There was a quote I really wanted to use in my review last week of Rabih Alameddine’s An unnecessary woman, but I couldn’t find a place to fit it in. Sometimes reviews take off in a direction and they just can’t be reined in, I’ve found! This quote is, however, too good not to share – at least, I think so.
The quote occurs when Aailya, our unnecessary woman, is talking about reading philosophy. The quote in question refers to her attempt to read and understand Schopenauer. She says that “I can’t seriously claim I ever grasped much of Schopenhauer on that first reading, or the second, but I kept trying”. And then she describes her method:
In philosophy, I was a page-turner long before I was a reader. I worried the surface till I penetrated the essence.
I think this is great advice for reading anything that’s a bit challenging, not just philosophy. Once upon a time I would try to understand each sentence of works that challenged me, and become frustrated when meaning eluded me. However, now my practice is to keep reading, because very often doing this will result in my gradually working my way into the author’s style (words, images, rhythm, tone) and world-view (ideas, themes). In other words, I think what I do is worry the surface until I penetrate the essence – though I must admit that I tend not to give books multiple chances. I (mostly) do need to achieve this some time during the first read. Anyhow, once I’ve cottoned on to what the author is doing I’ll go back to the beginning – if I need to – to catch what I’ve missed.
Do you have any hints for reading the more difficult books that come your way?