Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Reading a book is a kind of conversation"

This quote, from Mortimer Adler's book, How to Read a Book, requires a little more explanation. In his chapter entitled "Criticizing a Book Fairly" he comments:

"A good book deserves an active reading. The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says. It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging. The undemanding reader fails to satisfy this requirement, probably even more than he fails to anyalyze and interpret. He not only makes no effort to understand; he also dismisses a book simply by putting it aside and forgetting it. Worse than faintly praising it, he damns it by giving it no critical consideration whatever." (p. 139)

Further along he points out that,

"Cervantes may or may not have been right in saying, 'There is no book so bad but something good may be found in it.' It is more certain that there is no book so good that no fault can find with it."

As an author I find that last comment to be simultaneously intimidating and liberating. But then since Adler was an author himself, I assume I am in good company--his own work was probably critiqued many times!

This is a point that I encourage teachers to make with their students: to learn to read novels, their own work, and their peer's work critically and analytically. Those skills help us as readers and as writers.

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