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The Art of Reading

Today, my mailbox presented me with a gift.  I bought it for myself – a DVD series from Great Courses (specializing in learning for the sheer joy of it).  It is amazing in its quality and depth of knowledge, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Those who know me well can tell you that I adore education.  If I haven’t learned something new in a day, then it was a wasted day!  Had my bank account allowed it, I would never have left the university.  (As it is, I hardly leave the library.)  These college-level courses, sans credit or tests, are fantastic for feeding the brain…which is just what’s required during the winter months!

English: The main reading romm of Graz Univers...

The Art of Reading is shaping up to be an interesting survey of literature, both for readers and writers.  Presented by Timothy Spurgin, of Lawrence University, here are a few nuggets gleaned from the first lecture:

  1. When you think about reading as an art, you begin to take it a little more seriously.
  2. The idea of artful reading suggests that there is a difference between reading and reading well.
  3. Artful reading suggests that you are doing something for its own sake, and is its own reward.

As I fling myself into writing for the education market, writing for pleasure, reading with book discussion groups, and generally thinking about books for a good portion of my day, I appreciate Dr. Spurgin’s point that perhaps learning to read is not just a skill you acquire in 1st or 2nd grade.  Just maybe, it is a skill that develops over time, and deepens and changes with age.

Our society is obsessed with everyday reading – the kind I think of as “disposable literature”.  We read all day long, but it is only to glean pertinent information, then throw away the rest like garbage.  Even the daily paper is “disposable”, in that we seldom look at an article with a critical and appreciative eye for the author’s work.

Artful reading, according to the professor, is “what you do with a work of fiction – when you stop to take note of an elegant phrase or a striking image.”  Although, I would argue that artful reading can also be found in nonfiction.

  C.S. Lewis noted that devoted readers are willing to read some things more than once.  For devoted readers, books are not a last resort, when you have nothing better to do.  And for us, encounters with certain books can be momentous and life-changing experiences.

I especially like Dr. Spurgin’s belief that reading is fun – but we should expand our definition of fun to include thinking and talking.

Reader Tip:  Give every book the 50-Page Test.  Read the first fifty pages of a new book without making judgments, or giving up.  If you haven’t connected with the characters or language by then, feel free to set it aside.  But don’t write it off altogether – many readers return to a book they rejected earlier (even years before), only to find that now, they enjoy it immensely.

What do you think about artful reading?  If reading can be artful, then what about listening to music, or looking at a painting?

Visit Off The Shelf – the Goodreads Book Discussion group dedicated to expanding reader’s choices and exploring multiple genres.

Related Articles:

A Word About Authors

Narrators & Characters, or Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?

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5 thoughts on “The Art of Reading

  1. Enjoy your Great Course. I’ve been subscribing to and buying those courses for years now. They’re wonderful. It’s so great to just delve into a subject without the specter of exams looming over you. Enjoy!

  2. Great article and I will have to look into their courses! I think that reading can be artful, as well as listening to music, etc. The art comes when we have intention and follow it up with deep thought. Now, off do engage in some ‘art’! 🙂

  3. Dear Karen,

    I read books again and again for the beauty of the writing, the way I am transported to other places and for the lessons that never lose their pertinence. Ahab’s Wife by Seena Jeter Naslund, Easter Sunday, 1941 by G. F. Borden and by far the best novel I have ever had the pleasure of reading and rereading, A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helperin; all of these and more help me through my days by being there for me whenever I want to read excellent writing.

    Your post revealed to me that we are kindred souls, after a fashion. That’s nice. Enjoy your courses.

    Aloha,

    Doug

  4. One of my concerns with the selection of books today, is the plethora of “cheap” writing available. I think of it like the fast food of the literary world. Everybody likes a quick meal now and then, but a steady diet of it is unhealthy. In the past, it really bothered me to see a throwaway book for sale at $3.99, but a paperback version of a classic would be marked $14.99. I’m glad to see that with the popularity of e-readers, more classics and really fine literature are being made affordable. Hopefully, that will lead to rediscovery of great authors and memorable stories!

  5. Pingback: Jumping Into Genre « Classroom Corner

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