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Tolstoy expressed his exasperation at people who didn't read deeply and regularly. "I cannot understand," he said, "how some people can live without communicating with the wisest people who ever lived on earth."
When we encounter new information and want to learn from it, we should force ourselves to do something with the data. It's not enough for your bathroom scale to send daily updates to an app on your phone. If you want to lose weight, force yourself to plot those measurements on graph paper and you'll be more likely to choose a salad over a hamburger at lunch. If you read a book filled with new ideas, force yourself to put it down and explain the concepts to someone sitting next to you and you'll be more likely to apply them in your life. When you find a new piece of information, force yourself to engage with it, to use it in an experiment or describe it to a friend--and then you will start building the mental folders that are at the core of learning.
If you want to learn something for the long run, you have to write it down. If you want to really understand something, you have to translate it into your own words. Thinking takes place as much on paper as in your own head.
Let us now summarize the three general maxims we have discussed in this chapter. The three together state the conditions of a critical reading and the manner in which the reader should proceed to "talk back" to the author. The first requires the reader to complete the task of understanding before rushing in. The second adjures him not to be disputatious or contentious. The third asks him to view disagreement about matters of knowledge as being generally remediable. This rule goes further: It also commands him to give reasons for his disagreements so that issues are not merely stated but also defined. In that lies all hope for resolution.
We also want to stress that analytical reading is hardly ever necessary if your goal in reading is simply information or entertainment. Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding. Conversely, bringing your mind with the aid of a book from a condition of understanding less to one of understanding more is almost impossible unless you have at least some skill in analytical reading.
You can get into the best minds that are now or that have ever been in the world. I highly recommend starting with a goal of a book a month, then a book every two weeks, then a book a week. "The person who doesn't read is no better off than the person who can't read."
If you are reading in order to become a better reader, you cannot read just any book or article. You will not improve as a reader if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you, or, as we have said, books that are over your head. Only books of that sort will make you stretch your mind. And unless you stretch, you will not learn.
RULE 9. YOU MUST BE ABLE TO SAY, WITH REASONABLE CERTAINTY, "I UNDERSTAND," BEFORE YOU CAN SAY ANY ONE OF THE FOLLOWING THINGS: "I AGREE," OR "I DISAGREE," OR "I SUSPEND JUDGMENT." These three remarks exhaust all the critical positions you can take. We hope you have not made the error of supposing that to criticize is always to disagree. That is a popular misconception. To agree is just as much an exercise of critical judgment on your part as to disagree.
Forget for a moment how books should be read: Why should they be read? The first reason--the first sequentially in the story that follows but also the first in order of importance--is that reading books can be intensely pleasurable. Reading is one of the great human delights.
Bill Gates says something. Says something so surprising . . . and so personally gratifying . . . and so unexpected . . . that I have to fight the urge to kiss him. 'If there's just one piece of advice I could give, then I would urge people to foster a love of reading. It's our core skill as human beings. It's the gateway to everything else. It gets you involved. It allows your curiosity to follow its course. It connects us across time and space. Books and reading are the most important things. Yes, I would say above all else, I would urge people to foster a love of reading. Start as early as you can and keep on reading.'
The ancient and medieval way of reading was totally different from how we read today. One didn't just memorize texts; one ruminated on them--chewed them up and regurgitated them like cud--and in the process, became intimate with them in a way that made them one's own.