I’ve written about today’s friend, Mr. Ezra Pound, a few times before, including addressing his war literature, a very short poem, and a brief reflection on his birthday. In literary terms, he’s a strong contender for the most accomplished friend we’ll meet during this whole series, as he was a great poet, a skilled though idiosyncratic translator, a thoughtful and opinionated critic, and an editor with a knack for finding and fostering talented writers. Because of all that he may be, apart from the Bard himself, the most important poet in English. His reputation suffered because of his support for Benito Mussolini, but I feel confident predicting that in a few centuries Mussolini will be a footnote to the Cantos, much as many great and powerful men are now footnotes to the Divine Comedy.
I’ve heard of Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren’s How to Read a Book here and there before, but decided to give it a read after seeing Henry Dampier’s review of it, and thinking that it may be useful, especially since I’m trying to read more (and maybe even read better) this year.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find the book as helpful as I thought I might, though that’s not really the fault of the authors. My main problem is simply that I’m already doing some of the things they suggest, e.g. “inspectional” reading, skim- or pre-reading, or taking notes. The reminders don’t hurt, and I did pick up a few things, but I didn’t really need 336 pages of it, either.
The most relevant section for me was on syntopical reading, which involves methodically reading several books on the same subject. This would be very helpful for undertaking a research project, and to some extent I have approximated this recently, though not in such an organised fashion as they describe, and I have a hard time imagining making this my primary method of reading.
Overall, I’d highly recommend the book to high school or college students, and it is worth a quick read-through for everyone. It’s not quite on the same subject since it focuses on literature, but for those who want to read a book about reading I’ve always highly recommended Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading.
Next up on the reading list is another book about the Habsburgs, this time The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618-1815, by Charles W. Ingrao.…
For the last few years, I’ve occasionally passed time by thinking of the shortest way to become literate in the Western literary tradition. In other words, what is the smallest number of books one can read, and which books, to say one is familiar with the general outline of Western literature?…