Thinking About Reading

Child reading and imagination
(Colin Anderson/Getty Images)

Reading is the process of extracting meaning from a written or printed text.

Etymology: From the Old English, "reading, advice"


The Art of Reading

  • "[W]e can roughly define what we mean by the art of reading as follows: the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations. The mind passes from understanding less to understanding more. The skilled operations that cause this to happen are the various acts that constitute the art of reading. . . .
    "We have shown that activity is the essence of good reading, and that the more active reading is, the better it is."
    (Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book. Simon and Schuster, 1972)

The P2R Reading System: Preview, Read Actively, Review

  • "You can get more out of the time you spend reading your textbook by using an easy, three-step approach.
    "The P2R reading/study system is designed for textbooks that are from easy to average level in difficulty. . . . First, preview the entire chapter. Next, read actively by highlighting or taking notes as you read. Finally, review using an active strategy such as reciting, answering review questions, or writing questions in the margin."
    (Dianna L. Van Blerkom, Orientation to College Learning, 6th ed. Wadsworth Cengage, 2010)

Strategies for Active Reading

  • "Annotation is a strategy for active reading wherein you write the key information (such as major points, definitions, and examples) in the margins of your text. You are looking for and marking all the information you will need to remember from each chapter. Because it gives you a purpose, you'll find that annotation helps you concentrate while reading, and it actually helps you learn from the text."
    (Sherrie Nist-Olejnik and Jodi Patrick Holschuh, College Rules!: How to Study, Survive, and Succeed in College, 3rd ed. Ten Speed Press, 2011)
  • "Think as well as read, and when you read. Yield not your minds to the passive impressions which others may make upon them. Hear what they have to say; but examine it, weigh it, and judge for yourselves. This will enable you to make a right use of books--to use them as helpers, not as guides to your understanding; as counselors, not as dictators of what you are to think and believe."
    (Tryon Edwards)
  • "The more we read, the more we are able to read. . . . Every time a reader meets a new word, something new is likely to be learned about the identification and meaning of words. Every time a new text is read, something new is likely to be learned about reading different kinds of text. Learning to read is not a process of building up a repertoire of specific skills, which make all kinds of reading possible. Instead, experience increases the ability to read different kinds of text."
    (Frank Smith, Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004)

Reading in the U.S. 

  • "According to the 2012 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, only 54.6% of American adults read a book of any type 'outside of work or school.' Out of those 128 million Americans, 62% read both fiction and non-fiction with only 21% reading just non-fiction."
    (Sarah Galo, "Mark Zuckerberg Declares 2015 the 'Year of Books' With Online Reading Club." The Guardian, January 7, 2015)

The Reading Revolution

  • " Reading has a history. It was not always and everywhere the same. . . . Rolf Engelsing has argued that a 'reading revolution' (Ledrevolution) took place at the end of the 18th century. From the Middle Ages until sometime after 1750, according to Engelsing, men read 'intensively.' They had only a few books--the Bible, an almanac, a devotional work or two--and they read them over and over again, usually aloud and in groups, so that a narrow range of traditional literature became deeply impressed on their consciousness. By 1800 men were reading 'extensively.' They read all kinds of material, especially periodicals and newspapers, and read it only once, then raced on to the next item." (Robert Darnton, The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History. W.W. Norton, 1990)

Coleridge on Four Kinds of Readers

  • "There are four kinds of readers. The first is like the hour-glass; and their reading being as the sand, it runs in and runs out, and leaves not a vestige behind. A second is like the sponge, which imbibes everything, and returns it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtier. A third is like a jelly-bag, allowing all that is pure to pass away, and retaining only the refuse and dregs. And the fourth is like the slaves in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, retain only pure gems."
    (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Books in the House

  • "What influences how far a child will advance in her education? The parents' level of education would seem like a strong indicator, but it turns out there's an even more concrete one, says the number of books in the home. A recent study by University of Nevada sociologists analyzed 20 years of data on 73,000 people in 27 countries, including the U.S. It found that a child born into a family of average income and education but with 500 books in the house would, on average attain 12 years of education--three years more than an equivalent child with no books at home. The more books are present, the greater the educational benefit. 'Even a little bit goes a long way,' says study author Maria Evans. The presence of books, in fact, was twice as important to children's progress in school as the father's level of education. 'You get a lot of "bang for your book,"' Evan says." ("The Case for Books." The Week, June 11, 2010)
  • "For many people, as a number of studies show, reading is a genuinely tactile experience--how a book feels and looks has a material impact on how we feel about reading. This isn’t necessarily Luddism or nostalgia. The truth is that the book is an exceptionally good piece of technology--easy to read, portable, durable, and inexpensive. Unlike the phase-change move toward digital that we saw in music, the transition to e-books is going to be slow; coexistence is more likely than conquest. The book isn’t obsolete."
    (James Surowiecki, "E-Book vs. P-Book." The New Yorker, July 29, 2013)

Notes and Quotes on Reading

  • "Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own."
    (Charles Scribner, Jr.)
  • "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not."
    (Francis Bacon, "Of Studies," 1625)
  • "I believe that reading, in its original essence, is that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude."
    (Marcel Proust)

Reading as a Vice

  • "The great thing is to be always reading but never to get bored--treat it not like work, more as a vice!"
    (C.S. Lewis's advice to his students, quoted by Alastair Fowler in "C.S. Lewis: Supervisor." The Yale Review, October 2003)
  • "Reading is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought."
    (Sir Arthur Helps, Friends in Council, 1847)
  • "Some people read too much: the bibliobuli . . . who are constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whisky or religion."
    (H.L. Mencken, Notebooks)
  • Nora Ephron on Reading
    "When I pass a bookshelf, I like to pick out a book from it and thumb through it. When I see a newspaper on the couch, I like to sit down with it. When the mail arrives, I like to rip it open. Reading is one of the main things I do. Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss."
    (Nora Ephron, "Blind as a Bat." I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Thinking About Reading." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Thinking About Reading. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Thinking About Reading." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).