Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

The Art of Reading

There are basically three kinds of reading.

We can read for entertainment, read for information, or read for understanding.

Reading for Entertainment

Reading for entertainment is the simplest of all reading.

While it’s true we can be entertained when we read for information or understanding, reading strictly for entertainment is its own kind of reward.

Reading for Information

When we read something we can immediately understand, something like a magazine, or the newspaper, we are reading for information.

When we read for information, our intellect is not challenged.

Rather, we are simply acquiring more information that can be stored for our use at a later time.

Reading for Understanding

On the other hand, when we read something that seems to be above our comprehension, something we have to ponder, reflect on, and wrestle with, we grow in understanding.

We are not simply adding to our storehouse of information; we are exercising and building up our imagination.

In his book, How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler explains the art of reading is

The process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from the outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations. The mind passes from understanding less to understanding more. The skilled operations that cause this to happen are the various acts that constitute the art of reading.

Adler explains that one of the keys to employing the operations that will help us grow as readers is to read actively.

Active reading, according to C.S. Lewis, starts with a pipe in your teeth and a pencil in your hand.

As enjoyable as that might be to slow down, take it in, and take good notes, that doesn’t actually guarantee active reading.

Technically, there is no such thing as purely passive reading, but reading actively means receiving what the writer is giving out, not like “receiving a blow or a legacy or a judgment from court,” explains Adler.

Instead, active reading is like a catching a ball.

The catcher has to anticipate everything from fastballs and curveballs to changeups and sliders. A catcher has to watch attentively, move quickly, and adjust constantly.

So it is with reading.

Adler explains that “the art of reading is the skill of catching every sort of communication as well as possible.”

And as every catcher knows, it takes a lot of practice to be able to catch everything a pitcher might throw your way.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he’ll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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