This from a reader:
Mortimer Adler, in How to Read a Book, pointed out that being widely-read does not mean one is well-read. I've enjoyed reading some of your old posts about reading and studying, so I wanted to know your opinion on this matter.
Should I aim to read a lot of books? Or is it better to read and reread a few good books? I know some people say one should read widely but read good books deeply. But I've found that a hard balance to maintain. For example, deeply reading an 800-page selection of Aquinas's writings several times would consume almost all of my reading for the next 1-2 months. Also, it's hard for me to switch gears, you might say. If I'm accustomed to reading most of my books through quickly without pausing much to think, then I easily fall into that mode of reading when I'm trying to read deeply.
I imagine you would have some interesting thoughts on this topic, since you have a few decades of reading behind you. Which type of reading benefited you the most? If you could go back and change what you read and how you read during your decades of scholarship, what would you change?
Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.
I will begin by reproducing a couple of the paragraphs from A Method of Study:
Although desultory reading is enjoyable, it is best to have a plan. Pick one or a small number of topics that strike you as interesting and important and focus on them. I distinguish between bed reading and desk reading. Such lighter reading as biography and history can be done in bed, but hard-core materials require a desk and such other accessories as pens of various colors for different sorts of annotations and underlinings, notebooks, a cup of coffee, a fine cigar . . . .
If you read books of lasting value, you ought to study what you read, and if you study, you ought
to take notes. And if you take notes, you owe it to yourself to assemble them into some sort of coherent commentary. What is the point of studious reading if not to evaluate critically what you read, assimilating the good while rejecting the bad? The forming of the mind is the name of the game. This won't occur from passive reading, but only by an active engagement with the material. The best way to do this is by writing up your own take on it. Here is where blogging can be useful. Since blog posts are made public, your self-respect will give you an incentive to work at saying something intelligent.
To the foregoing, I would add, first of all, the magnificent observation of Schopenhauer: "Forever reading, never read." If you want to be read, then you must write. And even if you don't want to be read, you must write -- for the reason supplied in the preceding paragraph.
Now on to your questions.
Widely-read or well-read? You can be both. And you should be both. Switching gears can be difficult, but it can be done.
As for time that could have been better spent, I do not regret reading vast quantities of Continental philosophy, but some of the time spent on the more extreme representatives of that tradition, such as Derrida, was time wasted.
Re-reading these remarks, I realize they are rather trite. But they may be of some use nonetheless.