Welcome back to reality! It didn’t take long to have to readjust back to reading (or not), writing blogs, gathering research resources, and developing annotated bibliographies. My blissful two weeks of experiential learning is surely over – or at least that was my attitude as I began reading the book “How to Read a Book, The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading” by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. Admittedly I was skeptical of the benefit of tackling the reading of this dry literature. However, I did glean some good material from the text. There are three significant points which I will be highlighting.
- Adler and Van Doren write “Reading is a complex activity, just as writing is.”  I appreciate the acknowledgement of reading as an “action” however I ascribe to Clay’s further development of this concept, “Reading is a complex, problem-solving activity, which increases in power and flexibility the more it is practiced” My initial reaction to this statement is – no wonder my brain is so tired after I read texts, journals, and articles (and I am a little sad that it doesn’t burn more calories). The mental acuity required to “read well” is significant. It also explains the very real concept of brain fatigue. Brain fatigue manifests as mental fatigue, burnout, or feeling tired. When the brain has reached a level of dysfunction from fatigue, brain degeneration can occur. The following case example from highlights a classic case of brain fatigue:
A middle age adult is having a mid-life crisis and decides to change careers and go back to school. This once busy executive, who could multi-task without crashing, now finds that going back to school full-time in a new area of study is exhausting. He has to read the material a number of times to understand it. He comes home after a full day at school, and he is exhausted, having to go to bed by 8:00. He finds that home life starts suffering, and he is not able to maintain the school schedule as he had been when he was in his twenties. This reflects ongoing wear and tear, brain fatigue that the brain is not able to compensate for or manage well. This reflects more significant difficulties and reflects a growing problem with the brain.
Therefore, it is essential that the reader practices intentionality when it comes to “reading well”. Finding coveted time when the brain is fresh and able to retain material is crucial. The reader should also be aware of self-care. When the brain is fatigued, reading will not be effective.
2. “Reading is learning from an absent teacher”. As a college instructor, this concept resonates with me – getting students to read assigned materials is a struggle. Academics are often guilty of feeding students enough material that they don’t need to read the text. However, when Adler and Van Doren go on to say “when you ask a book a question, you must answer it yourself”, it accentuated the very essence of why I believe reading is important. Reading – and then attempting to understand and apply the content – requires critical thinking skills. In the age of google searches, critical thinking becomes a dying art. As a society we must change the course on fast and furious information. Too much information is not necessarily a good thing. As a society that values critical thinking, expecting a student to read, question, analyze, and seek answers is crucial.
3. “The role of relevant experience, special experience must be actively sought and is only available to those who go to the trouble of acquiring it”. Adler and Van Doren specifically refer to Science and experiments when discussing special experience. I’m going to take the liberty of “arguing” with the authors a bit and stretch this concept to discuss our trip to South Africa. I believe that all special experience related to a topic is important. For example, after reading and blogging about Welsh’s The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, I thought I had a decent understanding of the circumstances and history of Apartheid. However, my understandings were infantile in comparison to what we learned on the ground. Seeing the sites of District Six and Robben Island bring history to life – in a way reading a book cannot do. I’m a tremendous advocate for reading, but I’m an even bigger advocate for experiential learning. While it’s challenging to connect my research interest to this text, I can say that reading articles and books about the refugee experience in the United States in no way captures the face to face story and narratives of refugee people. Words are only a piece of the puzzle. When you look in someone’s eyes, hear the tone of their voice, and see their body language – only then can you understand the full story.
While I can’t claim that Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren’s text is the most interesting or exciting reading we’ve done thus far, I will concede to the importance of understanding how to read well. It sets me on an improved academic trajectory and gives me key skills to move forward in this incredible program.
 Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), loc198
 Clay, M . M . (2001). Change over time in children’s literacy development . Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann .
 Adler & Van Doren, How to Read a Book, loc337
 Adler & Van Doren, How to Read a Book, loc2486