How to read (1916) by J. B. Kerfoot

How to read 

How to read
How to read 

Excerpt from the author's introduction:

A few months ago I happened to be present at a dinner where a chance question led to an interesting talk. Some phase of primary education was under discussion; and in the course of it the host, turning to one of the guests, asked, "When did you learn to read?" "At three," was the prompt reply, given with a touch of pride. "And you ? " said the host to the next guest. "Oh, I don't know. About five, I suppose." "And you?" to a lady beyond. 

There was a moment's embarrassed hesitation. And then, with something about scarlet fever, came the confession that she had not learned her letters till she was nine. And thus it went, halfway around the table.  Now, these replies were direct and pertinent. 
They were categorical answers to a technical question. Taken separately, they gave the exact information asked for. And yet, as they piled up, one after the other, there seemed to be something about them that I found myself vaguely resenting. It was not what they said. It was, rather, a discernible common denominator of implication in their manner of saying it. It seemed as though these people were leaving out of account all the other-than-technical meanings of the phrase with which they dealt, not because they were consciously excluding these deeper meanings for the moment, but because they unconsciously ignored them at all times. 

There was a cumulative inflection of finality in their declarations. It almost sounded as though, in dealing with the primary-school meaning of "learning to read," they felt that they had dealt with the whole meaning of that expression. And while it never entered my head at the moment that this was really true, the fact that it was somehow being made to appear true struck me as amusing. It struck me as amusing enough to call attention to. 

And so, presently, when the host asked me when I had learned to read, I answered with a smile that I was still learning. And to my utter astonishment, it developed, in the chaffing and talk that followed, that no single member of that largely literary and more or less intellectual company had ever thought of the expression "learning to read" as having any other meaning than the technical, primary-school meaning; that, namely, of learning the alphabet, learning to recognize words made out of the alphabet, learning the dictionary meanings of more, and more, and still more words, and thus learning to receive messages sent by print or handwriting. No one of them, it turned out, had ever asked himself what it is, exactly, that we do when we read. 

No one of them had ever watched himself in the act of reading. And all of them, in consequence, had retained intact the careless assumption that reading is essentially a receptive process. They all looked upon it, let us say, as though print were a sort of silent telephone, into one end of which an author delivers a message, and from the other end of which (by simply "knowing how to read") his audience receives it. Now, as a matter of fact, and as we shall see presently, this is not true at all. It is not even an inadequate statement of the facts; it is a misstatement of them. And when I had pointed out something of this, — when I had, hurriedly, and to the poor best of my sur- prised unpreparedness, mobilized a few arguments and illustrations in defense of what I had regarded as a neutralized axiom, — we began, in the course of the give-and-take of the talk that followed, to make discoveries. And we continued, excitedly and joyously, to make them until I a.m.

Contents of the book:

I. Learning To Read 1

II. Muckraking The Dictionary . . 29 

IIII. Watching The Wheels Go Round. 53 

IV. What's The Use 88 

V. A Sense Of Direction 112 

VI. The World Outside us And The World Within I48 

VII. Intellectual Digestion .... I92 

VII. How To Read A Novel . . . .221 

Ix. The Cosmos A La Carte .... 265 

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