Saturday, October 23, 2010

Six Pages a Day

It still amazes me how much I can read just covering six pages a day.  Several years ago, I decided that I needed to pace myself on the denser, more difficult material, especially philosophy.  So I started a practice of always having two books going at once: one to read in as much as I could or wanted to every day (a novel, for instance), and one to read slowly at a steady pace.  In the Britannica Great Books set, with its tiny print, I found that six pages a day works best for most things.  In paperback editions, it might be twelve.

This practice has several benefits.  Turning just a few pages a day, for instance, certainly helps me get through material I don't enjoy as well as the rest.  I suppose the first book I read this way was Darwin's The Descent of Man.  I had given up on Origin of Species a few years earlier, and I didn't want to let myself down again.  But reading Darwin again quickly became really unpleasant.  It's not what you may think.  I've greatly enjoyed reading Lucretius, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and other writers sometimes considered inimical to Christianity.  But Darwin just doesn't measure up.  I mean, he can't even keep his directions straight.  He talks about man rising through the evolutionary process, and then he names his book The Descent of Man.  But six pages a day got me through that assignment, just as it gets me through difficult parts of otherwise enjoyable books.  While I generally love William James's Psychology, this week's passage about afferent and efferent feelings of innervation (can't tell you) didn't excite me.  But six pages a day got me through that part and to a more typical Jamesian passage about what the struggle to get out of bed on a cold morning tells us about human will.

Reading at this slow, regular pace also works especially well for philosophy that I take notes on.  I make an outline of every dialog of Plato that I read, every book of Aristotle, every question of Aquinas, and every theorem of Euclid.  I review the outline to help me find my place again the next day, I review it again at the end of the year as I contemplate what I've covered, and I review it again the following year to provide the context for the new year's reading.

For these rhythms take place on a larger scale, as well.  Every winter I warm up again with Dickens.  Every spring I plunge into Aquinas.  Shakespeare shines on long summer days, and Durant teaches me history near the beginning of the new school year.  As our lives progress we constantly turn pages: pages on calendars, pages in bank ledgers, pages in grade books, pages in instruction manuals, pages in concert programs, and on and on.  Some we turn each day, some once a month, and some at regular times in the year.  Life has ups and downs, ebbs and flows, races of hope and sloughs of despair, and yet time marches on, and daily, monthly, and yearly events tap out their faithful beats.  My discipline of six pages a day simply adds to this counterpoint another melodic layer of comfort and accomplishment.

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