How to Read A book?

Currently I am listening to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. The books are quite difficult to remember. I think they are meant to be this way. Even though I am taking my time listening, most stuff is really hard to grasp. I have started to think that for difficult books I should have the audible version and a paperback/hardback/kindle version. This is what I did when I Listened to The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan. I read and listened to it twice. Got to do it one more time. Anyhow, this is the reason why I haven’t been able to write anything because I am trying to decipher what I am listening to most of the time and that has taken away some ideas from me perhaps or maybe not because I am writing even though I am not actually writing about Beyond Good and Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Honestly, I think most of it went over my head and I can probably recall very few points. It was only the first listen anyway.

A philosopher according to Nietzsche, is a man who constantly experiences, sees, hears and suspects hopes and dreams, extraordinary things; who is struck by his own thought as if they came from the outside, from above and below as a species of events and lightning strikes peculiar to him; who himself is perhaps a storm which moves along pregnant with new lightnings; a portentous man, around whom there is mumbling and rumbling and gaping, something uncanny going on. A philosopher alas, is a being who runs away from himself, is often afraid of himself but whose curiosity always makes him come to himself again and again… (292 Beyond Good and Evil)

This reignited the thought, how to read a book? So, I went back and listened to this lecture by the humble man whose lectures are always insightful, thought provoking and full of wisdom. The book is titled ‘How to Read a Book’ by Mortimer J. Adler. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf includes his own learning experiences to give a fuller understanding of the book, he explains the book really well, the different levels of reading, the elementary reading, the inspectional/information reading, the analytical reading. He also talks about the 3 types of people, the dabbler, the hackers, and the masters. Dabblers take up a sport/hobby/goal to give up after they are bored, not getting any attention and/or validation. Hackers take up a goal and learn the principles and practise it but never perfect it, the masters spend years after years improving and enhancing their understanding, wisdom and skills in their field. A great book deserves to be read a minimum of 3 times. A great book is a book that you can come back to over and over again. Hamza Yusuf then goes on to explain how the books written by moderns can be summed up in a line and how each sentence written by ancients can be elaborated into a new book. This is very true with the new boon that kicked off for self-help, how to start your own business and how to become better at marketing. Most of these books can be summed up in a line and very few are worth reading again and again. He ends the lecture by analysing a poem. This is what I mean when I say that my auditory memory is good haha, I am surprised how much I can recall from the lecture. I haven’t even gone back for references. He also explains in the lecture the difference between literalists, who find it hard to extract the meaning of poem and metaphorical texts. He talks about classical reads/novels/books, he talks about understanding grammar, rhetoric, logic. The 3 R’s Reading, Writing and Rhetoric.

So, if you want to start reading difficult books, classical texts, and original books. I would advise you to start by reading Mortimer J Adler’s How to Read A Book or Listen to the lecture by Hamza Yusuf on How to Read a Book.

One of the reasons why collectively we are failing is because we do not make the effort to educate ourselves by reading and studying difficult texts. I remember in one of his lectures he said, “The giants of the past were vast.” In comparison to the work accomplished and level of literacy reached by the past generations, we may have advanced technologically, but in doing so we have become the slaves of it and we do not push to find our real potential, unravel our minds, we are addicted to comfort of our homes, tech, media. Our education system fails to raise up mentally healthy adults, this is a crisis we face. This is a crisis to address too. Hopefully, writing this gives me the courage, insights, and ability to chase after my own goals. Goals for creating a better educational system.

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