In search of meaning: Finding books that stay with you
Recently, I was conducting a routine inspection of the bookshelf of a good friend and noticed a new addition to her shelves. It was a book crammed full of post-it notes, bookmarks, underlining, and notes in the margin. Feeling slightly miffed that she hadn’t shared this revelatory text with me, I asked to borrow it. And that is how I came across Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book.
How to Read a Book was originally published in 1940 by philosopher Mortimer Adler, and later revised in 1972 in collaboration with Charles Van Doren. It is a fairly instructive novel, describing effective ways to read both fiction and non-fiction. I found it a thoroughly interesting read, and it has made me reflect deeply on how we read books.
The most thought-provoking part of this book for me was the authors’ reflections on the disparity between books. Some books will stay with you for days, some for weeks, some for a lifetime. Some you will wish you hadn’t read; others you will wish you had read sooner. Some demand to be read slowly and to be reread. Others can be sped through.
In the book space, I think we tend to focus on how many books we read in the previous month, what books they were, whether or not we liked them, what we rate them on a scale of 1 to 5. There is little room for reflecting on books that changed you, books that taught you, books that have permanency (or perhaps I am simply following the wrong people). This year, I have found myself craving something more. I wants to read the books that stay with people, that affect them. I want to think about books with more distance and to contemplate how they have individually impacted me, or if they have been completely forgotten. I am more interested in seeking out books that will stay in my memory long after they are finished.
In order to try thinking with this distance, I am going to experiment with wrapping up what I am reading on this blog, but with intentional delay. Starting with the books I read in the first quarter of the year. I am excited to look back on them and reflect on what I learned from these novels, where they took me, and how they have stayed with me.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. How important is 'staying power' when you're looking for what to read? How often do you think about books you read six months ago?