Faith seeking understanding #043: Bringing discipline to my literary consumption (or, on ceasing to be an intellectual glutton)

Faith seeking understanding, my personal journey towards a deeper knowledge of and intimacy with God, the cosmos, humanity and myself through thoughts, words and (occasionally) images, is a series of [hopefully] daily reflections I’m writing with the purpose of publishing something on a regular basis for others to read, either here, at joncarllewis.com or among my writings at Medium.com.

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash.

I just finished listening to a great audiobook. I’ve been listening to it for the past few weeks on my way to and from work, and I found it compelling. I’d like to tell you about it, but I can’t articulate half of the things I enjoyed about it. I just can’t remember. And I enjoyed the experience of listening to the book. But when I reach back into the recesses of my mind to retrieve concrete examples of things I liked and illustrations of key points, I come up empty handed. Yet I swear I hung on every word. What’s the problem?

I’ve run into this problem before, most notably in my several attempts at grad school: I would find a book I love—or a book I hate (I don’t really discriminate)—and I would power through it at high speed, trying to beat the ticking clock and chew up as much text as my limited time would allow me to gorge myself on. But I was devouring the words too fast. I wasn’t digesting anything. Or at least I wasn’t digesting enough to adequately reflect on the text and produce coherent assessments of its arguments. I wasn’t reflecting enough to really engage with the ideas contained in anything but a superficial manner.

In my hunger for knowledge and vicarious experience, I have allowed myself to become a glutton. A glutton for ideas. And, even though ideas are a good thing, gluttony is not. A healthy appetite is one thing. A hearty appetite can still be within the bounds of moderation. But gluttony by definition can’t be a good thing.

So, I have come to the realization that something has to change.

I need to put myself on a diet of some sort or change my habits of intellectual consumption.

I think I need to slow down and chew my mental food more carefully.

I have often heard that one of the ways to curb bad eating habits is to slow down, to approach food mindfully, taking the time to taste and feel and smell and enjoy the experience rather than mindlessly shoving food as fast as possible into one’s mouth.

I need to take that approach to my reading habits. I need to savor the wisdom I am being presented, notice the form the arguments take, cut the text into pieces small enough to actually digest and reflect on and remember. I think this means that I need to take notes. I think it also means that I want reading for me to become less of a race to get through the stacks of books I want to read just for the sake of reading them. I need to trust that I will have time to get to as many books, as much wisdom as I can, if I approach these texts more reverently.

I need to start taking notes. I need to engage with the texts as I would engage a conversation partner, listening intently to hear what my partner is saying and coming to an understanding of how she is saying it. I need to read in smaller pieces. And I need to stop and reflect after each piece to see if I really, really got what the author was trying to say. I may need to re-read portions of what I’ve already read. Horror of horrors: I might need to reread entire books sometimes!

This is going to take some discipline. This is going to take time. I may have to read fewer books. I may need to abandon books that aren’t working for me, rather than plow through just to say I finished them.

The upside of bringing such attention, such mindfulness to the texts I engage will be this: an increased enjoyment of the pleasure of reading (or an increased awareness of discovering more quickly that I dislike what I’m reading), an increased capacity to reflect critically on the works I decide to finish reading, and an increased ability to communicate both what I think the author said and my own thoughts on how those have taken root in my soul—or haven’t.

So, this is a new phase of my intellectual development. I’m looking forward to it.

Is it possible that you, like me, have been plowing through literature like a glutton?

Or do you, perhaps, have some other tips on how to get the most out of reading mindfully?

Either way, I’d like to know.

Thank you for your time and attention.
I’d love to know your thoughts on what you’ve read.
Please comment, below, or email me at joncarllewis@gmail.com.
May God richly bless you on your journey.

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Faith seeking understanding #043: Bringing discipline to my literary consumption (or, on ceasing to be an intellectual glutton)

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