Web Will Replace Books?


Excerpts from book: Bauer, Susan Wise. The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had. NY: W.W. Norton, 1999. "The futurists have long been declaring it: We are a postliterate culture. Books are outdated forms of communication. Soon the flood of information that is now contained in books, magazines, and newspapers will be sorted by artificial intelligence and presented in multimedia formats. No more boring print.

"These predictions are only tangentially related to serious reading. Gathering data, which is what you do when you skim the newspaper, read People [magazine]... or use a book on plumbing techniques to fix your sink, may indeed shift away from print...

"But gathering data and reading -- understanding ideas... are not the same occupations... to be enlightened is to understand an idea... and use it to make sense of the facts you've gathered (24)...

"... in order to be enlightened, you must read seriously: history, theology, politics, propaganda, editorials... you must wrestle with [the material]. Technology can do a great deal to make information gathering easier, but it can do little to simplify the gathering of wisdom... Wrestling with truth..l. is a time-consuming process [best facilitated by the technology of the printed page] (25).

"The idea of fast reading is good reading is a twentieth century weed, springing out of the stony farmland cultivated by the computer manufacturers (26)...

[In addition, it is not economically feasible to convert the massive history of print materials into digital databases. It won't be done. Therefore, anyone serious about researching anything before 1985 or 1990 will have to resort to books.]

"When we sit in front of Plato or Shakespeare or Conrad, "simply reading" isn't enough. We must learn to fix our minds, to organize our reading so that we are able to retain the skeleton of the ideas that pass in front of our eyes. We must not simply read, Isaac Watts tells us, but "meditate and study," an act that "transfers and conveys the notions and sentiments of others to ourselves, so as to make them properly our own."

"How is this done" By keeping a journal to organize your thoughts about your reading. What we write, we remember. What we summarize in our own words becomes our own (35)...

"As you read, you should follow this three-part process: jot down specific phrases, sentences, and paragraphs as you come across them; when you've finished your reading, go back and write a brief summary about what you've learned; and then write your own reactions, questions, and thoughts (36)...

General Principles For Reading:

1. "When you first read through a book, don't feel that you have to frasp completely every point that the writer is making. If you find yourself puzzled by a certain section, or... a particular term, [not the page number on the back fly leaf] and keep going. You'll have a chance to come back to that confusing section later on. The secret to reading a difficult book is simply this: Keep reading. You don't have to "get it all" the very first time through (42)...

"So the first stage of reading [is] just read, and keep reading... your goal is to finish with a surface acquaintance that will deepen into true understanding as you read again to evaluate and analyze. If you don't understand... scribble a question mark in the margin [or note the page number on the back fly leaf] and keep going. You may well find that the earlier chapters of a book, confusing on first reading, suddenly make sense to you as you reach the book's middle or end.

2. "Underline in your books, jot notes in the margins, and turn the corners of your pages down [or, better], note the page numbers on the back fly leaf; turning down pages ruins a book].

3. "When you first begin to read a book, read the title page, the copy on the back cover, and the table of contents. This puts you "in the picture" before you begin to read. Do NOT automatically read the preface... [it] can give you an interpretation before you even read the book -- something to be avoided...

4. "Don't take extensive notes on a first reading... Instead, stop at the end of each chapter (or substantial section) to jot down a sentence--two at the most--in your journal... summarize the chapter's content, main assertion, or most important event... You're constructing a broad outline (44)...

5. "As you read, use your journal to jot down questions... disagreements or agreements with the writer... reflections or connected thoughts that the book brings to your mind...

"...note page numbers beside your comments, since you may want to go back and reread some sections...

6. Underline important passages for review later...

"YOur first reading has given you a basic understanding of the book's parts and how they fit together (45)... "...the next step: evaluation... differs enormously from genre to genre...

"...approach each KIND of book... with a distinct set of questions"... the author here goes into detail on the questions to ask.


Colby Glass, MLIS