The previous post was really a brief interlude. Let’s get back to the main thread.
One of the things I learned in researching for my book is that all reading is not equal. I suppose I knew that, but I never really thought about it. Think of a continuum from “light” to “heavy” reading. Light reading can be interesting, fun, even compelling, but it doesn’t require a heavy commitment of one’s attention or intellect; examples might include˜beach books” or USA Today. Most scholarly reading is heavy, dense, complex ideas that you need to reflect on, think about before they make sense. Here’s a secret that we need to reveal to our students: When you read something scholarly, no one expects you to fully understand it the first time you read it.
When I give a reading assignment, I think many students imagine that reading the text (once) is good enough, is what is expected. I try to tell my students they need to differentiate between reading and studying a text. The objective should never be merely to complete the reading, but rather to assimilate the argument. To do this you need to chew over and digest the text, little chunks at a time. One of the dozen or so books I’m currently reading is Soul Feast. In it Marjorie Thompson, the author, says:
[Critical reading] is concerned not with speed or volume but with depth and receptivity. That is because the purpose … is to open ourselves to how [the author] may be speaking to us in and through any particular text.
Of course, it’s also possible to read over a complex text again after an absence and get a different message, but that’s another story.