How to read more and like it
"I'll never forget the day I read a book!" Jimmy Durante sang it with such gravel-voiced joy that you wished everyone could share the feeling.
How to read more and like it? The irony is that authors have made us read so many pages to learn how to be better readers - until Steve Leveen's recent delivery of the gourmet fast food of reading instruction.
Remember when I.A. Richards took well beyond 200 pages for "How to Read a Page." Lord David Cecil took more than that for "The Fine Art of Reading and Other Literary Studies." Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren went up to 400 for "How to Read a Book."
Now Leveen quotes Adler but uses little more than 100 pages to make his pitch. And his "The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life" could work for some of the rest of us like Durante's remembered book: "It was contagious, seventy pages."
For Leveen is a marketer of his own newfound enthusiasm for serious reading as a kind of proxy for other learners. Not surprising, perhaps, since he's CEO of Levenger, practiced in marketing lamps, shelves, and other products for readers.
He makes responsible nods to more than one approach. But Leveen is like the ideal salesman who believes in his product. He invites that better reader who, in Adler's words, "demands more of himself and of the text before him."
Accompanying one of the cozy bookish drawings is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "What counts, in the long run, is not what you read; it is what you sift through your own mind; it is the ideas and impressions that are aroused in you by your reading."
In this newspaper's "Profile in Books" series (1960), Mrs. Roosevelt dated her reading to days when "it was the only entertainment ... it was taken for granted.... You learned to read and then you read.... You read the classics because my grandfather's library had the classics."
Now Leveen recommends having a lot of books around the house. He cites exchanges like this. Have you actually read all those books? Have you actually eaten all the food in your kitchen?
Many of those "classics" are not difficult, as you may suppose, but readable after all. And don't worry if a classic - or a contemporary book - isn't a treasure to you. Give it a chance, but you don't have to clean your plate.
Leveen is handy with catchphrases:
the Footprint Leavers who fill the margins (recommended), the Preservationists who don't. Just after he mentioned Bookography - keeping track of your reading with comments on it - I happened on a Website where a reader had done just that for all to see. How about a shelf of books on other places labeled For When I Go There? Or a plunge into audiobooks for Reading With Your Ears? Leveen encourages reading groups, too, and ways to remember what you've read.
Slim as it is, the book has enough quotations and bibliography to enable reading about reading until you're singing like Durante: "The day I read a book - I can't remember when,/ But one o'these days, I'm gonna do it again."
• Roderick Nordell is the Monitor's acting book editor.