The curriculum is full of excellent books that are well-crafted and wise. To the extent that reading helps you think others’ thoughts with them, the reading life in this program is about furnishing your intellect with other folks’ genius. Reading some of the best works from some of the greatest masters of the past acquaints you with wisdom you might otherwise neglect. Sometimes it helps you discover your own commitments when you find yourself either resisting or affirming a book’s premises. Other times, it helps you to discover the ideas and paradigms that formed cultures.
Reading is a practice that, in addition to providing the mind with content, builds up many intellectual skills. Reading whole books cultivates attention, requires patience, and develops endurance. As in our other core practices, reading provides you with opportunity for growth in virtues. For instance, charity, scrutiny, empathy, humility, and wonder all contribute to excellent reading. Also, your reading life trains you to process meaning over time, since parts of books make sense only in light of the unfolding whole. Over time, by acquaintance with more and more good books, you develop a sense for coherence and incoherence, for cogency and fallacy, for eloquence, for precision, and more. And, because the curriculum pursues conversations that really were happening across time (Milton read Dante read Virgil read Homer), you also learn the relation of thought between books. Thus, your practice of reading also teaches you what it looks like to contest, to counter, to comprehend, to extend, to restore, and to revise the thought or imagination of another.
READING ON TIME
All reading assignments must be completed before session. Missed readings and late readings result in grade penalty. Reading extensions are by mentor permission only. Extension requests must be made with appropriate advance notice.
You must purchase the edition of the book indicated in the department book list. Having different translations or pagination hurts discussion and wastes valuable time in session. Having your own copy lets you annotate your book. Failure to bring the right edition to session may result in grade penalty.
You are required to take reading notes for each reading assignment. These notes must be completed before class session. Missing or incomplete pre-class notes result in grade penalty.
Pre-class Notes are your space to engage each book thoughtfully. Take the kind of notes that sharpen your reading. Get in a thoughtful conversation with the text. Of course, you’ll be growing and changing in your reading life; accordingly, you will be in long-term conversation with your mentor to use your Pre-class Notes to improve your ability to read.
This assignment will also provide your mentor sufficient evidence to convict you of active reading and equip you for session participation. With your notes, you should be sure to do your personal, individual reading work so well that you show up to class ready to participate fruitfully in a session that assumes that you already know the book well.
Your faculty mentor will evaluate your Pre-class Notes at Mid and Don Rags. For convenience, we call the portfolio of work that includes Pre-class Notes, In-class Notes, and Pull Questions your notebook.
One of your largest reading challenges will be to get your ideas about the books you read from the books themselves. Getting your ideas from the text is hard work. It would feel much easier to find out how “experts” interpret your assigned text. But consulting sources that tell you what the book says or means is generally discouraged.
On the other hand, responsible readership does include gathering appropriate facts to help you know how an author and text fit in the story of Western civilization that you’re watching unfold for four years. Information about a text’s context is different than interpretation of a text’s content. Notice the difference between sleuthing out Homer’s location, date, language, and contemporaries, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, finding a list of themes in The Iliad. The former is appropriate fact-gathering. The latter cheats you out of your own readerly responsibilities by supplying what you could discern by yourself by reading carefully.