Preface: This is just an attempt to explain the contents of Adler’s book. All of the ideas and lessons have come from Mortimer J Adler and if I have explained his writings poorly then excuse me and feel free to comment below.
The first thing that Adler teaches all of us beginners is that reading is an activity and since that is the case, all reading must be done with some degree of activity. The idea of completely passive reading is impossible since we can’t read with our eyes closed for example. Therefore, if reading is an activity, then the more active of a reader you are the better. The reader who tries harder and demands more of himself and the text that is in front of him then, not only will the person have a better reading experience but the person will also benefit more from the text.
Adler also mentions how people think that some activities are active and others are just passive. For example, he mentions that when people think of writing and reading, they think that these are active tasks (which they are of course) but when they think of reading they will think that this is a passive task. This is also the case with listening as well. People also think that listeners are undertaking a passive task.
This is not the real case at all, and Adler explains the true reality of the situation by using a baseball example. I have to quote this great example from his book because I can’t do justice to it myself. Adler says on page 18 of How To Read A Book:
“Catching the ball is just as much an activity as pitching or hitting it.
The pitcher or batter is the sender in the sense that his activity initiates
the motion of the ball. The catcher or fielder is the receiver in the sense
that his activity terminates it. Both are active, though the activities are
different. If anything is passive, it is the ball. It is the inert thing that is
put in motion or stopped, whereas the players are active, moving to
pitch, hit, or catch. The analogy with writing and reading is almost
perfect. The thing that is written and read, like the ball, is the passive
object common to the two activities that begin and terminate the process.
We can take this analogy a step further. The art of catching is the skill
of catching every kind of pitch—fast balls and curves, changeups and
knucklers. Similarly, the art of reading is the skill of catching every sort
of communication as well as possible.”
His example of the explanation he gave doesn’t stop there, he mentions that the pitcher and catcher are only as successful as how well they work together and the relationship between the reader and writer is exactly the same. If the writer is specialist teacher of his chosen subject and the writer wants to convey what he/she knows then they will be unable to do this if they can’t properly explain what they want to teach. Therefore they will be like a pitcher who can’t throw. Now matter how good the catcher is, if he/she can’t understand what the writer is trying to say (as a result of poor writing), or in this case the ball is going no way near the catcher then the catcher can never catch the ball at all.
The same applies for the reader as well. No matter how good the pitcher is, if the catcher doesn’t know how to catch the ball, or in this case read or understand the work, then the effort of the teacher is all for naught. Everything works perfectly when what the writers intended message lands in the hand of the reader. So writers and readers are of different brackets. A great writer conveys what he wants to convey with great “control” in the easiest way possible for the reader to understand. A poor writer or in this case a wild writer, doesn’t have much control and as a result makes it difficult for the reader to catch.
However, it is important to remember that this is just a good analogy but it does have its flaws. A piece of writing isn’t like a ball because a ball is a unit and a piece of writing isn’t just a unit. Furthermore, a ball is either completely caught or not but a piece of writing isn’t like that. Sometimes you could catch a small piece of it and when you re-read the book you catch a lot more. Sometimes, the reader can’t understand a book because the reader doesn’t have the perquisites needed to understand that book. Some books are keys to other books. The amount that the reader will “catch” will depend on how focused the reader is and how much effort (and hard work) he/she puts into the process of reading, or in this case catching.
What does active reading include? That is a big question which will be answered by the time this series is over. Slowly, but surely the series will be completed. It is good that you are now aware that active reading is a real thing. One person will read better than another person because of the fact that one person is a lot more active than another. Furthermore, if a person uses every skill involved with reading then they will be a much more successful reader than other readers. If you have reached this far in my blog then well done, it’s important to stick with this series. I hope this post served as a good first post of the series. I also hope that you know that reading is a complex activity, just like writing and Adler says that it consists of “a large number of separate acts, all of which can be performed in a good reading.” The person who uses all of this acts will be able to read better.
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