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Thoughts on Deep Reading

Posted by Remy on September 27, 2012

Here are some off the cuff remarks about learning to read deeply.

  1. Gauge the value/level of worthiness of each book. Not all books are worthy of deep, prolonged and slow readings. Someone once said (often attributed to Sir Francis Bacon), “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Ask yourself if a book should be read fast or slow, in short snippets or over longer reading sessions, and whether or not it should be read again.
  2. Mark passages, used partly to determine where you are in the overall argument, like breadcrumbs in the forest so that if you lose the thread of the point you can backtrack and sort it out. The first part is understanding what the writer is saying and little tick marks or marginalia outlining the book will help you in following the argument. But also marking passages will allow you to return and reflect on a point. Reading books is easy, understanding books takes time. Thinking is a luxury most cannot afford, but in developing your intellect/moral imagination requires thought and meditation.
  3. Apply the lessons learned from a book to another area or field. If you learned something about the nature of God, ask yourself what that says about fathers. If you learn that the Romans largely borrowed their laws, ask what that says about their religion. Knowledge is useful, but simple facts aren’t worth much. Value what you learn by using it.
  4. For any new point you learn, pause and think of another example explaining it. If you can’t teach the lesson, you didn’t learn the lesson. Use an example from the Bible, or history, or a book or movie to express what you just learned. Teaching is illustrating and the more illustrations you have, the better you know something and the better you’ll be able to pass it on.
  5. One simple interpretive rule is to trace all problems in society to the church. The church is the mover and shaker of history. If something is wrong in society, something is wrong in the church. Analysis is key to deep reading and this is a foothold into critical thinking.
  6. Read other books at the same time. This might take some more practice and discipline, but if you are able to read multiple books at the same time you get a lot of cool cross-pollination. Critical thinking is imaginative thinking; thinking widely means reading widely. Plus, reading an array of books at the same time forces more concentration as you switch from book to book. Often times it will force you to swoop backwards in your reading to pick up the thread of the argument, but being able to carry multiple lines of argument or stories in your head is excellent training in debates and mental flexibility. Also, I never use bookmarks, which forces me to recognize through memory where I am in a book. Often times I pick up at a place that I might’ve already read, but because I didn’t get it the first time I didn’t remember. So going without a bookmarker helps me read a book.
  7. It is important to submit to an author in order to learn from him, but at some point you need to resist him in order to test the verity of his point and to learn the strength of his argument. As you read, carry along counter-arguments to see if he addresses them. Anticipation is key to critical thinking, but also minimizing blindspots will help in using what you learn. Not all points are equal and as you read you should make mental note of weak points, points that are for the choir (so to speak) and points that are best to aim at antagonists. The weak push against the strong to get stronger. Test the wood of the bridge to ensure it will carry you over. These are wise things.
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2 Responses to “Thoughts on Deep Reading”

  1. Troy Lizenby said

    Very helpful. Also, there is great value in reading and discussing the ideas of good books within a community of readers. Language is participatory and we name things for mutual benefit. One author that I recently read says that we need to migrate from a grammar of representation to a grammar of participation.

    • Remy said

      Yes. In fact, these were written for such a gathering. The pushing and pulling with an author can be continued in a community.

      Your comment on Language is doubly resonant with me since I’ve been rereading Peter L’s Solomon Among the Postmoderns.

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