Contending With The Author

Yesterday’s post inspired me a little. I know that reading is in decline in the United States. I know that people really don’t like to read (for the most part), and in many ways, though our literacy levels are pretty high in this country, we’re almost working ourselves away from reading in general. I think it’s going to be a sad day when a generation emerges that completely forsakes reading altogether, and I hope not to see it in my lifetime. In an effort to combat this, I’m going to write some posts dealing with the reasons people decide to read, and why they might decide not to. Here we go.

I talked for a little while yesterday about reading authors that make me angry. I think a lot of us who read pretty regularly have encountered this. If you’re a Christian, men like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or even those annoying neo-Reformed gentlemen might do it for you. If you’re even moderately liberal, men like Glenn Beck might anger you to the point of throwing things. Point is, there’s subjects, and the people defending them, that just flat out upset you (and for good reason in some cases too).  I wanted to go a little more in-depth about how to handle this.

Frankly, we all know that disagreement is a part of life. You disagree with people on a regular basis, so what’s the problem with reading a book by an author that doesn’t look at the world the same way you do?  Well, it’s different because the two of you aren’t sitting in the same room together, chatting over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.  There’s an obvious physical disconnect, which leads you, the reader, into an emotional area where the author seems cold and distant, perhaps even insensitive.  It may very well be the case that the author’s general attitude is like this in real life, but since you’re not sitting with him/her, you don’t know that.

1) Give the author the benefit of the doubt.  Let’s assume that this author really put this all together to present to you to see what you would think and wants your honest opinion on the matter.  In a way, that’s part of being an author.  Your book isn’t going to sell for squat if people don’t like it, so, in many ways, authors are heavily dependent on readers to not only like their book, but dialogue with it and get others in on the discussion as well.  In light of this, give the author the chance to present his point of view.

Something I’ve noticed here in America is how we view teaching.  It’s definitely ingrained in our public school system, but we are not taught very well how to dialogue and think on our own. Without getting into the whole “America is brainwashed” debate, we are inclined, as a product of our education system, to “follow the directions.” Deviating from this education is not easy at all.  I’m finding this to be true even in my own job, where I actually have to make decisions on my own and it’s not as simple as following orders.  The same is true with reading.  There’s no marching orders, save the basics such as grammar and syntax. It’s up to YOU, the reader, to decide your own thoughts about what the author is writing.  He/she can’t tell you that. Your mom can’t tell you that.  It has to come from you.

2) Come in with the mindset that you DO have an opinion, and you CAN disagree with an author.  There’s more on this in my page “How To Read A Book,” but when you read a book, you get to look at the argument presented, look at how it’s presented, how the logic flows through it, and make a decision based on your findings.  This is part of active reading.  Books won’t mean a thing to you if you don’t directly engage them.

I really wanted there to be a third point here, but that’s really about it.  Reading an author you disagree with isn’t easy.  You have to set aside your emotions and give the author a chance.  However, this doesn’t meant you just lay down and take whatever the author has as truth.  Be a real reader; give the author a shot, then take one of your own. You have a mind, and you have the right to disagree if you can show WHY you do.  Don’t just disagree because you don’t like it; that closes down the dialogue.  Reading is all about continuing the great conversation known as existence, and I hate to see people miss out on that talk.




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