It’s not enough to listen and look. Smell, taste, and feel what you read.
Garrett Kincaid – March 23, 2023
Comprehension — understanding what a text says — is the base level of reading. Connection — relating to what a text means — ought to be the aim of reading. It takes effort and intention to read for connection, rather than for mere comprehension, but those who read deeply are plentifully rewarded. It’s the difference between limping through a desert with dry mouth and feasting on the fruits of an oasis.
We aim too low when we read, but it’s not our fault. From elementary through high school, we’re quizzed on plot, character, setting and asked to analyze the rhetoric of persuasive arguments. We’re taught to stand apart from the text, listening to a lecture about it and looking through it for evidence that would serve an upcoming essay. While these skills are necessary, they’re insufficient. When we identify themes and regurgitate plot details, we skate the icy surface of meaning.
The joy of writing is crafting something that communicates meaning in a compelling way. The joy of reading is uncovering that meaning and connecting with it in a personal way, relating the text to your own life and integrating it into your worldview. Reading is most beneficial and enjoyable when you let writing change you for the better, and that doesn’t happen if you read for comprehension.
Reading for comprehension:
- Was Romeo a Montague or Capulet?
- Recite the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative (1).
- How do Adam and Eve react when they first become self-aware?
It’s not enough to listen and look. Smell, taste, and feel what you read. Read as if the book were written to you as a letter, as if it were created to serve a pivotal purpose at this very moment in your life. Read as if you were having a conversation with the writer, rather than autopsying her corpse.
Reading for connection:
- Who in your life has exhibited the attachment style of Romeo and Juliet, and is that something you’d like to emulate in your relationships?
- When was a time you treated someone merely as a means and not as an end in themselves? How will you avoid such conduct in the future?
- Shame is a theme throughout the story of The Fall in The Book of Genesis. Why is shame such a strong human emotion? Does it have a positive counterpart? Maybe pride? Would you give up the feeling of [pride] if you could live life without shame?
Instead of reading for comprehension, read for connection. Highlight, annotate, praise and criticize what you read (2). Learn from fictional characters by comparing them to people in your life. Question the assertions of your favorite philosophers. Re-punctuate a paragraph from a famous essayist. Relate your experiences to the plight of a tragic hero.
Every book you read can be life-changing (3). It all depends on how you approach it and whether you read beyond comprehension.
When was the last time you connected with something you read? How did it change or strengthen your perspective?
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- “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” – Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
- For my fellow fans of the Oxford comma, know that I have not forgotten it. In fact, this sentence illustrates the wonders of the Oxford comma. This is a list of three items, where I intend for “praise and criticize” to be considered a single action. In their place, I could have used “critique” (and avoided the “and”), but it has too negative of a connotation. The Oxford comma allows me to write these items in the order that I want while maintaining the precise meaning I intend.
- That is, every book that you read cover to cover. If you’re not enjoying or not learning from a book, put it down (and maybe revisit it some other day).