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How to Read Well

When I actually teach this, I feel like a success. The problem is that society does everything in its power to distract both educators and students from really learning to read.

We spend a lot of time in class, reading. That’s it, reading. And if reading were just plot lines or bullet points, we’d be wasting a lot of time, just reading.

So, what does it mean to read well? What must we do to ensure that we’re not just wasting time reading?

Often, I feel that I’m answering the question the way a pig hunts for truffles. Nose to the ground, I intuitively sniff out some insight about reading, something that calls out and compels me forward toward it, but there are other truffles out there, and how to read “well” seems to have component parts, fragmented truffles spread across the rich wilderness of understanding. I offer these thoughts before you, humbly acknowledging that the answers are manifold and complex, though not fully subjective (there is absolutely a wrong way to read because those truffles of truth beneath the surface say so).

Just like there are wrong ways of thinking (self-absorbing, self-hating, self-abusing), there are wrong ways of reading. When we read, we read for basic comprehension, yes, and yet more so for structure that conveys meaning, proffers argument, suggests ideology and theme. To read—really, actually, fully, truly—is to practice human-ing well.

Story is perhaps the most important aspect of us. Story develops culture, shapes beliefs, defines us. From the stories of creation to the stories we make up about our own identities, story almost single-handedly shoves us from animal to personal.

Reading invites us to engage with story

About life,

About truth,

About society,

About purpose,

About the connectedness of man to God in all things.

Reading invites us to think. Reading is thinking. And thinking is human-ing.

So here are some truffles about reading well that I’ve dug up recently:

1. Reading well is allowing oneself space to play with the burning concepts that conscious existence—being human—brings with it. Without reading, we might not be able to reach out, straining to touch those eternal concepts that define man, making him more than an animal. Freedom, hope, nobility—these are the draught, the ambrosia, the nectar that our thinking souls crave. Reading without engaging in ideas is to read blind.

2. Reading well means suspending bias long enough to fully comprehend the argument and then stepping out of the suspended belief and evaluating the argument through multiple lenses. Each text requires deft handling to be able to hear the author and to evaluate the argument. Judgment, anathema to pop culture, is necessary to read well. Just because it’s written doesn’t make it true; just because it’s printed doesn’t make it devoid of context or bias. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean it’s wrong. As an educator, I firmly believe that remaining a staunch adherent to tribal (political, sectarian, national, etc) dogma as one reads suffocates growth.

3. Reading well is self-suspension in order to discover more of yourself. In losing yourself, you’ll define it. In finding out that reading is not about you, you become more.

This week, like most weeks, my scholars and I practiced reading well, knowing that what’s at stake is not a reading quiz score or an in-class write grade, but one’s very humanity.

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