Autumn vibes reign supreme at this time of year. Pumpkin spice lattes, “hygge” trends, sweaters, back-to-school shopping, and crisp clear days do their best to enchant even the most resistant of us. And of course, there’s always the option of curling up with a good book.
It is this latter pastime that Dorothy Sayers, an author famously known for a small essay on the revival of classical education in the modern age, assumes many will delve into as fall slips into the long dark evenings of winters. And she has a few things to say about just how to do it.
1. Shun Wasted Time
“Do not, I implore you, continue in that indolent and soul-destroying habit of picking up a book ‘to distract your mind’ (‘distract’ is the word for it) or ‘to knock down time’ (there is only too little time already, and it will knock us down soon enough).”
According to Sayers, any self-respecting reader will read a book, not for the sake of simply doing something, but because the book truly captures his attention. A person should read because he wants to know and learn what the book has to say.
2. Be Honest
“If the book, when obtained, does not interest you, ask yourself why; and have the elementary politeness to give yourself a sensible answer.”
Instead of feeling guilty over why you don’t like a book, Sayers suggests readers dig to the root of the problem and face the truth. Is it the author’s fault or is it your own? Does it simply disinterest you, or does it bring up subjects you’d rather not think about?
If you enjoy the book, however, Sayers suggests you figure out why. Don’t just rush through the book to follow the plot line. Slow down and enjoy the fittingness of a well-placed term, “and thank your gods that the author had the wit and industry to choose that word.”
3. Make Connections
“Pray get rid of the idea that books are each a separate thing, divided from one another and from life.”
According to Sayers, books are not an end unto themselves. They all work together in the cosmos of ideas. Chew on the content of books. Paraphrase, restate, synthesize. Walk around in the ideas of your book, make them your own, and compare them to other thoughts you have read elsewhere.
4. Be Aware
“Which reminds me: please burn all your book-markers — even the pretty one Aunt Mabel sent you last Christmas (or at least put that one away and only bring it out when she comes to call). You cannot possibly be so bird-witted as to be unable to discover which page you got to by looking at it.”
In other words, a good reader should demonstrate an awareness not only of his straightforward literary surroundings, but of the less visible ones as well. Use an author’s references to broaden your knowledge. If the author mentions another book, get it and read that too. If he uses a word you don’t know, look it up. Then, talk about your findings with other people. As in, really discuss, not just agreeing that it was interesting.
5. Recognize Depth
Sayers concludes with a serious note:
“And do please realize that words are not just ‘talky-talk’ — they are real and vital; they can change the face of the world.”
The words you read in the long hours of a fall or winter evening may look innocent and unmoving, but in reality, they are much more. Words possess ideas… and ideas are powers which can move heaven and earth at will.