I’ve always loved reading. Fictional characters were my dearest companions growing up. Years before Shakespeare was part of my school curriculum, I was delving into Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s Dream with enthusiasm. Critical analysis emerged in late high school and then was refined in University. So while Adler’s book was useful, it was not new to me. Even his suggestions at how to make notes, could have been derived on many of my books, already marked in appropriate fashion. Though terminology was occasionally different than what I have previously encountered. However I soon recognized that my position as a reader has shifted recently, as I now come with specific questions as a doctoral student. Reading in preparation for writing was the lens that developed as I went through “How to Read a book”. It wasn’t until I reached the section on analytical reading that I was reminded that I will soon face the task of writing something that I hope will be of enough significance that others will read it. Perhaps I wouldn’t find an explicit answer to my question of how to write a dissertation, but as he suggested, I might “find an implicit answer in his book.”1
To a certain degree, I expect that writing will follow a similar pattern to the notes one would take when reading. For example “The questions answered by inspectional reading are: first, what kind of book is it? second, what is it about as a whole? and third, what is the structural order of the work whereby the author develops his conception or understanding of that general subject matter?”2 If I were to answer these questions in order about my own writing, it would in fact help me to fill in the blanks, taking into account what I would hope my reader would be able to reproduce. For a dissertation, genre is somewhat laid out, but perhaps like the artist who begins with familiar rules, their will be room for creativity yet.3 The topic will likely begin in one place, but if I read syntopically well, it will need to be flexible, allowing for refinement in response to honest reading. Finally, any work must first be fully outlined, with the details and description linking the key points in artistic fluidity such that they are beautiful enough to invite the reader to engage fully and yet somewhat unnecessary for understanding if the key paragraph sentences are indeed faithful to the outline. Clarity must be achieved in order to truly invite a reader to dialogue with me as an author. For they “must be able to say, with reasonable certainty, ‘I understand,’ before (they) can say one of the following things: ‘I agree’, or ‘I disagree’, or ‘I suspend judgement’.” 4Thus it is useful to consider my writing first of all an invitation to a reader to be in conversation with me by being clear.5
A further conversation that I will be facilitating will be one of the reader with the key source text of our Christian faith.Given that our work in this program will be derived in part (at least) from our reading of scripture, it was interesting to me that Adler considered how we ought to read canonical books as a distinct category. However I’m unconvinced of his conclusions. He describes the task of engaging with this genre as such: “The characteristics of this kind of reading are perhaps summed up in the word “orthodox,” which is almost always applicable. … These are books for which there is one and only one right reading” .6 Given the diversity in interpretations of the Bible through the ages, the majority of which demand respectful consideration, I believe there are many ‘right readings’. It will be necessary for us within our writing to thus be clear about which reading of pertinent passages we are accepting as applicable to our various subject matter. The task will be to read and reference scripture being faithful to the overall understanding of the grand narrative as well as ensuring referenced scriptures truly support or gesture towards our conclusions. Adler continues his guidance on reading this genre more usefully. “The faithful reader of a canonical book is obliged to make sense out of it and to find it true in one or another sense of ‘true.’” 7 This affirms that our task while synthesizing our research and our reflection will require us to clarify in what sense our key passages are being affirmed as true, rather than assuming our readers will automatically share our perspective.
Given that faith resides both in the mind and the heart, to produce writing that will engage the practices of our faith in any way requires a creative element, regardless of the desired practical implementation I might desire. Adler thus acknowledges, “(y)ou can see why the practical author must always be something of an orator or propagandist. Since your ultimate judgment of his work is going to turn on your acceptance of the goal for which he is proposing means, it is up to him to win you to his ends. To do this, he has to argue in a way that appeals to your heart as well as your mind. He may have to play on your emotions and gain direction of your will.” 8 Perhaps this recognition offers appropriate permission to embrace motifs that would intentionally engage the emotions towards the end of producing an effective practical work.
If I’m really honest, the book I wish were on our reading list would be “How to write a dissertation”; better yet, I’d like one called “Jenn—here’s how you should write YOUR dissertation”, but Adler’s book went a long way in articulating how to go about writing something readable. Which is more than this google image offered.
1. Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. New York: Touchstone Pbl Simon & Schuster, 1972. 311. Kindle.
2. Ibid., 49.
3. Ibid., 53.
4. Ibid., 140.
5. Ibid., 49.
6. Ibid., 287.
7. Ibid., 287.
8. Ibid., 193.