This article is for readers who cannot read.
That statement may arouse various reactions. To some it may sound rude, but rest assured that it is not meant to be. To others it may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it is not. To still others it may arouse disgust that the editors of this paper allow such an article to appear. After all, most everyone has been educated sufficiently to read at least, especially in this wonderful age of compulsory schooling. However, the appearance of rudeness and contradiction and impropriety arises only because of the variety of senses in which the term “reading” can be used.
Of course, anyone who has read this far can read in some sense of the word. You can guess now, therefore, what I must mean. It is simply that there are those who can read in some sense but not in others. And for these people this amateurish contribution is intended. It is for those who can read in a certain sense, but who desire to read better or in some other way than they are now able. That also implies that there are two classes of people for whom it is not intended, namely, those who cannot read at all: such as infants, imbeciles, etc., and those who are masters of the art of reading, such people who can do every sort of reading and do it well. For more reasons than one the author of these lines cannot expect attention from the already expert.
Between these two extremes is the average reader. We have learned our ABC’s in childhood. We can make sense out of certain types of reading material, especially if it is not too abstract, nor too closely reasoned. Local “news”, the sport page, the “funnies” perhaps, all of these things are not beyond us. And yet we are well aware of the fact that we are not able to read well. We know this in many ways, but most obviously when we attempt to read certain articles or books and find them too difficult to grasp, or when we read something that someone else has also read, and find out that he or she has discovered so much more or that we have misunderstood. Our embarrassment is increased by the fact that in our circles we are continually urged to read so that we may as men of God become “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works–‘.
I suppose that most of us have had experiences of this sort, without knowing what to do about the situation. If we knew ourselves to belong to the common herd anyway perhaps we were content to satisfy ourselves with the explanation that we are “too dumb anyway” to hope to understand the deeper things. On the other hand, if we were presidents of societies or Sunday School teachers, or students, maybe, we just went on hoping that after all we could have done better if circumstances had only been different.
Right at the outset I believe it should be said that the trouble might very well lie in the fact that we are inclined to assume that reading is not a complicated, difficult activity. We are often victims of the common opinion that reading is after all something very simple and natural, a good deal like walking, for example. It is very well possible that we might be totally unaware of the many different steps involved, each of which can be developed and made less difficult through practice. Reading in that respect is no different than tennis, baseball, or music. If one wrote a book on how to play baseball it would contain many rules for each of the various offensive and defensive moves of the game. There would be rules for hitting, including rules for long distance, extra-base hits as well as for bunting and place hitting. There would be rules for base running, stealing bases, tagging up for the catch of the fly-ball. There would be the rules for playing each of the different position, from catching and pitching to the duties of the outfielder. The same is true for music, painting, and any other “art”.
These things also pertain to reading. There are rules and more rules, which must be assimilated to form correct habits. Two things are required, first that we are possessed with the will to learn, and second, that we foster patience in the process. That excludes any of us from thinking that this is not for us because we are not able. True it is that we are not possessed of equal abilities in any one respect. But that is not the question here. The question is: are you getting out of your ability that which lies in it, whether it be small or great? If we are truly sincere, the prospect of having those fearful words once spoken to the Unprofitable Servant applied to us in that day will arouse us to action.
By this time, you will very likely realize that the scope of this article is not sufficient to treat this subject in its entirety. There is not room for an exposition of “rules, and more rules” in one short composition. Believe it or not, I was aware of that before I began writing. I continued nevertheless because I believe that certain rules inevitably form a basis for good reading, and if they are followed will result in the development of the skill in the reader. What are these basic rules?
Naturally, the rules that require first attention are the rules of analysis. It is self-evident that we must give an author the benefit of careful analysis before we seek to evaluate this product. Under this heading I would list two requirements. First, it is necessary that we determine what the book or article is about with utmost brevity. What is the author trying to do? What problem is he trying to solve? What particular phase of which field of study or human life is he trying to cover? Questions of this nature should be asked and answered first of all. You might ask, how does one go about finding the correct answers to these questions? In books the answer is almost invariably found in the author’s preface. It is said that book-reviewers for large papers and magazines can review a book by reading its preface alone. That ought to give us some idea of the value of the preface. In it you can most always find the intentions of the author stated in brief and concise form. In articles as well as books, the contents can be determined frequently by the title. And, in many cases, much information can be gleaned from the list of chapter headings. There are more ways than these mentioned. The main thing is that we look for the nature of the book or article, and, having found it, seek to summarize its contents in the shortest possible manner. In the second place, we ought to look for the outline of the composition. That means that we determine the major parts in their order and relation, and analyze each one of them in turn, as we have done with the whole. No more need be said. Having done this, you will have a good hold on the structure of the book or article. The next problem is that of interpretation. Now that the purpose of the book has been ascertained, and its main parts discovered, how are we to grasp the meaning of the author? The most fundamental rule under this head is the rule that calls for a clear conception of the basic words the author is using. That means that you must come to terms with the author, you must agree with him as to the meaning of a certain word in his book or article. For example, in the early part of this article we spent a little time discussing the fact that the word “reading” has various meanings. Well, if you take the word to mean one thing, and I take it to mean another, how are we ever to get anywhere? Find the basic words and determine their meaning is the first rule of interpretation. The next step is obvious. Having determined the meaning of the more important words, you should proceed to the more important sentences. And still more closely related stands the third rule of interpretation: find the author’s main arguments, by locating them in certain paragraphs, or by constructing paragraphs of connected sentences. There are many words and combinations of words that will tell you when you have to deal with these sentences and arguments. “Because”, “if. . .then”, “since” this, “therefore” that, “it follows from this” are a few of the earmarks to be noticed.
None of us are discouraged now, I’m sure. It is true that this article has not minimized the difficulty of reading, that is, of reading for instruction and increased understanding. If we weren’t Christians I would despair of hoping that any of us might desire to follow after wisdom and understanding, knowing that it is difficult and arduous work. Besides, the ethical nature of true wisdom and understanding would eliminate all possibility that we might spend time and effort in pursuit of these things. But, the love of Christ constraineth us to exert ourselves to the limit for the glory of our King.