I still remember the English Literature lecturer who taught me how to read attentively. He put it like this: you’ve got to notice what you didn’t notice you’d noticed. Sounds great. But what does it mean?
When I’m reading, I’ll often stumble over something in the text. But my usual reaction is simply to press on. (I’m not really sure why. Maybe because I consider myself a ‘strong’ reader and don’t want to admit confusion or difficulty with some argument, detail or unfamiliar word. Or maybe because I’m reading to a deadline. Or hunting for something in the text and don’t want to get hung up on irrelevant details.)
But for me, reading well involves paying attention to these ‘Huh?’ moments. I need to stop and notice — and maybe even re-read — what I’d already noticed (because I’d stumbled over it even though I didn’t want to admit it).
There are some pretty obvious benefits to this strategy. Not only does it help me isolate those words or arguments that I don’t quite grasp (for whatever reason). It also forces me to give enough space to the author to surprise me. To say things that I don’t already know. To put things in fresh and unfamiliar ways. To make connections I wouldn’t automatically make. To take the argument that I probably thought I could have made myself in new and adventurous directions.
Better than all of this, learning to notice what I didn’t noticed I’d noticed helps me become a more moral reader. It does this because it demands that I recognise that what I’m reading is other than me. And this makes me relinquish my assumption of mastery over every idea or domain of discourse.
But maybe that’s just me…