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How to Read Well

Dear Veritas Families and Friends,

I hope your summer is going well. I hope you are getting a good rest, and I hope your children are reading good books. Everybody knows reading is good for them. And many people know that classical education emphasizes reading. But not many people know how to read well, which is related to why we should read. So, here are some principles to guide you in how you should read well, and how you should guide your children to read.

First, it is not enough to read widely. One must read virtuously, meaning that the act of reading produces other virtues. Reading cultivates focus, patience, and prudence. In the digital world that we are swimming in now, reading books (printed book especially) brings healing to our much distracted and divided mind. So, to read well, one must set aside intentional quiet time in a quiet space.

Second, reading should be pleasurable. It is like eating. As with a delicious food, one should set the mood, set one’s heart, and savor everything. If possible, the book should be owned and marked. Memorable passages should be copied onto a “Commonplace Journal” (a journal where you collect memorable passages from your readings). You should “talk” to the author or the characters and write comments or questions to them in the margin.

Third, great books should teach you how to think, not just what to think. Stories are windows through which we can peer into a different way of thinking about life. In An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis argues that we should not read a literary work to use it merely for self-improvement, but that we should receive it, as in a new friend that can change our lives forever. In reading great books, we need to think about what and why the author is writing, above and beyond the theme of the book.

Fourth, we should read redemptively. A great writer once wrote that “the culmination of education is when we leave the wisdom of a great book, and reach the wisdom that God gives us in our own life.” Great literatures are reflections of God’s redemption. They tell stories of God’s grace shining through the darkest of dark times. And that should include the dark times we are going through. The reader should search for that light with prayer.

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