Years ago (in 1940, to be exact), Mortimer Adler wrote a classic book with a title that seemed like a joke: How to Read a Book. But the book wasn’t a joke, for the simple reason that most people—most literate people—really don’t know what to do with a book.
To be clear, I (Chris) am not talking about people who hate to read—though I do find such people rather suspicious. No, I’m talking about people who read, perhaps even read a lot. They may know how to pass their eyes over all the words, how to understand the basics of what they’re reading, how to distinguish a beautiful passage from a dud. But once the book is closed, it becomes memorabilia. The wisdom of those magical pages remains forever between those two covers, never fully making its way into the mind and heart of the reader.
Haven’t you felt that frustration? You look at one of your books and think, Yeah, I read that a couple years ago, and remember it was pretty interesting. But what was it about, exactly? And what made it interesting? Short of reading the entire book again (which you aren’t eager to do), you don’t have a clear way of recalling the best gems. And it really doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read if you can’t remember what’s in any of them.
Think of it like this: remember Oregon Trail? Other than constantly having my oxen drown while fording a river, my biggest frustration in that game was always carrying meat back to the camp. Sure, I just shot a 1,000-pound buffalo, but apparently I can only carry 100 pounds of it back to my camp. What a waste.