Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Off the Shelf: six types of reading

Last time, there were various comments about reading habits. So in this video I provide a typology of six types of reading.



Books mentioned in this video:

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And since I've mentioned Chesterton's book on Aquinas, here's a delightful account of how the book was written – this is an excerpt from Dale Ahlquist, G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense (Ignatius Press 2000), chapter 9:

When G. K. Chesterton was commissioned to write a book about St. Thomas Aquinas, even his strongest supporters and greatest admirers were a little worried. But they would have been a lot more worried if they had known how he actually wrote the book.

Chesterton had already written acclaimed studies of Robert Browning, William Blake, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Chaucer, and St. Francis of Assisi. Nonetheless, there was a great deal of anxiety even among Chesterton's admirers when in 1933 he agreed to take on the Angelic Doctor of the Church, the author of the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas.

Without consulting any texts whatsoever, Chesterton rapidly dictated about half the book to his secretary, Dorothy Collons. Then he suddenly said to her, “I want you to go to London and get me some books.”

“What books?” asked Dorothy.

I don't know”, said G. K.

So Dorothy did some research and brought back a stack of books on St. Thomas. G. K. flipped through a couple of books in the stack, took a walk in his garden, and then, without ever referring to the books again, proceeded to dictate the rest of his book to Dorothy.

Many years later, when Evelyn Waugh heard this story, he quipped that Chesterton never even read the Summa Theologica, but merely ran his fingers across the binding and absorbed everything in it.

[...] And what kind of book did he write? Étienne Gilson, probably the most highly respected scholar of St. Thomas in the twentieth century, a man who devoted his whole life to studying St. Thomas, had this to say about Chesterton's book: “I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas.”

26 Comments:

Stephen Barkley said...

What an interesting typology. I'm always lured towards compulsory works I feel I have to absorb, but they usually sit in the middle of the pile while the binge and curiosity categories take over.

I have to share my favourite moment of the video. On Martyrdom: "A very enjoyable read".

Thanks for the interesting blog.

Rick said...

From one of the many theology students who find ourselves sitting at your feet again and again: fantastic!

I've found twice read books especially different in their original languages; Der Romebrief's very grammar becomes a new playground in which Barth's bombshell finds me again.

Danny Bull said...

Thanks Ben,

I love these videos man!

David CLD said...

In my reader the small screen shot made it look like you might be wearing a muscle shirt . . . you can imagine my disappointment.

Ante said...

Thanks Ben, this is both interesting and intimidating. The way you are able to squeeze all that reading into your life, that's quite something. Keep the videos coming!

dbhamill said...

Great show again Ben... up till the last couple of sentences. I'm hoping that was a comforting comment rather than a dismissive one "The Girardian thing... don't worry about that". James would disapprove, since his whole project is deeply Girardian. Have you read "The Joy of Being Wrong"? I would be interested in your comments.

Terry Wright said...

You know, I've never managed to get through the Confessions...

Jarrod M. Longbons said...

My man Chesterton is wicked smaaa(r)t!

Nathan Rinne said...

Ben,

Thanks for doing these videos. I like them very much.

roger flyer said...

David CLD. You made me laugh! And I think Ben in a muscle shirt would be fab!

Paul Tyson said...

Wonderful - William's on Aslan's anarchic playfulness comes to mind when listening to your last few sentances about the riot of indulgent joy that is real reading.

David CLD said...

Ummm Ben, the fans have spoken.

Jeremy said...

I love these videos. Thanks for doing them.

Pamela said...

I have five of Hemingway's books on my shelves - getting ready for a binge (or a mini-binge).

Paul Tyson said...

Here is why not everyone can be a first rate academic. 'Gun to your head' reading is normal for me - even when I totally love a text - as just reading itself is hard work. For normal readers, and more so for those of us on they dyslexic spectrum, reading is a labour of love that requires high degrees of self discipline. So it is with deep, yet whistful, vicarious enjoyment that I listen to you talk of a world I just can't enter ben; the world of hours of voracious reading and ingestion done by an intellectual athlete who takes great joy in his strength.

John Roberson said...

Thanks for this, I appreciate it. Do you think you could do something on HOW you read? In your office, home, library, coffee shop? How do you sit? Do you run straight through the work once then double back, go slowly through once, underline and highlight, take notes? How do you find that more or less reading per day or week affects the quality of your overall reading, and what counts as "a lot" of reading for you?

Thanks!

eclipsenow said...

Accidentally ate a whole *piece* of chocolate? In my case that would be the whole BAR! ;-)

eclipsenow said...

This video is a classic for many reasons, but for me it is the gentle humour around St Augustine which reminds me of a certain Monty Python skit on arson. It's subtle, and not really the *same*, but there's something funny in the confessional.

Compare Ben Myers ...

"If Peter Brown's book appealed to me and made me curious because of it's 'bigness', this one appeals to me because of it's smallness because I can put it into my pocket and carry it around with me and get that little bit more extra Augustine into my life, which is really what most of us need, let's face it."

With the Holy Canon of Monty Python

"Look at arson - I mean, how many of us can honestly say that at one time or another he hasn't set fire to some great public building? I know I have."

Rod said...

Thanks.

Oliver Crisp said...

Ben, this is wonderful stuff! Claire and I watched it. Great typology. I feel less guilty about not sticking with some of my 'compulsory' reading, and joy at hearing about the other categories. I recall you Foucault binge not so long ago -- sheer madness!

Pat said...

I've greatly enjoyed your recent videos. Knowing what the people I respect are reading helps me get through slumps in my own reading.
Next video should be about your reading environment--your office looks incredible.

Student said...

Enjoyable, fun, useful. Gives the old tri-focals a rest, and easier to "read" online while eating than the usual text. A compulsory typology, for sure ; )

Peter Lockhart said...

Ben Great videopost! I think one you may have missed (although it may fit into curious) is 'cheap' reading. I picked up T.F .Torrance book on the Incarnation in Koorong for $5. Put simply I couldn't resist a cheap book. Also, one akin to binge might be trash reading. I compulsively read fantasy novels, sometimes dipping into historical fiction, but mainly what I would term light and no brainers. As much as I would love to have the same joy in my theological reading it tends to involve discipline. I like the comment suggested above to do a post about where you read.

Rod said...

Having pondered this post some more, I think Ben may have left out one reader type: the under-liner/highlighter. This is a category I fit easily fit into, almost everything I find relevant has to be underlined..or written in the margin for future reference.

Brian Gronewoller said...

Ben,

Thanks so much for this post. I really enjoyed your typology! I would have to classify myself as primarily an accidental and binge reader. Unfortunately, I have spent too much time as a compulsory reader this past year.

I wanted to share two quick thoughts:

First, if you love Augustine and want to branch out into something lesser read, but really fun, there are two really great places to start. First, read the letters written between he and the curmudgeonly Jerome. I believe that this is Letter 106ff. (New City Press). Also, the letters to the monks at Hadrumetum in "Answers to the Pelagians IV" (also NCP) give an interesting look into his later understanding of the will from an interesting point of view.

Second: ditto on the sublimity of Peter Brown's work. I wrote a paper on his historiography last semester and drove down to interview him at Princeton. Not only is his entire corpus both brilliant, but he's also both a brilliant and lovely man.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the video, Ben. You stressed the importance of reading that leads to perfection of the Victorian virtues.

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