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Dialogue and how to talk about a book
There's always more than meets the eye
Someday I want to write a book titled: How to Talk about a Book inspired a bit by Mortimer Adler’s classic How to Read a Book. I like both titles because reading and talking are fundamental to activities of many many human beings’ day to day lives. The standard reaction to these titles has to be, “I’ve read many books, I already know how to read a book.” Similarly, I can read and I can talk and I can tell people about what I’m reading and what happens in a book or what an author is describing. Basically, “If I can talk, then I can talk about a book.”
I think there’s more to it.
The Spectrum and the Ocean
I think about a lot of things that we typically speak about one-dimensionally as actually existing on a spectrum. For example, I have a hot take on violence as existing on a spectrum. On one extreme is torture and physical violence. On the opposite extreme could be very subtle things like microagressions, manipulation, and negative self talk.
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I also think about the notion of the ocean and its depth as being a spectrum from the surface to the depths of the bottom. One can swim across the surface of the ocean. Cover lots and lots of distance. This is like reading a lot a lot of books. It is also like talking and talking and talking about a given book for hours and days at a time. Say, maybe a lecture based on each book of the Odyssey. Talking at an audience. All covering lots of distance on the surface of the ocean. Covering this distance has a lot to offer. Coast to coast, the variety, the weather, the climates. It is great. But it is not the only dimension to explore.
One can also dive deeper.
In How to Read a Book by Adler, he describes a process for really deeply reading a given book. A high level summary, I’d say he recommends 1) reading the book all the way through to get a “lay of the land”. Then 2) with notes and outlines, basically take it apart. After that, 3) put it all back together, maybe, say, to teach or lecture or share your own interpretation of the book. No doubt that this is really reading a given book in a much deeper way. However, I can’t say this is something I’ve every done. I think it’s OK I’ve never done this. It’s a lot of work to dive to the depths of the ocean reading a book-wise.
The Book’s Depths
The same possibility of diving down to the depths of the ocean to see all that it has to offer is also true of talking about a book. A pair or a group who has read the same text can just talk about the content. The events that occurred. A Wikipedia article they read about the author or setting. Wether they liked or didn’t like the text or a given character. Generally you might describe this as “shooting the shit.”
A dialogue can also go deeper down into the varieties of the ocean. The group can ask what the author intended to communicate to the reader. Ask about all the ways the author is trying to communicate their message. Ask what the message means to each reader. Is the message beneficial? Useful even? The group can ask questions that extend the author’s work and intention like if the book were written today (or in the future), what might be different? How might the intended message be received? There’s also each individual’s experience once the author’s intention has been discovered. Do you agree or disagree? Did you enjoy arriving at the message? Did the delivery through experiencing of reading the book over time impact your experience?
With dialogue one can peel the onion of the text. Unfold it there before you as a group with the more heads better than one. Unwrap it like a gift on a birthday. Put the puzzle of it together to “get it.” And a book digested like this is such a better read than merely letting the words pass by your eyes and then shooting the shit about the words. There’s a whole world beneath the surface of the ocean.
In future posts I plan to share more about what dialogue is, how to develop it out of thin air, and the joys and aha moments it’s brought me.