On Reading: 10 Practices of Good Readers

  1. Good readers fondle the details and resist importing any preconceived generalization upon the text. “In reading, one should notice and fondle details. There is nothing wrong about the moonshine of generalization when it comes after the sunny trifles of the book have been lovingly collected.”1
  2. Good readers pay attention to genre. How one reads a blog post is not how one reads a poem. How one reads Genesis 1–2 is not how one reads the a newspaper article.
  3. Good readers resist tying the texts they read “to a chair with rope,” torturing “a confession out it.” They don’t beat “it with a hose / to find out what it really means.”2
  4. Good readers are always on the lookout for what Flannery O’Connor calls the “almost imperceptible intrusions of grace” in the story.
  5. Good readers read lovingly, practicing charity. They live by the Jesus Creed,3 and apply neighbor love to the texts they read and their authors. They practice what Alan Jacobs (borrowing from Augustine) calls “the hermeneutics of love.”
  6. Good readers are always on the lookout for what Flannery O’Connor calls “the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace”4 in the stories they read.
  7. Good readers assume they will be encountering at least one less than perfect character who will be given the chance to grow. They read for redemption.
  8. Good readers are aware of layers: mimetic; symbolic/archetypal; self-reflexive. (Much more on this some other time.)
  9. Good readers practice “surrender.” “The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.”5 They read with empathetic imagination.
  10. Good readers assume that reading has the potential to be a life altering encounter. After doing the work required to understand, interpret, and question the truth of the text, they always ask themselves, “What of it?” Or, “How then shall I live?” Good readers read in order to live.