Aug 10, 2015

Are You Widely-Read of Well-Read?

I was recently looking back through Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren's excellent work, How to Read a Book. This book is chock-full of insights but one in particular struck me as especially appropriate for those of us involved in the academic side of ministry, namely, the difference between being widely-read and well-read. There is too much in their discussion to reproduce here, but I do offer a little snippet to either introduce or remind you about this literary gem. 

There have always been literate ignoramuses who have read too widely and not well. The Greeks had a name for such a mixture of learning and folly which might be applied to the bookish but poorly read of all ages. They are all sophomores.

To avoid this error–the error of assuming that to be widely read and to be well-read are the same thing–we must consider a certain distinction in types of learning. Thais distinction has a significant bearing on the whole business of reading and its relation to education generally.

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, revised and updated ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 12.


Greg said...

Excuse me for being sophomoric, but this doesn't really answer the question of what is the difference between being well-read and being widely-read. Is it kind of like the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none phenomenon? Not enough depth in any one area?

Charles Savelle said...

I don't think that this is at all sophomoric. I think that the point of the authors is that some people can skim through books without actually reading them. I see it in my students sometimes when reading simply becomes an activity to check off their list without actually seeking to understand the book. The same people might try to give the impression that they have actually grappled with the book. I think that the point is not an either/or but a both/and. One should seek to be both well read and widely read. Does that make sense.

Greg said...

Yes. Thanks.