How to …

How many ways could there be?

How many ways could there be?

Advice abounds and I suppose I’m adding to the abundance.

Mortimer Adler’s, “How to Read a Book,” is oft referred to as a classic and, therefore, is one of those books you must read. I haven’t read it. I’m not opposed to it. I don’t have anything against it. I just haven’t got to it and don’t know when I will. One does wonder how many ways there could be to read a book other than reading it, and maybe that’s why I should read that book.

Some suggest you read slowly through just a few books a year to get a mastery of them and others suggest you read quickly through many books to get a broad view. Donald Carson actually said he reads 500 books a year! He does go on to qualify that there’s reading and there’s reading and there’s reading. His words could be misconstrued but I believe he made a very good point about the difference between books and the attention they should be given. My own view accords so I will get to it.

All books are not equal because all authors are not equal. Sometimes authors are not even equal with themselves when their books across twenty years or more are compared. So books are not all worth equal attention and there’s a host of factors that contribute to this such as your current position in life, time, responsibilities, etc. Let me advance my methods and then give a final piece of advice that is guaranteed to be worth exactly what your paying for it.

Method or madness?

Some people read books very slowly, poring over each phrase, footnote, or Scripture reference in order to drain every drop out of it. I guess that’s fine but I’ve never done that. If I come across a dramatically profound section in a book, I will slow down and give it more time. My method of reading a book is to start at the beginning and read at my normal reading pace to the end. Nothing fancy, but it gets the potatoes washed and peeled and put in the stew.

I have three categories for books.

  1. Books to be read. This is where the majority of books go for me. I consider reading to be starting in the front and reading my way to the back. This is the bulk of my personal reading and I try to do it across several different types of books.
  2. Books to be referenced. These are books I am never going to read front to back. I go to a book like this for a particular reason and I’m going to read the relevant chapter(s) only. This would include books like, “An Introduction to the New Testament.”
  3. Books to be discarded. These are books that are not worth finishing. I will quit reading a book if it turns out to be insufferable. I don’t start too many books that I don’t finish, but there are some. I was reading something once that referenced “Don Quixote.” It’s one of those oft mentioned classics that I hadn’t read so I started it. I got about halfway through and chucked it. I found it long, rambling, boring, and without a point. It had some good sections here and there but I didn’t think it worth the time. Maybe I’m missing something but I have too many books I want to read to fool around with books I don’t want to read.

As I read, I do a couple of things; sometimes one or the other and sometimes both. I do a lot of reading on the Kindle app so I highlight any parts that are either great quotes or things that strike me. I may also write something about it in a notebook and particularly if it’s something I want to come back to later for more thought.

If I belong to a school of reading philosophy, it is the school of maintaining one’s personal compost heap. I like to build up layer after layer and let it set and mix and decompose and let the soil be nourished. I’ve personally found this method to fertilize the mind, but maybe it’s not for everybody. I don’t know. I don’t have everybody’s mind. I’m stuck with my own so I like to fill up and sort later.

I’m sure many can find fault with me and my methods. It’s like the time I received a criticism of my beard for being scraggly. I believe that was the term employed. The owner of the criticism was blessed to also be the owner of a full, thick beard, which I suspect he had as much to with as he did the distance of the crown of his head to the floor. I could only put lips together and nod in sympathy with his assessment and lament to him that I could only grow the beard I’ve got. No matter the effort expended, I can’t grow another man’s beard on my own face. Suffice it to say I can’t read with another man’s brain. I can only use the gray matter bestowed upon me from the womb.

A couple of fragments do not a basket full make

I was asked about reading recently and this subject is also one I have been thinking about writing something on so it seemed to work together. Let me finish with a couple of pieces of final advice. Read what you want to and the way you want to. We all have differences to the way we think and learn and the constraints on our time, not to mention our differing needs. Don’t worry too much about what others think you should read and the way you should do it. You should always process advice, keep what’s helpful for you and toss the rest. Never be a slave.

Finally, you shouldn’t worry too much about the number of books read in any given time. Always keep a book with you and with mobile devices it’s easier than ever. I remember one of the puritan writers saying something about learning the value of a quarter of an hour. One of the ways to redeem time is to push reading into all the margins of life. Do you have to wait a few minutes? Good, read for five or ten minutes. You will be surprised by how much you can read doing this.

About Jeff Short

  • Max Weismann

    Hello,

    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    http://www.thegreatideas.org/HowToReadABook.htm

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler