I have come to realize that I am a person who enjoys reading and enjoys books. Notice that I did not say “enjoys reading books.” I delight in the act of reading, whether it be an online article, nutrition label, or an anthology of essays, and I delight in the object of a physical book, whether it be worn or crisp, hardback or paperback, thick or thin. Moreover, I have found myself particularly enjoying books about books and reading about reading. If a bibliophile is one who loves books, then perhaps one who not only loves books, but also loves books about books, is a meta-bibliophile, if you will. Regardless of such mental amusements, there are some very valuable lessons to learn from books about books and reading about reading. Such lessons can help the reader become more refined and mentally fit for his literary task. Increasing in reading skill is the necessary solution to the young lover of books and his plight of ever-growing, monstrous stacks of tomes and texts. Therefore, let’s walk through five practical tips which can help the bibliophile become a lectiophile, one who loves to read much and read well.
Read in the Bathroom
Please do not think I am trying to say that one must place himself in the space of a bathroom if he wants to read, regardless of whether he needs to use the bathroom or not. Clearly, I mean that when using the restroom, go ahead and pick up a book and read a couple pages. Most sources say that we often spend around 15 minutes a day sitting on the toilet, and for many people of younger generations, those 15 minutes are filled with scrolling through Twitter or watching YouTube videos. Dare I advise to not bring your phone with you when duty (or doody) calls? Find an enjoyable book to comfort yourself in the midst of such an existential crisis, and you will soon realize that you never needed your phone to be with you in the first place. Moreover, you will begin to get through that ever-growing stack of books you’ve been meaning to get through.
Don’t Forget Audiobooks
The covetous reader will soon realize that she actually cannot perpetually read, lest she find herself in a hurricane of neglected responsibilities. It turns out that reading a book in one hand while washing the dishes in the other is a herculean task fit only for the multitasking gods of Olympus (perhaps the literally two-faced Janus is well equipped to read and do the dishes at the same time). It goes without saying that taking the trash out, doing the laundry, making dinner, driving, feeding the baby, going to Sunday service, and more run-of-the mill duties in life are all tasks in which our beloved page-turner needs to be put down. Nevertheless, if one cannot read with his eyes for the moment, perhaps he can read with his ears. Listening to audiobooks at the appropriate times and places can be opportune moments for the reader to keep on reading, albeit utilizing different senses. Sure, the experience is different, but it is better than nothing for the appreciative reader. So, whether it be driving to work, washing the dishes, or exercising at the gym, the voracious reader can have his appetite fulfilled by listening to some of the books he has yet to take off of his bookshelf.
Read Instruction Manuals
Perhaps one of the most frustrating and perplexing crutches of older generations (yes, that includes you, Mom and Dad) is the incapacity to navigate modern technology by sheer intuition. How much easier can it get when the skeuomorphic iPhones are specifically designed to be intuitive to the user? Well, apparently intuition seems to be just as historically contingent as other epistemological realities, and some older folk benefit from reading the instruction manual. In fact, intuition is also theologically conditioned, as Cornelius Van Til points out:
There is a sense in which intuition is more to be trusted than reasoning inasmuch as it is more immediate and therefore does not offer as large an area for the encroachment of error as does ratiocination. In itself, however, reasoning is nothing but self-conscious intuition, and intuition is nothing but unconscious reasoning. There the one is not inherently more or less valid than the other.
In other words, what we find intuitive is intuitive for a reason, even if that reason is subconscious. As it is, intuition is not necessarily an intrinsically more reliable guide than reason, and, despite its superficial oddity, such an observation can directly apply to our attitudes towards technology and instruction manuals. With these philosophical thoughts in mind, all it takes is a moment’s reflection to see that the intuition-driven, trial-by-fire means of learning how something works is not always wise. Sure, pressing any and all buttons is a fool-proof way to figure what they do, but so is taking the time to read what those buttons do before we press them.
To get to the point: taking the time to read an instruction manual is to engage in disciplined reading to the fullest extent. To read the relevant parts of an instruction manual requires self-control and patience, two fruits of the Spirit that intuitively designed technology actively discourage. So, the next time you come to the fore of technological wild-lands, perhaps attempt to read a map to find the trails purposefully made for you, instead of impatiently trailblazing your own digital path. Such an exercise will help you to become a more disciplined and attentive reader overall.
Talk About What You Read
A typical person enjoys talking about what she delights in or finds interesting. The reading person usually reads what she finds interesting as well; ergo it should not be unusual for the reader to converse with others about her literary gleanings. Indeed, when we speak to others about something we have learned, we are simultaneously teaching and reviewing information; we teach our friend and we reteach ourselves. Furthermore, lest we bore our friend with a socially unwarranted mass of detailed information, we must communicate articulately and concisely.
Such communication requires that we know the information well enough to discern essential points and summarize it well. Summarization of this kind not only lends itself to concise communication, but also effective communication. Nothing is more difficult to listen to than someone who is excitedly attempting to explain some new concept or discovery, all the while making logical leaps and bounds in their regurgitated and un-contextualized arguments. When we read well, we learn to speak well, also. The more we speak of a specific subject, the more articulate we become, learning how to speak more clearly. Moreover, failures in communication motivate us to read more carefully; if we bungled our first attempt at explaining Van Til’s transcendental argument, for example, then we ought to return to The Defense of the Faith with a more careful eye, looking to develop a finer understanding of the author’s words and arguments. As a result, we can present the information we read more clearly, and hopefully captivate our listener, rather than put them to sleep with cluttered rambling.
Read Out Loud
There are various reasons why silent reading was not as commonplace during the ancient and medieval periods as compared to contemporary times, but one reason was the recognition that oral repetition helps with long-term memorization. It probably is not the goal for many contemporary readers to memorize everything they read, so oral repetition is most likely unnecessary, but, in light of our common silent reading practices, to read out loud in private can help the reader to slow down and process more information. It can be more laborious, but when one becomes practiced in reading out loud, the reading of the book becomes more and more like a conversation with the author. Such an experience happens especially when the reader flows between the author’s words on the page and his own soliloquies. Admittedly, if a peeping Tom were to ever observe you reading out loud, and then soliloquizing, Tom may conclude that you would fit in well at Pennhurst. Granted, maybe one could get some more privacy to do all of their reading at a haunted asylum anyway. In short, silent reading can easily result in a superficial skim, while reading out loud is a concrete practice which forces the reader to slow down and think more about what he is reading.
A Concluding Consolation
There are many more points of advice to be given, but it is better to start new habits slowly. Focus on one in particular, like reading in the bathroom, instead of digging through long lost filing cabinets for a yellowed instruction manual to that printer you never quite figured out how to use. This might as well constitute a final word of advice, one which we all need reminded of: do not set your reading goals so high that they become impossible to reach. Some may be familiar with that ambitious list of books to read over the summer, which almost immediately becomes so long that it would take a whole year to actually get through it. Indeed, to articulate the point in a proverbial manner, the ambitious bullfrog attempted to hop all the way to the moon, and when he failed, he built a ladder of twigs to lean on the night sky. He then found a sturdy looking cloud, propped his ladder on it, and then watched it fall over and break into pieces. Out of the frustration from his repeated failures, he puffed and puffed until he finally burst. Such is the course of the overly ambitious reader. Hopefully, the five tips above may help one make a concrete step towards fulfilling his reading goals.