"an act of reading, a perusal," 1825, colloquial, from read (v.). The older word for "an act of reading " was reading (Old English). In reference to a written or printed work regarded as to character or quality (a good read, etc.), by 1870.
1580s, "having knowledge gained from reading," now especially in well-read, past-participle adjective from read (v.).
Middle English reden, ireden, "to counsel, advise," also "to read," from Old English rædan, gerædan (West Saxon), redan, geredan (Anglian) "to advise, counsel, persuade; discuss, deliberate; rule, guide; arrange, equip; forebode; to read (observe and apprehend the meaning of something written), utter aloud (words, letters, etc.); to explain; to learn through reading; to put in order."
This is reconstructed to be from Proto-Germanic *redan, source also of Old Norse raða, Old Frisian reda, Dutch raden, Old High German ratan, German raten "to advise, counsel, interpret, guess," from PIE root *re- "to reason, count."
Cognate words in most modern Germanic languages still mean "counsel, advise" (compare rede). Old English also had a related noun ræd, red "advice," and read is connected to riddle (n.1) via the notion of "interpret." Century Dictionary notes that the past participle should be written red, as it formerly was, and as in lead/led. Middle English past participle variants include eradde, irad, ired, iræd, irudde.
The sense-transference to "interpret and understand the meaning of written symbols" is said to be unique to English and (perhaps under Old English influence) Old Norse raða. Most languages use a word rooted in the idea of "gather up" as their word for "read" (such as French lire, from Latin legere).
Sense of "make out the character of (a person)" is attested from 1610s. Musical sense of "perform (at first sight) from the notes" is by 1792. To read up "systematically study" is from 1842; read out (v.) "expel by proclamation" (Society of Friends) is from 1788. Read-only in computer jargon is recorded from 1961.