THE FRAGRANT READER
Making Reading a Book Your Own
Penetrating the Author’s Consciousness
to Have a More Intimate Relationship
with What You Read
by Naomi Rose
Publisher, Rose Press
I thought I knew how to read a book. But then I read a book about reading books, which — like entering a dark room and turning on the light, revealing unexpected treasures — opened up what I hadn’t even thought to look for.
That book was How to Read a Book: A Guide to Reading the Great Books, by Mortimer J. Adler. Written in the 1940s and published in the 1960s, it was aimed at serious readers. Well, how many of us can make that claim, in these days of a surfeit of things to read, in all the available formats (print, ebook, online, etc.)? But just opening the book and glancing at its offerings intrigued me enough to continue for a while. I figured that if I am publishing books for others to read, I should find out what I didn't know about reading books.
The author spent hundreds of pages making his worthy point: that (in his day, not to mention ours) in college, people read the books they are assigned and assume that they have assimilated the books' offerings — but frequently, this is not so. People read books, the author says, without really knowing what the books are about, or being able to get the full “nourishment” [my word] of the author's intent and “gift” [my word, again].
As a book developer as well as a publisher, I know what my authors go through to give their gift through their books, and I want their readers to be able to fully receive that gift.
So I kept on reading Adler's book (admittedly, skimming some of its pages) until I understood the essence of his recommendations. I'm saving you having to read all 300 pages and giving you the main gist here:
When you read a book, don’t only take it in for whatever it happens to give you. Pay special attention to the following things:
1. The unity of the whole — how everything in the book ultimately points to one thing, experience, message.
2. The parts — making the effort to recognize what they are (Adler recommends analyzing them; but even if you don't, then simply realizing that they are parts adds a valuable dimension), and how they (a) stand alone and also (b) contribute to the whole.
In my view, this is what authors of books seek to do when they give themselves fully to their writing. So when readers emulate this process by going behind the scenes to penetrate the author’s consciousness in this way, they receive the intention behind the outcome of the finalized book more intimately.
3. Only after you have attended to discerning the unity of the whole and the parts can you offer a critique based on something real — beyond "I liked it” or “I didn't like it." But even if you skip giving a critique, you'll still get much more from the book when read in this way than if you didn't make it a point to encounter its wholeness and the parts that make it come together.
Even if you never read Adler's book (though I offer you quotes from it, below*), I share it with you because:
It makes good sense.
It opens the door to increasing your inner bandwidth as a reader, so you can really get into a book and know it better, make it your own, enjoy it more.
There’s something almost magical about making something your own, taking it into you with this kind of attention and care. Then, it’s not just something you toss off, or use to divert yourself with. It’s a relationship. Reading a book with a heart and mind open to relationship connects you to the consciousness, intention, and heartbeat of the author.
Writers — certainly, those you’ll find in the Rose Press “garden” — put so much of themselves into their books: not necessarily by focusing on themselves, but rather by bringing so much of themselves into what they write. Even if you don’t take a particularly analytical approach, but simply open yourself to receive the rich underlay behind the words — much as you might take in a musical work with an informed and attentive listening — reading a book in the way Adler suggests is like unwrapping a package and making use of what’s inside, rather than letting it just decorate your table.
Finally, this approach also reinforces what authors often know intuitively: that the more of their true being they put into their writing, the more a reader will get out of it. The book How to Read a Book offers us a way to receive the rich bouquet of gifts that dedicated authors give us, so that we come out enlarged and more knowing of ourselves and the universe.
And isn't that what we both really want from a book, after all?
May you find this kind of experience by reading our Rose Press books.
* And for a direct taste of How to Read a Book, here are some choice quotes:
“A book, in proportion as it is good — as a book and as a work of art — has a more perfect and pervasive unity.” [Adler recommends that the reader be able to state the book's unity, theme, in one sentence.]
On the parts:
“Set forth the major parts of the book and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole.” [The parts reveal what is the book's underlying structure.]
“How is it many — an organized many, in which the parts are organically related so as to compose a whole? Without this, there would be no whole, just a ‘collection.’
“A book is like a single house. It is a mansion of many rooms, rooms on different levels, of different sizes and shapes, with different outlooks, room with different functions to perform. Each has its own structure and interior decoration. But they are not absolutely independent and separate. They are connected by doors and arches, corridors and stairways. Because they are connected, the partial function which each performs contributes its share to the usefulness of the whole house. Otherwise the house would not be genuinely livable.
“This architectural analogy is almost perfect. A good book, like a good house, is an orderly arrangement of parts. Each major part has a certain degree of independence. It may have an interior structure of its own. But it must also be connected to the other parts, functionally. Otherwise it could not contribute its share to the intelligibility of the whole.
“The best books are those that have the most intelligible structure, and the most apparent. Their greater complexity is somehow also a great simplicity, because their parts are better organized, more unified. That is one of the reasons why the great books are most readable.” (pp. 163-164)
“You cannot apprehend a whole without somehow seeing its parts. But it is also true that unless you grasp the organization of its parts, you cannot know the whole comprehensively.” (p. 171)
“[This rule] involves more than just an enumeration of the parts. It means treating the parts as if they were subordinate wholes, each with a unity and a complexity of its own.” (p. 172)
Source: How to Read a Book: A Guide to Reading the Great Books,
by Mortimer J. Adler.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1940; special edition, 1966.
Copyright © 2022 by Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Deep reads for deepening readers.
Rose Press books. A publishing house for your inner garden.