Monthly Archives: October 2008

Reading to learn?

With so many books out there, it can be a challenge to work out how best to spend the limited time we have to read.

One way to approach this is to go for a very focused approach – ruthlessly working out which books and which sections of books are the most useful, and reading this with full engagement. An example of that is this guide ‘How to Read‘ by David Field, a lecturer at Oak Hill Theological College.

One problem with this is that by examining books to see which parts of them are worth reading we only ever read the parts that we think will be helpful to us before we actually reading. In other words, there is a danger that what we read may simply become self-reinforcing.

This thought was provoked by a fairly chilling example of focused reading:

Hitler was not only an avid reader but also an inveterate underliner. Perhaps the most chilling example of that is in Paul de Lagarde’s “German Essays”. Underlined is: “Each and every irksome Jew is a serious affront to the authenticity and veracity of our German identity.”

Hitler had a magpie mind. He speed-read books looking for material that he counted as useful—meaning anything that fitted into his mosaic of misplaced historical analogy and pseudoscience. What didn’t fit was discarded. This was the essence of Hitler: “Not a profound, unfathomable distillation of the philosophies of Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, but instead a dime-store theory cobbled together from cheap tendentious paperbacks and esoteric hardcovers, which gave rise to a thin, calculating, bullying mendacity.”

There is something to be said for reading a book (perhaps that is recommended by someone you trust), and letting it take you somewhere else, in its own way.