Thursday, June 19, 2008

Studying a text

Most of my reading is casual entertainment; I read a lot of fiction. A *lot* of fiction, maybe 2 or 3 books a week on average. Once I read a graphic novel, and it required a different skill set for interpretation than reading straight text in our usual arrangement of lines set in paragraphs, only one column per page, read top to bottom; I had to learn the conventions for reading comic books, which are partly dictated by the shapes the author and artist have made on the page (what order do you read the boxes in? What about when text or picture slops over from one box to another?), and to examine the pictures for parts of the story that weren't revealed in the text.

Reading non-fiction is again different from either of these. Sure, you can read it the way you do fiction -- at least, I can. But I don't get much out of it, I don't learn much from the text when I read it as a story. Learning is a completely different skill.

The word "learn" sounds like "leyn" to me, the word for learning the Torah and the other books of Jewish wisdom. It's more than just reading; you study the text line by line, even word by word, picking apart the possible explanations and allusions, discussing your reaction to what you've read, arguing with others reading at the same time.

I'm reading three texts right now that will benefit from this more deliberate approach. I am very excited at the possibilities of each of these three books, and I'll be writing the occasional essay about each of them.

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