Say "Literary Grace" Through Quiet Post-Reading Contemplation

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“There is no better way of coming to be aware of what one feels oneself than by trying to recreate in oneself what a master has felt. In this profound effort it is our own thought itself that we bring out into the light, together with his.” Proust from Edmundson, Mark. Why Read? New York: Bloomsbury, 2004. Print, p. 106.

We plod through books without taking time to stop and reflect. Rapid transition without taking the time to let an idea settle in  means you are not getting as much out of a book as you could have had you given it some time to work on you.

Take time to be grateful for what you receive from a book. You may do that by writing to someone and passing on what you learned, through a blog post, or journal entry. Any form of contemplation is acceptable. No matter how you say literary grace, pay as much attention to the reflection as you did to the book.

Religious scholars suggest reading the Qur’an or Bible with contemplation. That idea can be applied to all reading. Here are some tips on practicing contemplative reading:

1. Don’t fight the urge to read slowly.

There is no speed limit or minimum. Read without a page goal. That way, you won’t hesitate to stop mid-sentence to give the author your contemplative attention.

2. Let your mind wander while you read.

Follow the rabbit trails that reading puts before you. There is a reason your interests are taking you that way. Following your interests instead of denying them will make reading pleasurable.

3. Write about what you read.

Journaling is contemplation recorded,. Don’t feel like you have to make all contemplation’s results public. There is no harm in keeping something for yourself.

4. Find quiet.

Just sit for twenty minutes and think of what you’ve read.

5. Contemplation doesn’t necessarily mean worship.

I’m not asking you to spend time worshiping the ground every author you ever read walks on. That is foolish. It is within your discretion to conclude you disagree, but give it some thought and a re-reading before you do.

6. Asking questions that don’t get answered is a form of contemplation.

We have already discussed the benefits of reading with a pencil in your hand and a question on the tip if your tongue, but the point is worth emphasizing. Questions are a form of contemplative thought. Focus on them as you read. The questions that come to mind while reading can serve as the basis for future contemplation. Sometimes new questions arise during contemplation as well.

7. Use logic.

Solid objective reasoning is a valuable tool. Philosophers have perfected it. Borrow their approach as a way of thinking. The key is to approach thought in a systematic way.

8. Use emotion, it’s another tool, don’t discount it.

Emotion spawns energy and excitement. Remember its Latin root is, move. It also should not be abused, however. Let yourself get carried away to a degree but reel yourself back in through the use of logic. See things objectively first, but then play around with your own subjective views of the same subject.

9. Realize you are fallible.

Your fallibility means you just might be wrong. If you keep this in mind you will save yourself the stress caused by holding yourself to an impossible standard.

10. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. If you get no result the first time, keep trying.

Contemplation is a practice. You might not get an immediate benefit or be struck by the proverbial idea lightning bolt, but eventually you will get something out of contemplation if you persevere.

11. For an interesting exercise, try to see the book through the eyes of someone completely different. Create an imaginary character, a polar opposite, if that will help.

Contemplation can be a way to practice perspective shifting. Shift views to see an idea from all angles. Jump to a new set of eyes to experience the same idea in a new way.

What have you been reading? Take 10 minutes to think about what you’ve read without reading a line. Spend another five minutes writing down anything that comes to mind. Has your reflection shed any new light on the book?

Find the time to repeat this process at least as often as you finish a book.