Think, Know, Prove: Reading

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

I’ve been looking at my bookshelf with a wolfish lust of late (I think I might even involuntarily growl at it now and again), looking forward to guiltless and unfettered summer reading time–lining up a top ten in the order I want to read them and then rearranging them the next day, saying “I can’t wait” at least four times a week. (Current Top Ten(ish): Moneyball, Infinite Jest, The City of Dreaming Books, Neverwhere, Walden, The Mind’s Eye, All the Devils Are Here, Frontiers of Justice, The Black Swan, Chaos, Elements of Positional Evaluation, Luka and The Fire of Life.)

Then, early this week, one reader sent me this–a list of statistics about book reading, and then I stumbled on this–an article about how intellectuals have been lamenting the good old days when people knew stuff and actually read for as long as there have been books. It made for an interesting pairing, and all of that happened during a week when I was semi-frustrated because I could not remember where I had read this–an article about different approaches to reading (spiritual seeker versus philosophical seeker) and the week after I’d pulled a book off my shelf that I hadn’t looked at in probably six years (Chu Hsi’s Learning to Be a Sage) and ran into a few of his ideas about reading:

In 13th century China, Chu Hsi writes, “Nowadays in reading a text, people have yet to read to this point here, and their minds are already on some later passage. And as soon as they do read what’s here, they wish to put it aside [and move on]. This sort of reading doesn’t aim for a personal understanding of the text. We must linger over what we read, longing to understand it. Only if we don’t wish to put it aside will we come to a personal appreciation of it. He also said: Reading a text is like looking at this house here. If you view the house from the outside, then say that you have finished seeing it, there’ll be no way to understand it. You must go inside and look around at each and every thing. What’s the size and layout of the structure? What’s the extent of the latticework? Look through the house once, then again and again. Remember everything, and you’ll have understood it.”

In another passage, he writes, “Someone asked: In reading, what do you do when you become confused by a multitude of views? The Master replied: You have to opne your mind and read through each and every view. Read one view, then another. Read them over and over again, and then right and wrong, the good and the bad, will all naturally become clear. This can be compared to a person wanting to know if a certain man is good or bad. He should keep his eye on him wherever he goes, following him here and there, observing his words and deeds, and then he’ll know whether he’s good or bad. He also said: you must simply open your mind. He also said: Wash away the old opinions to bring forth a new understanding.”

Anyway, all of that, along with the recent grading I’ve been doing (of philosophical critical reading skills), have me thinking about reading this week. Take it where you will. You may want to discuss what you’ll be reading this summer. You may want to say something about something in one of the articles linked above. You may want to say something about the library and the wonders of it (not to mention the goofy things going on all over with respect to them). You may want to talk about something else altogether. Great. It’s all good. The topic is reading.

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?