You don't have to read anything. If you read nothing, and just ask whatever comes into your head, your question may be left unanswered and you won't get what you came for. It's also possible that you could lose (or at least fail to gain) reputation.
When people who don't know the rules and traditions of the site do something that doesn't follow the norms, people correct it. They edit, for example, or put questions on hold. They may or may not explain their actions with a link to the FAQ or meta. These links rarely mean "you should have read that first." It's more like "I am not arbitrarily targeting you or being grumpy, we have norms about this." And yes, once a user has asked a "bad" question, reading both the FAQ and the site meta (along with comments left on the specific question) might be the key to avoid a ban. That is not the same as insisting you read it all before asking.
The more you read the more likely you are to get the answers you want. So welcome to meta! One other thing you need to know is that unlike some organizations, this group of sites does not follow the rule "whatever is not forbidden is permitted." Therefore if the FAQ doesn't mention that a particular thing is off topic, that does not make it on topic. It just makes it not mentioned in the FAQ. It is entirely possible that something could be unmentioned in the FAQ, unmentioned on meta, and still be deemed offtopic by the community. Asking a question that is not specifically declared offtopic in the FAQ doesn't mean that you're "following the FAQ" or required to choose between following the FAQ or Meta. There is a consistent set of rules represented in the FAQ, the site meta, this overall meta, and community behavior. The key to realizing that the rules are consistent is to understand that not mentioning something as permitted is not the same as banning it, and not mentioning it as forbidden is not the same as permitting it.