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What fiction is for March 30, 2008

Posted by sensawunda in Quotes, Sensawunda 101.

Here’s a quote from an unexpected source: How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren. [now my secret’s out, LOL!] This book is mostly about reading expository books analytically; by “imaginative literature” they mean anything that isn’t expository.

We owe much to the expository literature—the philosophy, science, mathematics—that has shaped the real world in which we live. But we could not live in this world if we were not able, from time to time, to get away from it. We do not mean that imaginative literature is always, or essentially, escapist. In the ordinary sense of that term, the idea is contemptible. If we must escape from reality, it should be to a deeper, or greater, reality. This is the reality of our inner life, of our own unique vision of the world. To discover this reality makes us happy; the experience is deeply satisfying to some part of ourselves we do not ordinarily touch. In any event, the rules of reading a great work of literary art should have as an end or goal just such a profound experience. The rules should clear away all that stops us from feeling as deeply as we possibly can….

The great majority of books that are read are stories of one kind or another. People who cannot read listen to stories. We even make them up for ourselves. Fiction seems to be a necessity for human beings. Why is this?

One reason why fiction is a human necessity is that it satisfies many unconscious as well as conscious needs. It would be important if it only touched the conscious mind, as expository writing does. But fiction is important, too, because it also touches the unconscious.

[from pages 205-206 and 220 of the 1972 edition]



1. Ken Dzugan - April 1, 2008

If you are intrigued with this brief quote I urge you to urge you to read Dr. Adler’s entire book. Here is what “How to Read a Book” did for me.

I have been a voracious reader all my life. I never thought that I needed to know anything more about how to read. However 1990 I read about a book by someone named Mortimer Adler whom I had never heard of. The title of the book was “How to Read a Book.” Even though I thought I knew everything about how to read I became intrigued by the title. I finally bought the book. I read it and then I read it again, and again, and again. Over the course of several years Dr. Adler dramatically changed what I read, how I read, and why I read. I used to read predominantly to be entertained. Now I read to learn. Using what Dr. Adler taught me, I now get in order of magnitude more out of books that I ever did before.

Dr. Adler was a brilliant and prolific author, educator, philosopher, and lecturer. He wrote more than 50 books and 200 articles, all of which can be read with pleasure and profit. Now that you’ve read “How to Read a Book,” you might want to read another of Dr. Adler’s books.

For more information on Mortimer Adler and his work, visit The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas at http://www.thegreatideas.org .

Ken Dzugan
Senior Fellow and Archivist
The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas

2. sensawunda - April 2, 2008

Thank you for the comment and the link! I only wish I had discovered “How to Read a Book” back in high school or college. It’s a remarkable book.

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