There is no one who hesitates about the importance of reading in this life, as we know commonly, the basic skill which studied firstly by children since elementary school is reading. But is reading mere a spelling? Of course, it’s not. Since they can spell the letters well, it’s hoped they can understand the whole arranged sentence and then gets what it meant by the author. Thus reading, of course, is not only about oral skill but mainly intellectual skill.

As a student in the university who will play such a decisive role in advancing their society, they must have some basic competencies, and the important one is intellectual skill or thinking. It is the crucial ability that allows one to engage critically toward the unwise practices, common mistakes and such phenomena that should not happen (since it opposed what it should be ideally). Only people that have critical thinking who can inspect the kind pathologies which affected their environment and then provide their insights to revive their last occasion to be better.

Since the emphasis of the modern university is to produce a qualified man in each of their fields, this gives us some clue that the student must try not only to learn the contemporary knowledge about his discipline but mainly to discover new concepts or ideas. This is the true message for the academicians which in their hands, knowledge, and sciences are organized and articulated, and to make sure this task will run well, it is impossible for one to realize it without having this skill. This is why the mode of learning in university must be distinguished with the earlier process of education (senior/junior high school), which commonly and mistakenly happened as type of rote memorization, that is, for those who can memorize the theories and answer the (quantitative) questions can pass the exam and receive high mark.      

Due to the pertinence of this skill, it is obligatory for such students to keep improving and sharpening their minds. Even as a Muslim whom God commanded to seek knowledge as an everlasting command, their age must not chase them to study from all of the instruments as well as the Qur’an itself often repeats and emphasizes the noble place of reason and mind which is the peculiar thing for the human being that other creatures don’t have it. The fact that the majority of professor though their age which is not little, but at the same time they still can teach, write, even do some ambitious research with their colleagues, this, of course back to their such ability which keeps their mind sharp and function well, in other side the people who just give attention for their physics and muscles, it is not amazing then at their old will vulnerable for senile.

Reading as the way to sharpen the mind is somewhat amazing for some people, they regard reading is just for an informative purpose, but moreover reading basically is a reflexive activity who related tightly with thinking, this is actually the kind of reading which we must take it in order to be our habit, namely the active reading[1] which distinguished from the other one, the passive reading.[2] The passive reading maybe not bad at all, as it also can be referred for entertainment, this kind of reading does not give the reader except a lot of information, but the active reading is more than that, since it needs thinking, the active reading requires us to think deeply about the whole matter and relate it with the wider context. Then, active reading is mainly an internal-based activity, whereas passive reading is an external-based activity since it just mere a reception.[3] From this point, we also can differ the one who knows and one who understands, knowing something usually means we have received an isolated part of information or concept where understanding something means we have acquainted a whole-integrated part of information or concept, such as its nature, genesis, and relation with other concepts.

Reading also has a strong relationship with the writing, such as the two eyes of the coin that indispensable and inseparable with the other, as one of our respectable teacher Dr. Syamsuddin Arif said: “Good Writer is Good Reader”. This is not queer, since reading is such activity that related with the information whereas information itself is the object material of writing, thereby, reading in the wider meaning is not only limited in the formal type which refers to the one’s engagement with the textual object, but also con-textual object, in other words, such activity like seeing, hearing, researching, observing, and etc, also includes within the meaning of reading which corresponds with its nature, due to their correlation with the information (or interpretation in different term). This is the reason why in our scientific tradition the world of nature or universe also called with the created book which differentiated with the revelation as the written or recited book.[4] Moreover, this is why “the art of reading” also related to the other discipline like hermeneutics mainly in the West, by virtue of its connection with the psychological, epistemological and existential aspects of human beings.                       

There are two probabilities which a person can get after reading a book, he understood it partly or wholly. If he can understand it as well as each part of it, this indicates the level of the author was the same as the reader. While in the second case, for a person who just got it partly also have two probabilities, he read it not seriously, thus make his understanding scattered, or he has given his struggle but he just can reach some part of it, in this occasion the level of author is different when it compared with the reader until he must give such effort but still have obstacles. Many people may regard this kind of an occasion is bad and urges them to conclude that this reading is just wasting time and then not deserve any attention. But the price point is really on the reverse, that, that kind of reading which we must pay close attention for, because the true reason why we must read because we don’t understand, the true reading or learning is such activity which ensures us to incline toward understanding more from understanding less.[5]

How to read the book?[6]

 These are some rules and requirements for such purpose, namely toward active reading that may help us to be a good reader who can grasp all the materials that the author tried to convey them within their work. Of course, not all book deserves for such attention, because, as there is a kind of junk food, there is also junk book, this book maybe was written by non-authoritative man who hasn’t any necessary skill in a field, such writing maybe not only filled by unsystematic methodology that can baffle the reader, even, it may be filled with misinterpretations of misinformation, and the worst is false information or distortions.   

Firstly, to be a good reader, one must cacth the single idea (singular) that lays behind the reason of this book why it is written, this is to bind our focus within the process of reading in detail. Furthermore, since a book is composed of chapters, there are many ideas, points or concepts, that existed separately along with the hundred pages of the whole book. the good reader is who can get its structures and connections of how the author arranged his arguments to arrive at such conclusion, this necessarily urges us to understand the key points (plural) in the each of chapters and relate them as an organic part that equips the other part to be an organized form. In another side, the good writer is who can provide his thoughts orderly to make the reader easily to grasp it even with the simplest way, this point also can be aimed to the reader himself, to test him to what extent his understanding, if he does really understand, he definitely can express it in the simplest form.  

Secondly, as the main focus of active reading is to find the basic structures and arrangements that composed a book, and since it necessitates us to find the key points, it is often vulnerable for one to forget them after he delves into detail of the book, and to avoid this happens, try to mark the sentences or paragraphs that you feel them important, such as underlining the major points or statements, giving vertical lines at the margins or horizontal lines at the bottom (for emphasis), numbering the important points to note sequence of author’s argument, or numbering other pages in the margin to mark cross-references, circling the keywords or phrase, writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page for questions and answer, also using the endnotes.  

Moreover, usually, an expert reader may find some contradictions or complexities from his last reading because he had brought some informations before related with such matters, in this condition which need to further comparison, don’t forget to write or note such matter with some clues to keep your finding guarded, this is actually the customary of scholars who every single day engage with books and articles, that’s why it is not amazing if their book seems full of notes and marks. And maybe this is why, certain people more feel free and prefer to read the book from their own, because we can’t take any consideration from the loan book, except to keep it clean.

Thirdly, imagination. Instead of reading by a blank mind, try to use your imagination to get the understanding. Because as the internal-based activity that depends intimately on the intellectual power, imagination is one of the most useful instruments that helps our mind not only to understand the meanings, patterns or messages that lie behind the words but also to memorize it. This is actually the pertinence of metaphor for understanding within the process of learning. It gives us the simplest and clearest picture that usually human being experiences in their routine. Basically, reading is a parable of studying without the tutor or teacher, as the latter depend mainly on external assistance to guide us toward understanding, active reading also has its helpful assistance which relies on the imagination.        

Fourthly, don’t stop reading when you find some difficulties that may annoy you to continue your journey within the book. May there is certain sentences or terms that you never hear or know before or paragraph that you can’t understand. In order to overcome such this occasion, one usually going to another book or dictionary, but there is another way that faster to get the clue to fill that gap, and that is, to continue your reading. We must continue the reading, because writing is like building that composed from group of parts, each part of it forms a unified structure of the writing, this nature makes us easy to trace its root and connection, this is why we must continue to read, because, instead of  stopping, try to find the whole form of that writing, only after you get it, that may can help you to guess the meaning of it, which coming from the accumulation of your information.[7]

Fifthly, choose your time and place to make sure your convenience and feel while reading since it needs focus and a lot of energy, this kind of reading is different from the entertainment reading which just needs a little energy. Keep away your mind from all of the distractions that can steal your attention from the discussion.

To finish this article, I would like to excerpt another important quote from the same person (Dr. Syamsuddin Arif) who also said “Great Words from Great Mind”, for those who really makes sense this statement will realize that, the mind is like machine or vehicle that its output is the words, since all human being have their own mind with the similar capacity from the beginning, our remaining task is how to preserve, develop and improve it as best as possible in line with the divine command, and that is, to Read with His name. 

By. Choirul Ahmad
Student of Department of Aqeedah and Islamic Philosophy

[1] The active reading itself divided into three distinct kinds. These divisions actually are the approaches that a person must use them if he wants to understand the book, the approaches are first, as a whole, having a unity and a structure of parts; and, second, in terms of its elements, its units of language and thought. Thus, the three distinct readings can be described as follows: The first reading can be called structural or analytic. Here the reader proceeds from the whole to its parts. The second reading can be called interpretative or synthetic. Here the reader proceeds from the parts to the whole. The third reading can be called critical or evaluative. Here the reader judges the author and decides whether he agrees or disagrees. See Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book, A Guide to Reading the Great Books, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), h. 124.

[2] Mortimer J. Adler, Books, Television, and Learning, The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress, Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring 1979, h. 191.

[3] It is interesting to note what Mortimer J. Adler has pointed out about ‘the pain’ of learning whereas actually it is not merely an external, additive or passive acquisition. He emphasized, that the genuine of learning is that which involved in it the intellectual activity, he also added that without thinking, the kind of learning which transforms a mind gives it new insights, enlightens it, deepens understanding simply cannot occur. See, Mortimer J. Adler, Invitation to the Pain of Learning, published by The Journal of Educational Sociology, Vol. 14, No. 6, Feb. 1941, h. 360.     

[4] See further about this topic for example in the article by Mohd. Zaidi Ismail, The Cosmos as the Created Book and Its Implications for the Orientation of Science, Journal of Islam and Science, Vol. 6 (Summer 2008) No. 1.

[5] Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, Bagaimana Membaca Buku, translated by Rustam A. Sani, (Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1989), h. 8.

[6] These points are my own abridgment which occurred separately from chapter two in the same book.  

[7] Adler noted that this just for first reading condition when a person restricted by his understanding in the book and need to re-read it again, because as he said if we directly trying to think about it or going to another book and these carried out before its time, that may can damage and disappoint us. See Mortimer J. Adler, Bagaimana Membaca Buku, h. 26.  

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