Some of the books I read have stupid titles, or at least ones that make you go, “huh?” Take How To Read a Book and How To Read A Poem for example. Shouldn’t I already know how to do this? Why bother reading a book on it?
Well, let me tell you how I came into contact with How To Read a Book. When I was in college, I studied theology (hence why so many books I read are on the subject). I was having a hard time retaining the information I was receiving in class and in the books I read, so I went to my professor and asked him if there was a way to help this. He had two answers for me:
1) Get off Facebook during class and listen to what I’m telling you.
2) Read Mortimer Adler’s How To Read A Book.
I didn’t follow either piece of advice well, but I eventually got to read How To Read A Book sometime last year. Though I still have some difficulty applying what’s in it because I’m impatient and scatter-brained, it really has aided me in better grasping the contents of the books I read. Why? Because there’s a right way and a wrong way to read books.
Adler points out that most people don’t engage in active reading whenever they’re reading a book. While his book was written in 1972, this is all the more true today. The books people read today are designed to be easy, to not be overly engaging, and many of them can be finished without much work. The classics we read in high school, as well as some of the more contemporary Pulitzer-Prize winners, intimidate and turn people off to reading because they’re too hard. There exists all number of reasons why, but I don’t feel the need to get into that. The point is that, if you’re going to read more, you need to work at it.
What about the poem book? I’m approaching poetry with the same way I approached my theology reading: I don’t know how to do it well. I used to write poetry in high school, and a little in college, but I never did much to read it unless I was trying to looking sophisticated to girls. Fortunately, a friend of mine actually studied poetry in-depth in college, and he’s managed to keep in me a decent interest in poetry and the poets that write it. What’s even better is that How To Read A Poem is written by Edward Hirsch, a well accomplished poet and college professor. I have a copy of his Lay Back the Darkness and the contents are wonderful. As I amass a greater library in the future, I will be collecting more poetry, and I’m excited to read more of it and fall in love with it.
Want to learn more about how to read well? I have a whole page up there are the top dedicated to it. Check it out!