I hope you have had a great summer and that you found some time to read. Did you read any books that changed your life or at least changed the way you think?
With the delightful distractions of beach weather and vacations, many of us were able to enjoy only light reading. Such reading entertained us and helped us relax but now that September is here perhaps it is time to plan “deep reading”.
Light reading or surface reading that we engage in on a regular basis is reading where we tacitly accept the information we are reading without reflecting upon it. This contributes to little learning and short-term retention. Most of us who have crammed for exams know this experience well!
In contrast, reading that is more impactful is known as “slow”, “close” or “deep reading” which involves complicated mental processes such as analyzing, synthesizing, inferential and deductive reasoning. and more.
The deep reader focuses on the author’s message, on the ideas she is trying to convey, the line of argument, and the structure of the argument. The reader makes connections to already known concepts and principles and uses this understanding for problem solving in new contexts.”1
FOR MATURE MINDS
This description reminds me of some of my Grade 12 English classes where we were forced to look deeper into the assigned literature. It was good training. The mental processes required for deep reading take years to develop. This is great news for many of us! Not only do we have the mental skills required for deep reading, we also have many life experiences that help us make meaningful associations and connections with what we are reading.
WHY DEEP READING IS SO DIFFICULT
Even though we have the mental skills required to learn and enjoy deep reading, these skills need to be practiced. Unfortunately, many adults do little deep reading after crossing the stage at graduation. We also struggle with finding time to read anything, let alone something that requires reading and thinking time. If deep reading “captures our full attention and is invested with emotional intensity”2, it is not something you are likely to experience while sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for your name to be called!
The greatest challenge though to deep reading is our digital culture. Children do not experience many opportunities to develop reading and cognitive skills required for deep reading later on in life. As adults, we are easily distracted and entertained by sound-bytes rather than depth; visual images rather than written text; and immediacy rather than thoughtfully written works. Also, the very format of digital reading hinders deep reading.
It is easier to fall into a state of deep reading when holding a real book, magazine, or printout in your hands. Apparently, the brain recognizes the difference between what is real and what is virtual, so texts or images gleaned from a screen evoke a weaker emotional reaction (this is why you cannot proofread from the screen). Computers and gadgets also offer more distractions, and deep reading is incompatible with multi-tasking.3
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT DEEP READING?
In the article, The Power of Deep Reading, several benefits of deep reading are highlighted. Three of them are summarized here:
- It is good for the brain.
Deep reading provides the brain with a unique neural workout. The very act of reading requires the simultaneous recruitment and synchronization of multiple brain areas. 4
2. It helps develop empathy and problem solving.
Years of deep reading can thus facilitate the development and integration of brain areas involved in abstract thinking or conceptualization, the fusion of logical reasoning and emotion, long-term planning, empathy (or social intelligence), moral intuition (since moral judgments seem to depend on “gut feelings”), etc.5
3. It increases enjoyment of reading when readers learn new concepts, gain new information and experience emotional associations and connections made with words and ideas.
This advice written by Dorothy Sayers in 1942 is still good advice.
[I]f the author’s style appeals to you, do make a point of enjoying it. Get the feel of balance in a beautiful sentence, rejoice in the lovely appropriateness of the exact right word and thank your gods that the author had the wit and industry to choose that word, out of a whole dictionaryful of less adequate words, for the express purpose of pleasing you. Entertain yourself by finding other words yourself and discovering why they sound so feeble by comparison.6
DEEP READING AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH
Deep reading should be a concern for anyone who wants to grow emotionally, socially, and intellectually, but it should be of particular concern for Christians. The Bible frequently commands us to “think”, “remember”, “consider” and to seek wisdom, all of which require deep thinking. The Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 explains that the secret to knowing and doing the will of God is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I would suggest that the lack of deep reading and thinking is a leading cause of the lack of spiritual growth many Christians confess.
Greg Clarke, CEO of Bible Society Australia, wrote in Deep reading in a time of tweeting,
Our unique, God-given capacity for inward meditation is like a muscle that needs exercising, lest it becomes flabby and useless. Like all exercise, deep reading is a mixture of pleasure and strenuous effort, but without it we are poor versions of ourselves, earthbound blobs when we should be soaring spiritual specimens.”7
DEEP READING AND CHRISTIAN WITNESS
Constantly growing in our faith through the deep reading of scripture and good literature will contribute to having a positive impact on those around us. But we need to do more than just read deeply for our own personal benefit. Our world needs Christians who are able to engage in thoughtful, informed, meaningful dialogue with people of differing views. Much debate on important cultural and moral issues of our day is missing the contribution of a biblical perspective. People are tired of Christians who quote scripture at them, who judge them and do not seek to understand them or the complex choices people often face. I agree with Clarke –
We need deep reading more than ever. It gives us the opportunity to understand the increasingly diverse people we now call neighbours. It stops us from coming to rash judgments on the basis of a Facebook post or YouTube video. And it provides the all-important sense that there is something more to life than what we see.8
Clearly, deep reading has many benefits for ourselves and for those with whom we communicate. But where do we begin?
Watch for the next post. I’ll share suggestions on how you can incorporate deep reading into your life. It may be easier than you think.
- Ivelin Sardamov, The Power of Deep Reading
© 2012 (http://home.aubg.edu/faculty/isardamov/DeepReading.htm)
- Dorothy L. Sayers, Begin Here: A Statement Of Faith. Harcourt Brace & Company, 1942 quoted by Richard Nordquist in How to Become a Creative Reader, February 24, 2016 (http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/How-To-Become-A-Creative-Reader.htm)
- Greg Clarke, Deep reading in a time of tweeting, Eternity, July 20th, 2016 (https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/deep-reading-in-a-time-of-tweeting)