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This is the 8th and final post in this series on reading for transformation. See parts one, Confessions of a Biblioholic; two, Reading for Transformation; three, On Meditative Reading; four, Writing - The Way of Slow Reading; five, Hospitable Reading; six, Reading in Formational Space and Sacred Time; and seven, “Breadcrumbs from my Reading Life”.
Do we stop learning how to read once we learn how to read? Certainly not. Even someone as educated and erudite as Augustine was still able to learn how to read from others.
In his Confessions Augustine recounts watching Bishop Ambrose read silently.1 This was a novel practice for Augustine, the primary form of reading being oral and communal. (We often assume that reading is a private act, which is rather silly, since our education in reading usually begins on our parents’ laps!) The point here is, Augustine was attentive to others’ reading methods and willing to learn from them. He might not have learned how to read silently without observing how Ambrose read.
Here is another counterintuitive suggestion, and our final one in this series: ask others about their reading habits and practices. Learn from the ways others read - and share what you’re learning, too! This likely sounds childish; you obviously know how to read, so why ask another “How do you read?” But the equally obvious answer, the reason for this series, is that reading is more like progressive sanctification than Keswick holiness—we grow in grace gradually with ups and downs, 2 steps forward, 1 step back and onward.
For us today, we could wait until we stumble upon someone else reading in a novel way, like Augustine, but why leave that to chance? Better to proactively inquire of other readers of all kinds. Further, as we learn not just by advice and instruction but observation and modeling, why not intentionally arrange to observe the practice of another reader?
Again, this will sound childish, but that is only because we think we already know how to read. Seek out someone from whom you can learn not how to read, but how to read better. Meet with her, bring a book so you don’t just creepily stare, but still watch how she reads. Ask questions about method. Ask how he takes notes. Ask to see his notes. This will foster teachability and make you a better reader. And you will learn something you never would have learned.
For example, a few years ago I had the distinct pleasure of spending many afternoons reading on the front the porch of Rev. Tim Blackmon. In addition to being generous with his tobacco and distilled liquor, he was generous with his reading habits. Reading separately but in the same space and time, I had the chance to learn habits from observing him directly that I never would have thought of. For example, his habit of reading through and writing an author’s key quotes from Goodreads before diving into a new book in order to get a feel for the author’s mind. Or, learning what kind of pencil he used to mark up his books (a thicker lead that I found I liked much better than my usual .5mm Pilot). Or, more quaintly, his habit of using a ruler to underline his books (something on which we respectfully disagreed, and now I always feel a bit self-conscious when I draw squiggly, wavy lines in my books).
Whether or not I tried or adopted any of Tim’s reading practices, I only had the chance to consider them from seeing him read in person and asking questions about his reading. I still don’t read as much as Tim (which might not be a bad thing, go back to my first post), but I do consider myself a better reader for learning from him.
Perhaps this is a condition for transformational reading: be continually willing to grow as readers so that we continue to grow by reading.
Quote from Thomas Brooks
Read and do, read and practise what you read, or else all your reading will do you no good. He that hath a good book in his hand, but not a lesson of it in his heart or life, is like that ass that carrieth burdens, and feeds upon thistles. In divine account, a man knows no more than he doth…He that practiseth what he reads and understands, God will help him to understand what he understands not. There is no fear of knowing too much, though there is much fear in practising too little; the most doing man shall be the most knowing man; the mightiest man in practice will in the end prove the mightiest man in Scripture.
Revolutionize Your Bookclub - due to my poor planning, I published this just before the series on transformational reading, but it complements this post in discussing social/communal reading practices.
How do you go about reading in a way that cultivates your soul? Please click the comment button to share your habits so that others can learn from you!
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