Friday, May 2, 2014

Classes of Readers

Readers may be divided into four classes:
1) Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtied.
2) Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
3) Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
4) Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Lecturers, 1811-1812)

Among those who read, most fall into categories 2 and 3. Categories 1 and 4 are the ones who can learn how to write. Only category 4 can learn now to write exceedingly well. This insight, though 200 years old, is lost on almost every reading and writing teacher today. We labor under the illusion that everyone can be in category 4. But great readers and great writers are as rare as are great basketball players and great chess players. Worse, many teachers are in categories 1 and 3, so tell people at a similar stage that they are good readers.

It is possible to move people from 2 to at least 1? Certainly. But what about non-readers, who not only retain nothing, but despise getting through the book? That describes most people, whether they admit it or not (their reading habits tell). Thus, we have to get people from that stage to category 2 to category 3 to category 1 (I won't fool either you or myself into believing such people can get to 4).

Category 1 is enough to get a good writer. But all of this only emphasizes the fact that you have to be a good reader to be a good writer, that you have to read  a lot to write well.

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