Reading Tools

The great southern author Flannery O'Connor was apparently a skilled reader even at the age of 3!

A strong, deep reader utilizes 3 main tools when reading:

(1) Memory

(2) Knowledge of vocabulary

(3) A reasonable set of reading expectations

Of these, memory is perhaps the most important, for without it, we remember neither the words of #2 nor the expectations of #3; but beyond this, we make connections to the texts we read using our memories: we recall similar texts we’ve read in the past; previous encounters with the text being read; and the archetypes and patterns that we’ve come to recognize in all of our literary experiences. Reading more, then, obviously expands our memories. But in our culture, in which our languages are becoming increasingly corrupted by misuse and general laziness (code-named “efficient” and “user-friendly” by the proponents of this corruption), reading is becoming less important and less relevant. When meaningful reading slows down, so too will the growth of our memories. Consider what a culture without memory would look like: the citizens of this culture would be reduced to drones capable of completing on the most basic tasks. There would be no writing–indeed, what use would writing have in a culture that does not read?–there would be no creativity or individual thought–for who could remember what has already been created and thus innovate?–and there would certainly be no prosperity or meaningful growth. Without memory, we would be reduced to base animals, devoid of personality and imagination. I truly do not wish to sound alarmist, but this is nevertheless my fear: reading embellishes our memories and consequently our sense of humanity, and so without reading, the very definition of “human” would become debased.

But I digress. This essay is not a diatribe against the non-readers and light readers of the world, but rather a discussion of what useful tools the burgeoning reader should have at his or her disposal. A large vocabulary is necessary to readers, for how can one otherwise comprehend the words on the page? Paradoxically, however, vocabularies grow through reading; thus, the knowledge of how to look up words and–more importantly–the ability to understand the looked-up meanings in the context of the text is also necessary. Like your memory, your working vocabulary will expand with your reading.

Lastly, a strong reader will have a certain set of expectations in mind when beginning to read a text. I’ve already discussed these expectations at length in another essay, so I will only briefly describe them here: a reader should expect that reading is not an immediately gratifying experience. This is something that our visually-driven culture demands all too often. Ironically, reading well-written texts can evoke imagery that is just as rich as anything that can be displayed upon a screen, perhaps richer since the imagination is not restricted to a single projected picture or series of pictures. But the fact remains: a reader will not be able to ascertain any truth or pleasure from reading a text if he or she is expecting the truths or pleasures to be delivered immediately.

With these tools in tow, a reader can find spiritual and intellectual stimulation as well as vast amounts of pleasure in the texts he or she reads.


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