In his book Leadership, Rudolph Giuliani makes the following statement:
“Over time, I developed the romantic notion that one can find secret solutions in books. I intensely read about every subject I undertake, and I do so with the conviction that I will learn things about it that nobody else knows.”
I’ve always loved that quote. I made note of it 15 to 20 years ago in a notebook full of quotes I pulled from books that I read. I identify with that quote. I truly believe that I am going to come across some secret nugget in the books that I read. Or, if not some hidden truth, something that will potentially change my life forever.
Roy Peter Clark’s book The Art of X-Ray Reading gives you the tools to mine this hidden treasure out of literature. Although the book is geared towards writers (Roy is a journalist and writer), I found it just as valuable as a reader.
Roy examines 25 “great works of literature” to pull out excellent sentences and paragraphs. He then explains what makes these sentences and paragraphs so powerful and how you as a writer (or reader) can benefit. For writers, they can add these ideas to their toolbox. For readers, it can help you identify what the author is attempting to accomplish.
The key point in all of this is to slow down in your reading, especially with literature. One chapter is devoted to Moby Dick, and Roy spends the majority of the chapter on the book’s first three words, the famous:
“Call me Ishmael.”
I read Moby Dick in college and sort of blew right past those three words without giving them much thought. Here are some of the questions Roy encourages you to ask:
- Why are we to call him Ishmael?
- What’s his real name?
- What significance does Ishmael have in other literature?
Turns out, there is an Ishmael in the Bible, in the book of Genesis. So let’s dig in and find out what was important about Ishmael in the Bible. How does that relate to this character?
You can obviously go down endless rabbit holes and never get to the rest of Moby Dick, but Roy’s point is that some words, sentences, paragraphs, or chapters need to be read slowly and deeply. Outside sources may need to be consulted. Slow down…
This was excellent advice for me. My goal is to read through 52 books a year. I tend to view them as books. I read one book and go on to the next. But those books are made of letters, words, sentences, and paragraphs. Most of that content can be quickly read. But some needs more attention. This book is a call to give fiction (and non-fiction) the proper attention it deserves.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I absolutely loved it. It helped me become a better reader. If I’m going to be reading a lot, then it behooves me to learn how to read well.