What Kind of Reader Are You?

Hopefully you and I are readers, period.

That assumed, it remains to examine one’s approach to reading.

Unlike TV or movies, you can’t really go passive in the discipline of reading, especially works of nonfiction. You have to engage.

Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren argue in their book How to Read a Book: the Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading that reading more actively vs. less actively makes for the better reader who actually demands something of himself as he reads. Therefore he earns a higher return on his investment as opposed to the more passive type that coasts through a book or article.

Nowhere does this show itself more plainly than in tackling the work of a more demanding author. Case in point? William Wilberforce and his Practical View of Christianity. I saw that deer-in-the-headlights look from some of our men at Saturday’s Oxford Club meeting as we tried to make sense of the introduction. I likened the book to treasure to be mined, not at six feet under, but more like 600 feet under. It won’t give way to its rewards without a lot of digging.

In the interest of warding off attrition in our club meetings and in promoting the virtue of reading in a demanding kind of way, I pulled Adler and Van Doren’s book from the shelf looking for help.

Perhaps more insight will come in further posts, but let me start here with their simple prescription for active reading: Ask questions while you read–questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading. What questions, you may ask? They suggest the following:

There are four main questions you must ask about any book.
1. What is the book about as a whole? You must try to discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way by subdividing it into its essential subordinate themes or topics.
2. What is being said in detail, and how? You must try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author’s particular message.
3. Is the book true, in whole or part? You cannot answer this question until you have answered the first two. You have to know what is being said before you can decide whether it is true or not When you understand a book, however, you are obligated, if you are reading seriously, to make up your own mind. Knowing the author’s mind is not enough.
4. What of it? If the book has given you information, you must ask about its significance. Why does the author think it is important to know these things? Is it important to you to know them? And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you, it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows, what is further implied or suggested.

You don’t have to participate in the Oxford Club for Men to aspire toward becoming a demanding reader.

As for me and my house, the more demanding readers in our church, the better.

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