I wish I had read this book 20 years ago. I’m not sure why I never came across it but somehow I managed to complete an undergraduate and two masters degrees without actually knowing how to read, at least according to this text. I have always held books and their authors reverentially, probably more than deserved. As Jason Clark pointed out to us during our time in Cape Town, I probably give authors and books far too much credit and hold them in too high regard. There have been very few books that I have not completed, even if I didn’t like them. I always felt that once I began I owed it to the author to complete their text out of respect. If I ever wrote a book I am sure I would want anyone who picked it up to savor every last well-chosen word. I hate to let people down, and thus work under a high standard of obligation. In beginning a book I sense that I have entered into some sort of unwritten contract; there is no opting out once I commit to reading a book. It seems that I have endured a lot of misguided anguish for no reason; at least according to this dumb book which I didn’t like and didn’t finish reading. (Just kidding for any of you still with me, only a little terrible humor.)
If you were to look through physical books I have read (not these ‘ultra-modern’ kindle editions…yuk. Chop down a few trees for goodness sake. The author spent years working on this tome and no one can even hold or autograph the dang thing.) you will find them riddled with pencil marks. I regularly mark up my books in order that I retain some of the more powerful thoughts or statements. Fortunately for me this was one of the suggestions in Adler and Van Doren. At least I had some ability to read according to their formula. (I can re-apply a modicum of self-esteem that they stole from me earlier.) This is another reason I have been loathe to skip through books. I have been afraid I might miss a key statement or pithy phrase should I pass over pages. One never knows when an author will finally get around to their main point and say it in a way worthy of remembering or posting in social media as though I have uncovered buried treasure.
In assuming the inherent worth of a book simply because it was in print I have been reticent to engage with texts as a conversation. However, Adler and Van Doren suggest exactly that when they state; “Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author.” Assuming that the text is above me and is stretching me in some manner does not mean that I have nothing to bring as a contribution. My own perceptions, experiences, and understandings will not only be a means by which I filter what is being read, but will either validate or invalidate the presumptions being made by the author. Accepting this suggestion may be advantageous to completing this new program of study (whose dumb idea was it to do a doctorate anyway?) but will do little for my sense of propriety.
While I am familiar with the various levels of reading I probably spend the majority of time at the elementary level. There have been occasions when Inspectional reading has been utilized, though admittedly in a limited fashion. The principles of analytical reading make sense but seem to require a level of effort greater than any anticipated benefit. I will diligently print off the main steps to Analytical reading as suggested in this book and dutifully refer to them periodically as I struggle through the next three years relying on my advanced Elementary reading skills. Synoptical reading builds upon the others and may be the level required for completing a doctorate in a reasonable amount of time. But, why rush things?
The principles of synoptical reading were new to me and I assume that if any of this book is applicable to the next three years it will be this material. Particularly relevant was the suggestion that establishing terms is the responsibility of the reader and not the author. Adler and Van Doren state; “Thus it is you who must establish the terms, and bring your authors to them rather than the other way around.” As we accumulate massive amounts of material; books, articles, journals, etc., each author will utilize the relevant terms in their own way. It is up to us to define the terms of our own work and bring the texts we read to bear as we need them. This is counterintuitive to me and yet I recognize the necessity of this approach. If I had time over the next three years I would endeavor to apply much of what I read in this book but since the reading load will be so heavy between the requirements Jason has for us and the necessity of preparing for our dissertations, I think I’ll take a speed reading course instead. Nothing quite like faster Elementary reading I guess.