Two Scholars On Reading Well

What does it mean to read something well? What sources can you think of that discuss reading well?

One source from the Appendix in Wayne Booth’s Critical Understanding: The Powers and Limits of Pluralism. Booth was a scholar of literary criticism and rhetoric. The Appendix to this book is called “A Hippocratic Oath for the Pluralist,” and in it, Booth gives what he calls five “ordinances” for achieving good criticism, saying at the end that if we kept them, “we would experience a renewed sense that our critical sanity does not depend on ‘covering’ as many works as possible” (352). Here is what he says:

1. We shouldn’t publish anything about anything we’ve read all the way through at least once.
2. We’ll try to not publish anything about anything that we haven’t totally understood.
3. We’ll not believe other critics unless they convince us that they’ve abided by the first 2 rules.
4. We won’t take on a project that has us violate principles 1-3.
5. We won’t judge others’ “inevitable violations” of the first 4 principles worse than we judge our own.

Isn’t that interesting?

Another source on reading well comes from C.S. Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism. Lewis was a medieval and renaissance scholar who became Christian apologist later in life. In Chapter 4 of An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis gives 5 characteristics of bad readers, but I’ll sum them up into 3 categories:

1. Bad readers only read narratives.
2-3. Bad readers have no ears and are wholly unconscious of style.
4-5. Bad readers enjoy narratives that are reduced to the minimum and are action-packed.

What do you think about these guidelines for reading well?
What sources have you found about good reading and bad reading? And what does it mean to read well?

Ruminations on E.T.

Yes, I know you’ve seen it, but it’s probably been a while. It was the same for me when I’d watched it a few weeks ago. It had been a while.

Original poster found on Wikipedia

You remember it: E.T. gets stranded on earth, is found by a ten-year-old kid, Elliott, who befriends him. For a while, Elliott is the only one who knows about and can see E.T. And while he tries to tell others about E.T., they disbelieve him and are angry with him for making up worthless stories. Eventually, however, his siblings and some other kids start seeing E.T., too. The adults, on the other hand, have a hard time seeing him, either because the kids are trying to hide him from the adults or because the adults are so preoccupied that they don’t see the signs that he is there. Sometimes, the adults don’t even see E.T. when he is right in front of them, like the scene when Elliott’s mother opens Elliott’s closet and sees E.T., but mistakes him for a toy since E.T. has frozen in place. Indeed, the boys even say at one point that adults can’t see E.T. E.T., however, wants nothing more than to go home.

Eventually, E.T. becomes ill. It’s not exactly clear what makes him ill. Sure, he may have caught a cold by staying up all night trying to contact his alien family. Or maybe the Earth food had a negative effect on his immune system. He may also have become physically sick because he was mentally homesick. But this last time I watched it, I wondered about something else. Could it be that E.T. symbolizes an idea and, when that idea gets tampered with, dies? Could we say here that, in Wordsworth’s words, “Our meddling intellect / Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:– / We murder to dissect”?

Eventually, E.T. is discovered by adults, and they start trying to help him, to cure him, of his sickness. But could it be that we’re not seeing everything here? Could they also be doing tests on him and otherwise messing around with this new creature that they had never before seen and never would see again? For who can withstand the curious inclination to discover and behold something that no other earthling had ever seen before?

Perhaps it’s a long stretch. But whatever happens, E.T.’s body can’t handle it, either the sickness, the tests, or both. Perhaps in their trying to help E.T., the doctors actually hurt him. At least, that’s what Elliott believes and even screams at one point.

Are there some things that die when they get tampered with? I’m suddenly reminded of two things.

C. S. Lewis, in his first-published Narnia book The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, dedicates the book to his goddaughter Lucy Barfield with the following statement:

My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be

your affectionate Godfather, 
C. S. Lewis

What does Lewis mean when he says that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”? Do we get to a point in our lives where we begin to take for granted some of the best things? Best things? What am I saying? J.R.R. Tolkien has written that fairy tales, or fantasy, is “not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent” (“On Fairy Stories,” The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays 139). That may sound like quite a surprising statement from an Oxford don and Cambridge professor, a world-renowned philologist and scholar of Anglo Saxon. Why would he say such a thing?

Does this mean that all fairy tales are worth while? Certainly not. For while some stories shouldn’t be read at all because they aren’t worth our time, “If fairy-story as a kind is worth reading at all it is worthy to be written for and read by adults.” (“On Fairy Stories” 137).

Yes, E.T. comes back to life when Elliott says through tears that he loves E.T. But after that, both E.T. and Elliott are on the run. The kids are the ones that save E.T. from capture the second time, and the kids are the ones that take him back to the forest where his ship comes to rescue him. The adults, except for Elliott’s mother, don’t see him up close after that.