How to Read a Book - We Do Not Read Well

Reformers Resource: How to Read a Book -- Series by Thomas Eglinton

Introduction to the series

The purpose of this series of blogs is two-fold:

  1. I’ve wanted to read Mortimer Adler’s book “How to Read a Book” ever since I discovered it existed and this series is an excuse to get me to do it. That is – I want to learn how to read better.
  2. The second reason is that perhaps by writing about what I learn from Mortimer, others may learn a bit more about how to read and be encouraged to pick up a book more often. I hope you, the reader, can learn something about how to read a book as well.

You can find Mortimer Adlers book for free online if you would like to read along. Here is one of those places:

We do not read well.

Mortimer begins his book by showing us how we often do not know how to read. I love a story he tells of when he was tasked with teaching a class where the students were to discuss great literature. Mortimer compares himself to a colleague and says:

“My questions about a book were of the sort anyone could ask or answer without having read the book—anyone who had had recourse to the discussion which a hundred secondary sources provide for those who cannot or do not want to read. In contrast, his questions seemed to arise from the pages of the book itself”

In this section and in a few other times in this opening chapter I was drawn to think that Mortimer is exhorting us to read the Bible better. Mortimer is, of course, doing nothing of the kind. But for Christians I do think that our first application should be this. Here is another example:

“If we consider men and women generally, and apart from their professions or occupations, there is only one situation I can think of in which they almost pull themselves up by their bootstraps, making an effort to read better than they usually do. When they are in love and are reading a love letter, they read between the lines and in the margins; they read the whole in terms of the parts, and each part in terms of the whole; they grow sensitive to context and ambiguity, to insinuation and implication; they perceive the color of words, the odor of phrases, and the weight of sentences. They may even take the punctuation into account. Then, if never before or after, they read.”

Imagine if we read the Bible like that! But the main thrust of chapter 1 is that, alas, we do not read well at all.

Sign up to our mailing list to hear about great Christian books, new releases and special deals