Sunday, January 11, 2009

Reading -- carrying on the conversation

We saw Liam off today at Amtrak. By now he is back at college. As soon as we got back into the van, Aidan said, "SO -- we'll pick Liam up in two days, right?" He has learned to channel his feelings towards the positive as quickly as possible. He does it with his regular post-transplant blood draws, too -- "So, after labs I get a 7-Up, right?" I don't manage to do this as quickly as he does.

You know, I was thinking about the 52-Book Challenge, and I realize I don't really need to challenge myself to read a book a week. That would be somewhat like challenging myself to eat 2 desserts per day, or sleep 9 hours a day. It is my default. My challenge with books is to read them slowly enough to have them actually do some good.

So I think a better challenge for me would be to read slowly ... and actually remember what I read. Maybe even narrate?

...slowing down can produce a deeply profound quiet that can overwhelm your soul, and in that quiet you can lose yourself in thought for an immeasurable moment of time. Lindsay Waters, Time for Reading.
I do see value in quick reading, especially for the first time through a new book. Like many visual/spatial learners, I do much better getting a sense of the whole forest before focusing on individual trees. And with some books, once is enough; you don't have to revisit that copse tree by tree, at least not right away. I quoted once before in Lectio: Extensive and Intensive, Cursiva and Stataria: (from a book called Lectures on Metaphysics and Logic)

"Accommodate the intensity of the reading to the importance of the work. Some books therefore are only to be dipped into; others are to be run over rapidly; and others are to be studied long and sedulously." All books are not to be read with the same attention; and accordingly, an ancient distinction was taken of reading into lectio cursiva and lectio stataria. The former of these we have adopted into English, cursory reading being a familiar and correct translation of lectio cursiva. But lectio stataria cannot be so well rendered by the expression of stationary reading. "Read not," says Bacon in his Fiftieth Essay, "to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. 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. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. "

(The whole quote from Bacon is here) ...
In other words, some books you have to read through in order to see if they're worth becoming part of your interior bookshelf. You can't always tell just by the fact that it's on a Great Books list or alternately, not on one. I can't find the quote right now, but CS Lewis talks about how a real course of reading has to be more personal than a simple 5-foot shelf of Great Books of the Western World, convenient and praiseworthy as such collections are as a starting place or summary.

So that's one of the values of a quick reading, lectio cursiva, to me -- once a book is read, I have a sort of mental schema of that book, similar to the general idea I have of the European map or the layout of a city I've visited only briefly. I can visit it again some other time, or cross-reference it with other reading, or have enough familiarity with it at least to distinguish between the literary equivalent of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building.

But that's not enough for a real intimacy with a book. ... and that is where slow reading, lectio stataria, comes in. I don't have to develop that kind of relationship with every book I read, but there are some that I end up conversing with throughout major points of my life.

And of course, since most of the deeper books, whether Great Books precisely or not, deal with big ideas, there are overlaps between them, so the books end up dialoguing with each other inside my head. Scary thought! Yes, my interior bookshelf is no static piece of furniture, I'm afraid. When I remember that books are essentially forms of Logos, words, a form of speech, I guess I can get more comfortable with the thought of an internal literary Smeagol-Gollum conversation. Perhaps it's a bit more like sitting at a dinner table or at a fireside listening to greater people than I am talking about things that really matter.


Saille said...

This is why I decided not to join the 52 books challenge. I'm a voracious reader, but with three small children in the house, I find my time with a book is relegated to stolen moments. Most of my reading just now is historical. Homeschooling has made it clear to me just how much I was never taught in the first place, and I'm determined to put the pieces together. Currently I'm slowly, slowly internalizing the life of Queen Mary I, though I should be finished this week.

Thanks for your post.

Anonymous said...

I tend to be a quick reader, too and it saddens me how much doesn't stick. Food for thought here! :-)

lissla lissar said...

Someone or other said that books are the conversation of mankind. I think having all of your favourite, benchmark books conversing in you head is appropriate and right.

I also, read too fast, and too much, without properly digesting. If I like a book, though, I'll re-read it pretty much endlessly.

Stephanie said...

"That would be somewhat like challenging myself to eat 2 desserts per day, or sleep 9 hours a day."

What. That's a problem?

Lissla's "conversation of mankind" is the appropriate metaphor here, don't you think? Living Ideas in Living Books ... yeah ... but it's true that sometimes you just want to chat, more friendly-like. And it's also true that it's rude to have a conversation and not pay attention - or just wait until you get a turn to talk.

But I'm stuck on the two desserts challenge. Let's do that one.

Laura A said...

Now that C.Z. is reading on her own, I seem to be regularly somewhere in the high 20s for books per year. I own two of the books on your reading challenge list this year, and have read the Lewis. And, by the way, his *An Experiment in Criticism* has lots of good information on different kinds of reading.

I'm aware now that I likely only have so many years to live and there are *so* many books I'd like to read, so some I read quickly to see whether they are worth a reread, but the others I read with pencil in hand, making margin notes for reference later. But many books are worth not only reading slowly, but worth reading over and over.

I'd like to see an example of that interior dialogue!