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To do this, we must learn how to read books for their core ideas and for their system-defining function.Mastering any set of foundational ideas makes it easier to learn other foundational ideas.Of course, reading has a nearly universal purpose: to figure out what an author has to say on a given subject. The author has previously translated ideas and experiences into words.
All knowledge exists in “systems” of meanings, with interrelated primary ideas, secondary ideas, and peripheral ideas.
Imagine a series of circles beginning with a small core circle of primary ideas, surrounded by concentric circles of secondary ideas, moving outward to an outer circle of peripheral ideas.
Our reading is further influenced by our purpose for reading and by the nature of the text itself.
For example, if we are reading for pure pleasure and personal amusement, it may not matter if we do not fully understand the text.
Considering the Author’s Purpose In addition to being clear about our own purpose in reading, we must also be clear about the author’s purpose in writing. For example, if you read a historical novel to learn history, you would do well to read further in history books and primary sources before you conclude that what you read in the historical novel was accurate.
Where fact and imagination are blended to achieve a novelist’s purpose, fact and imagination must be separated to achieve the reader’s pursuit of historical fact.Few are able to accurately mirror the meaning the author intended. They unintentionally distort or violate the original meaning of authors they read.As Horace Mann put it in 1838:"I have devoted especial pains to learn, with some degree of numerical accuracy, how far the reading, in our schools, is an exercise of the mind in thinking and feeling and how far it is a barren action of the organs of speech upon the atmosphere.Moreover, when we gain an initial understanding of the primary ideas, we can begin to think within the system as a whole.The sooner we begin to think within a system, the sooner the system becomes meaningful to us.To read well requires one to develop one’s thinking about reading and, as a result, to learn how to engage in the process of what we call close reading.Students not only need to learn how to determine whether a text is worth reading, but also how to take ownership of a text’s important ideas (when it contains them).Accurately translating words into intended meanings is an analytic, evaluative, and creative set of acts.Unfortunately, few people are skilled at translation.Skilled readers do not read blindly, but purposely. Their purpose, together with the nature of what they are reading, determines how they read.They read in different ways in different situations for different purposes.