The reader (of a book) is much like the catcher in a game of baseball.
Catching the ball is just as much an activity as pitching it. The pitcher is the sender in the sense that his activity initiates the motion of the ball. The catcher is the receiver in the sense that his activity terminates it. Both are active, though the activities are different. If anything is passive, it is the ball. It is the inert thing that is put in motion or stopped, whereas the players are active, moving to pitch or catch. The analogy with writing and reading is almost perfect. The thing that is written and read, like the ball, is the passive object common to the two activities that begin and terminate the process.
We can take this analogy a step further. The art of catching is the skill of catching every kind of pitch – fast balls and curves, changeups and knucklers. Similarly, the art of reading is the skill of catching every sort of communication as well as possible.
It is noteworthy that the pitcher and catcher are successful only to the extent that they cooperate. The relation of writer and reader is similar. The writer isn’t trying not to be caught, although it sometimes seems so. Successful communication occurs in any case where what the writer wanted to have received finds its way into the reader’s possession. The writer’s skill and the reader’s skill converge upon a common end.
Admittedly, writers vary, just as pitchers do. Some writers have excellent “control”; they know exactly what they want to convey, and they convey it precisely and accurately. Other things being equal, they are easier to “catch” than a “wild” writer without control.
There is one respect in which the analogy breaks down. The ball is a simple unit. It is either completely caught or not. A piece of writing, however, is a complex object. It can be received more or less completely, all the way from very little of what the writer intended to the whole of it. The amount the reader “catches” will usually depend on the amount of activity he puts into the process, as well as upon the skill with which he executes the different mental acts involved.
— How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren