A few posts ago, I expressed surprise to see that on the reading list of Rays player Ben “Zorilla” Zobrist was Mortimer Adler’s book How to Read a Book. I was surprised because I so rarely run into anyone who has any other response to such a book other than to laugh at a book on how to read. It seems so oxymoronic.
When I taught English, I would assign the book and enforce its ‘rules’, much to the chagrin of my students. It became a past time to groan and complain about HTRAB, just as, I can imagine, piano students groan and complain about scales. When, however, budding pianists practice their scales, they become, in the end, more competent pianists. And when readers learn the skills involved in reading a book for understanding, they can begin to enjoy and profit so much more from from what they read. (Hopefully, the end result would be a greater desire to read, though I think that desire is born elsewhere.)
So, I was surprised to see a reference to Adler’s book in an interview of a professional athlete. That shows my bias about the intellectual interests of pro athletes. I would love to know how Zobrist was introduced to the book.
It is not only I who commend this book to others. It has long been my contention that if we would simply learn how to read, we would become more careful readers of the Bible, and less prone to being led astray by those who want to use the book to sway us. It is gratifying to find scholars who agree.
In their book How to Read the Bible for All it’s Worth, Douglas Stuart and Gordon Fee give the following suggestions for learning to do exegesis (biblical interpretation):
“How, then, do we learn to do good exegesis…?
“At its highest level, of course, exegesis requires knowledge of many things we do not necessarily expect the readers of this book to know: the biblical languages; the Jewish, Semitic, and Hellenistic backgrounds; how to determine the original text when the manuscripts have variant readings; the use of all kinds of primary sources and tools. But you can learn to do good exegesis even if you do not have access to all of these skills and tools. To do so, however, you must learn first what you can do with your own skills, and second you must learn to use the work of others.
“The key to good exegess, and therefore to a more intelligent reading of the Bible, is to learn to read the text carefully and to ask the right questions of the text. One of the best things one could do in this regard would be to read Mortimer J. Adler’s How to Read a Book (1940, rev. ed. With Charles Van Doren, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972). Our experience over many years in college and seminary teaching is that many people simply do not know how to read well. To read or study the Bible intelligently demands careful reading, and that includes learning to ask the right questions of the text.”
It is a good thing that Barb and I are having no more children. I wonder what she would think of the name “Mortimer”?