Alan Watts who said the only people who need a guru are the ones who want one.

The same can be said of meditation. There are those who simply do it: whether they’re sitting, standing, walking or in a cafe staring out the window. Then there are those who need the silence and ceremony to pull it off.

One method is not better than the other. Everyone should do what works for them.

Reading as an act of meditation

I recently read War & Peace and I must say that getting lost in Tolstoy’s novel was quite relaxing.

War & Peace requires a fair amount of patience and attention, since Tolstoy was clearly in no rush when he wrote that tome. But it also requires, like many good books, for the reader to become so absorbed in what’s happening that you forget the world around you.

You forget everything and become absorbed in what’s on the page, and it’s this act of escapism, of being lost in a good book, that allows you to relax: if only for an hour or so each day.

As Buddha said “ you should meditate for 15 minutes each day, however, if you’re too busy, you should meditate for an hour.”

Obviously, not all reading is going to be meditative, just as all sitting is not meditative. Reading a business book that is trying to teach you something won’t have the same effect as a novel. A novel is escapism, a business book or some other educational book is usually a person trying to solve a problem they have.

Reading as a way of slowing down

I’ve seem too much online about “how to read more quickly.” Bollocks. It’s not a competition. It’s relaxation: an act of escapism. I mean, who goes to a cinema and asks them to put the film on fast forward with subtitles so they can watch it faster?

No one. That’s not the point. The point is to sit down and switch off for a couple of hours.

That’s what a good book can do for you. Relax. Slow down. It doesn’t matter if you only read 10 books a year; if you really enjoy those books and they provide you with the escapism you want, then those books have served their purpose.

Business, marketing, biographies, and other non-fiction books

“If you follow these 5 easy steps you’ll be able to read 3 books a week.”

Yes, you can do that. And you’ll be able to say you read 3 books a week. But what else will you get out of it? Will you have had time to absorb the information? Will you have a more-than passable understanding of what you’ve read?

Umberto Eco, the great Italian philosopher, author and semiotician, said he could tell when his students knew what they were talking about when they could paraphrase their sources instead of direct quoting. It meant that they had not only read, but understood what they had read.

Anyone can skim a book and then pluck out quotes. It’s really not that hard; just ask university students…

I recommend trying it just once: read a book for the sheer-fun-pleasure of sitting down and becoming engrossed in a new world. Or listen to an audiobook, it’s not quite the same but it can have a similar effect.

Reading is a fun way to zone out, become enraptured in another world, and forget about this one. Just for a little while.

Thank you for reading.



Josh Guilar

Freelance writer, content marketer and SEO copywriter | Coffee | Conversation | Books