Master a Book and Become a Peer of the Author

A good book deserves an active reading.  The activity of reading does not stop with the work of understanding what a book says.  It must be completed by the work of criticism, the work of judging.

There is a tendency to think that a good book is above the criticism of the average reader.  The reader and the author are not peers.  The author, according to this view, should be subjected to a trial only by a jury of his peers.

There is a certain truth here, of course, but there is also a good deal of nonsense about the impeccability with which books are thus surrounded, and the false piety it produces.  Readers may be like children, in the sense that great authors can teach them, but that does not mean they must not be heard from.

It is true that a book can enlighten its readers, and is in this sense superior to them, should not be criticized by them until they understand it.  When they do, they have elevated themselves almost to equality with the author.  Now they are fit to exercise the rights and privileges of their new position.  Unless they exercise their critical facilities now, they are doing the author an injustice.  He has done what he could to make them his equal.  He deserves that they act like his peers, that they engage in conversation with him, that they talk back.

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

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