It is a general belief that the more books one reads, the better essays one writes. To a large extent, this is true and correct. If one never reads and learns from others, one will not be able to write at all, let alone convey elegantly. However, when we take this issue a further step, we will realize that "reading" is indeed an extremely loose word to describe our learning efforts:
1) One can read a lot of books. However, if he fails to learn why and how a book is written, for what and for whom a book is printed, I doubt anything will stick to his mind and heart for long. When he attempts to write essays, he may be capable of putting down pages and pages of characters (derived from his faint impressions of books he hastely rushed through before), but no one knows what he is talking about.
2) On the other hand, one can read fewer, but carefully seleted books. When reading, he utilizes his mind and heart to decipher the messages behind each of these books. He also endeavors to resketch the story line, to analyze how those seemingly emotionless words become such a thought-provoking paragraph, and to marvel how those ordinary building blocks turn to an eye-catching scene.
In a way, it is probably better to only read a few chosen books thoroughly, on which to build one's command of story outlining, scene depicting and word picking. Essentially, any given essay is made of a well-thought out story line (bone), some carefully-depicted scenes (flesh) and many appropriately selected words (cells). If an essay contains all these lively elements, it will be a pleasure to read and a treasure to cherish. It will overwhelm any fussy reviewers if the essay is meant for examinations.