Archive for Books

Missing the stars

I am still writing this week’s piece… So in the mean time, in light of the recent “Camelopardalid Meteor Shower”, here is an interesting quote from a book I really enjoyed. Once in a while I’ll go back and read a chapter just for fun. This quote is from the first chapter with the observation that the modern person is seeing more artificial lights than stars.

“Today, however, awareness of the sky and its lights is much less a part of our everyday consciousness. … Not only have our shelters and omnipresent lights permitted us fewer moments of wonder under the stars; they have also surly fostered a diminishment in our collective ability to wonder.” — “The Luminous Dusk” by Dale C. Allison Jr.


On studying: part 2: reading slowly, word by word, with joy

I like to continue with the subject of reading a bit.

I do not need to rehash the importance of reading and reading well. Too many words had been written to encourage people to read that it has become a cliché. The unfortunately is even after so much had been written and said, the habit of reading had been dwindling. So I just like to add my two cents here.

I want to start by saying that I have been reading all my life, but there were moments I absolutely despise reading. I know the feeling of not wanting to read another word. So here is a three point recommendation based on my own experience for starting the journey of forming a reading habit. A reading habit is the first step to develop the craft of reading. If you do not read you will not read well. I must say I am in debt to both Daniel Pennac’s book “Better than life” and James Sire’s book “How to read Slowly” for the following:

First, only read what you like, meaning for pleasure, not what you were told. The obligation to read is the single biggest obstacle to reading. I do not know why but once you feel you need to do something your motivation level drops no matter how passionate you are about it. Even if it is mandatory reading in school, you can still find it pleasurable. You want to find the desire to read. When you cannot find it ask your teacher. A good teacher should be a good motivator. However, do not ask “what is the minimal I should be reading?” You are looking for quality not quantity. Instead ask, “what is the best I should be reading?” If you ask the second question instead of the first one your teacher will gladly point you the way.

That brings us to the second point: take baby steps. Start with a chapter, a page, a paragraph and yes, a sentence. (Aside: Stanley Fish’s “How to write a sentence” is a great read. Start reading chapter eight: first sentence and you’ll want to read the rest.) Remember you do not need to finish a book unless you want to. So as little as you like. The paradox is for the quality read, not only will you finish the book, you’ll re-read it. The question is “what is a “good” book?” Hmm, that for another time. For now you can go read Fish or Pennac or Sire.

Finally, read slowly. If you spent an hour reading a good sentence and find it pleasurable. You know you are on your way. You just experience you first “high”. You will be addicted. The following two examples are two more “high” for you. Are you addicted yet?

“So in the room called Remember it is possible to find peace—the peace that comes from looking back and remembering to remember that though most of the time we failed to see it, we were never really alone.”
Frederick Buechner, “A room Called Remember”

“We can never picture God or imagine him. Either we make him too small, and we strain at that, or we make him too big, and he strains us.”
Frederick von Hugel, “Letters to a Niece”

Of course, not all reading are as pleasurable, sometime you have to do “professional” or “pragmatic” readings. On the other hand, starting habitual-pleasurable reading will make the professional or pragmatic reading more tolerable and profitable. Read slowly, word by word, with joy, a brave new world awaits you.

On studying : part 1: three category of reading

Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2
Polonus: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet:Word, words, words.

In seminary a big part of the studying is reading and writing. Those are the tools of the trade. If you cannot read and write, you will suffer. It is as simple as that.

Reading is something I have been doing my teens but only these two terms offers me a different perspective. I thought I know how to read, well, not really.

I am sure there are people who can offer a lot more on reading but here is a bit of reflection based on my experience. I want to classify reading into three categories: causal reading, careful reading and close reading.

Causal reading is almost universally where everyone starts reading with. We either find it a pleasure or a necessarily to read so we do. Say you pick up a mystery and cannot put it down. Say you go to a restaurant when you are hungry and you start reading the menu. Either case your attention is basically to answer the question of “what”. What is going on? What is available? What facts do I want to know? Basically you pick and choose what is in the text to answer your question and that is about it. Occasionally you will find a good word or a good sentence that you like but that is the caveat not the primary objective. Most of we read this way our entire life. I certainly did.

Careful reading Is usually associated with school or work. You need to do this because simply you have to. It is different from causal reading because the “what” is not what you want to know but what you were told to know. You still pick and choose but you choice are now limited to include quite often what you don’t really care much about. You need to read what will be on the exam. You need to read a manual so you can do your work. A question of “why” naturally emerges. You ask either “why” the author is saying this or you ask “why” you are reading this. The scope of you reading then includes not just “what” but also “why”.

Finally, there is close reading. Close reading has recently emerges as a technical term in literary criticism circles but that is a different story. By close reading I mean you read closely. Every word and punctuation is important. A story is not a story but a plot. There is subtext and context behind every text. You read behind. You read in front. You are not just asking “what” and “why” but also “how” and the correction between almost everything. You ask load of questions. As Old Testament scholar Goldingay in a paper “How far do readers make sense” says ‘No close reading of a work is ever close enough.’ You will always be re-reading.

As I continue to learn how to read, I am realizing causal reading does not always do the text justice, particularly when it comes to scripture. Casual reading of scripture can be detrimental in forming habit to just pick and choose. On the other hand close reading is not be done indiscriminately either, far too often the reader got distracted by paying too much attentions to a single feature. It is an art to know when to dive in and when to stand back. To disregard the spectrum of reading is a lifetime of learning. Reading is really an acquired skill that I believe no one should do without. I regret I wasted many years not learn to read better. I never did push myself enough to learn properly. Now that I am learning, I guess it is better late than never.

A while back I read a little book by Daniel Pennac called “Better than life”. The book is about teaching children to read. He begins with the axiom that we all have the right not to read. Reading is not an obligation. It is often this compulsion that is an obstacle to many. Reading should be completely optional and pleasurable. The paradox is that once you are free from obligation and start reading you’ll find reading should be obligation for everyone.