While I acknowledge my sociological designation as a Baby Boomer, I would say that reading is fundamental to all learning. Adler admonishes us towards active reading, where we “catch” more of the author’s material in direct correlation to the amount of effort (or activity) we invest in the process. Of course, as Adler has inferred, good reading skills tend to provoke critical thinking and thoughtful reflection leading towards the fulfillment of reading and learning, understanding. That is, reading skills plus God’s gift of our magnificent brains elevates us progressively from a state of less to one of more understanding.
Reading must be an educational skill that is commonly accepted and expected across many fields and many levels of learning. I say this because I am now starting my fourth post-secondary degree and this is the first book on reading I have encountered since elementary school. My undergraduate degree was a technical degree that was primarily mathematics and engineering focused. The reading volume was less and focused on factual information. Not surprisingly, not much emphasis on reading beyond the core requirements of history and English. My first master’s degree was in business where I read many case studies and wrote many analytical papers. While the volume of reading and writing increased tremendously over my undergraduate studies, reading skills were never addressed while analytical, and synthesis skills were of paramount importance. When I segued into vocational pastoral ministry, I spent thirty-five years reading to develop materials to be preached and taught. While much reading was happening, little of the art and skill of reading was addressed.
I then realized a dream to finally attend a seminary where I am working to complete an MA in Theology by December. Again, while reading huge volumes of material and much writing, I acquired the first inklings of reading both as an art as well as ongoing developmental skill. I was taught to consider context, the author, the reader, whose voice is being heard and whose voice is not. That is, not only reading what is before me but was is behind and between the lines of the text as well as what is not included in the text. How I wish I would have had Adler and Turabian’s books in beginning my seminary studies as my reading and writing skills, have stumbled along simply trying to mimic my peers and reflect my professors’ graded comments. Initially, I was a bit dubious about the inclusion of these texts. However, as I work my way through these texts, I am now so grateful they have been included in our first-semester coursework. I feel my reading, understanding, and therefore my writing will measurably improve and hopefully culminate in my dissertation research.
I began this post by declaring that active reading is similar or like active listening. Much like reading, listening is expected (and sometimes demanded) and therefore communication is assumed (of course, right?). Along with my pastoral role for our local congregation, I have become trained as a national mentor coach for our Association of Vineyard Churches. That is, I coach church planters, pastors, and other coaches for the Vineyard. As a side note, I hope the journey of my doctoral studies will open relationships and doors to establish coaching networks globally. In a nutshell, coaching is active listening and asking powerful questions. Inevitably, new coaches will tend to fixate on asking the perfect question at the perfect moment to assist the one being coached (the coachee) towards transformative personal growth. My five years and almost three hundred hours of coaching have taught me the more foundational, more critical skill is active listening. That is because active listening is not “natural,” easy, or convenient. Active listening must be incredibly intentional and demands an exhausting amount of energy of the coach.
While every analogy breaks down at some point, I will try to mine some nuggets from the analogy of active reading and active listening (as a coaching skill). The first level of active reading is elementary and focuses on what was said (or perhaps stated in the text). Even at this level, misunderstanding can take place if we are reading to refute or endorse a source according to one’s working theory (or perhaps listening to respond). The second level of active reading is inspectional or skimming systematically. I liken this to stepping back from the trees to observe and examine the forest. Active listening requires one to hear both the details presented as well as an objective sense of the metanarrative of the given story. The third level of reading is analytical or ruminating on the material. Active listening requires reflecting upon what has been heard by checking in with the coachee periodically and often restating what the active listener (coach) thought they heard (here the analogy weakens because we as active readers are unable to check in with the author about their intent). As active readers, our focus at this level is striving to gain understanding from the text (as active listening coaches, we would be trying to assist the coachee towards finding clarity). Finally, we have the fourth level of reading which is syntopical where we place the books we have read concerning a common subject in relation to one another. In an active listening coaching context, I would compare this to gaining understanding from coaching (actively listening) to multiple coachees and trying to draw some helpful observations concerning a common challenge (e.g., life and work balance). The foremost discovery from the different levels of reading is each requires considerably more effort to become proficient in the progressive skill set of reading. With this in mind, let us renew our active reading efforts.
 Adler, Mortimer J. and Charles Van Doren, How To Read a Book: The Classic Guide To Intelligent Reading, rev.ed., (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014) 6.
Adler and Van Doren, How to Read a Book, 7.
 Adler and Van Doren, How to Read a Book, 17-20.