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Today We Again Need to Heed St. Augustine's Plea: Take up and Read!

According to the Pew Research Center, the typical American read just four books in 2016. With a little less Candy Crush, you can read four books next week. Do you want to increase your happy consumption of grand ideas and tales?

If so, here are a few pointers from my fifty years of reading on how to approach a book:

  1. Own books, and write in them, so they can own and write in you. It’s a dialogue. Be alone with writers because they took the time to be alone for you.

  2. Accumulate more books than you can read in a lifetime—they are still cheaper than raising children, never want to “buy a car,” and don’t repeatedly ask for Chick-fil-A.

  3. Never count the number of books you read in a year or month—reading is not a race or Excel spreadsheet. Thank God.

  4. Buy quality hardbacks and trade paperbacks printed on acid-free paper. Nothing smells and feels like a book. Certainly not a Kindle.

  5. Read widely—classics, nonfiction, history, children’s picture books, young adult novels, theology, philosophy, quantum mechanics.

  6. Read “over your head,” as the late great professor Mortimer Adler, co-founder of the Great Books Society, said. You can’t expect a book to teach you anything new if you already know it.

  7. Hang out with people who read. Some of them even go to gyms, mostly to extend their reading life.

  8. Try a bit of writing yourself—if nothing else, you will learn how hard it is to do it well.

  9. Browse beyond your normal aisle in the bookstore. Did you know entire books exist on salt, rust, bookshelves, odds and ends found in the River Thames, the color mauve and the post-mortem journey of Einstein’s brain?

  10. And speaking of that wonderful pipe smoker--Dr. Einstein . . . with tongue in cheek I offer this last idea for when you read: Cultivate healthy oral fixations, like pipe smoking in my case. The smoke will help you think--Einstein insisted this was true. The tamping and relighting will slow you down, all the more to help you think.

Seize the minutes and books. Every day. Carpe diem ac liber! as the old saying goes. As the visiting angel said, oft repeating, to St. Augustine at his conversion, “Take up and read!”

Dr. Randy Smith, is dean of the Belhaven University creative writing department


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