How to Read a Book - Elementary Reading

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

In the last blog, we saw that there are four different types of reading. The first and most basic of those is Elementary Reading.

In case you missed the last blog post, elementary reading is the ability to do what you are currently doing - see some symbols on a page and work out what they mean. It is not so much concerned with understanding the authors argument - simply deciphering the words on the page.

Adler spends a short chapter dealing with elementary reading. The chapter is largely made up of Adler bemoaning the fact that many students (in the USA in Adler's day) struggle even with elementary reading after their primary, high and tertiary educations.

Perhaps most interesting in this chapter was the description Adler gives of the process a person goes through as they learn how to master elementary reading. He gives four stages of reading - the second of which is most worthy of note.

The second stage is learning basic reading skills such as short words and very simple sentences.

Adler's description of this stage is worth quoting. He says:

something quite mysterious, almost magical, occurs during this stage. At one moment in the course of his development the child, when faces with a series of symbols on a page, finds them quit meaningless. Not much later... he has discovered meaning in them; he knows that they say "the cat sat on the hat". How this happens no one really knows, despite the efforts of philosophers and psychologists over two and a half millennia to study the phenomenon.


Where does this meaning come from? How is it that a French child would find the same meaning in the symbols "Le chat s'asseyait sur le chapeau"? Indeed, this discovery of meaning in symbols may be the most astounding intellectual feat that any human being ever performs - and most humans perform it before they are seven years old! (p 25, How To Read a Book)

What an amazing description! This made me consider the wonder of reading - even at an elementary level. And really, this should drive us to wonder at God, for He made us people of the word - language machines who can not only decipher language symbols, but even invent them!

The other thing this description made me consider was that it is interesting that the second person in the God-head is called the 'Word of God'. I think perhaps this description of what humans do with words may help us understand what the Son does for us with God. Jesus takes a distant, transcendent being - the holy (separate) creator of all things - and brings us near. As John says in 1 John 5:20 "we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we might know him who is true", that is, God (ESV).

Revealing God to us in this way is even more mysterious than deciphering symbols on a page but it is a similar type of mysterious. We know the Father through the Word, through Christ in a similar way to how we know the authors communication through the words on the page. It is mysterious but wonderful. Jesus said "whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (ESV, John 14:9).

It is, to some extent, this wonderful mystery that elementary reading points us to.

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