Active Participants Wanted

5:42 PM Since I have just published another book (The Authorship of Hebrews), I thought I would share with you few thoughts on the writing and reading of books:

1) The books I write are getting shorter and shorter. “Less is more” is becoming more of a reality and less of an old truism for me. You don’t need to know everything about a subject to understand it. In fact, innumerable facts are often a detriment to understanding. Above all, I try to avoid writing in such a way that might imply that thinking on the part of the reader is unnecessary.

2) I want my readers to become active participants in my book’s ideas. Some will read for information. “What does Dave think about this or that?” Others will read more for their own personal understanding of the subject, with the hope that something they read will shine some light on the facts they already know. Some of us are so guilty of abecedarian ignorance that we have to start with the simple ABCs. Our goal is simply information. Eventually, I hope we can read books preeminently for the sake of understanding.

3) Whenever I read a new book I always read it through from beginning to end in one sitting and without pondering the things I don’t understand. I find I have a much better chance of understanding a book on second reading after I’ve already gained a bird’s-eye-view of its contents.

4) As for speed of reading, my golden rule is a simple one. I read a book no more quickly than I can read it with satisfaction and comprehension. I can generally skim a book on my first reading. This gives me some idea of its form and structure. I am thus prepared to read it well the second time around. I can always tell whether a book is a “good” book. A good book is one that is always over my head in some sense. It forces me to think, to stretch, and to pull myself up to its level.

5) As for marking in books, I do so religiously. My pen is my best friend in reading a new book. Whether underlining major points or placing an asterisk in the margin or circling key words and phrases, I try to read consciously and interactively.

6) My new book, like most works of non-fiction, is chronotopical. It deals with things as they exist or occur in a particular time and place (hence the term “chronotopical,” from the Greek words for time and place). My book is the product of my own personal history. It traces how my thinking has evolved since I first began teaching in 1976. I have tried to write in a way that exhibits unity, clarity, and coherence. Whenever possible I have told the reader what the questions are and the answers that are the fruits of my own study. But the reader must not expect me to do the job all by myself. He or she must meet me halfway. My goal is a “meeting of the minds,” a reciprocal benefit that depends on the willingness of both reader and writer to work together.

7) Finally, the heart of my new book lies in the major affirmations and denials I am making, and the reasons I give for so doing. You may or may not agree with all of my propositions, but I hope you will not miss their meaning. I think I’m simply verbalizing what we all know to be true, though I might perhaps state things in an unconventional way. “2 + 2 = 4” and “4 – 2 = 2” are different notations for the same arithmetic relationship — the relationship of 4 as double of 2, or 2 as half of 4. The same conclusion is forced upon us regardless of the proposition being made.

In the end, the best readers are the most critical. They make up their own minds on the matters the author has discussed. I invite you to read my latest book and engage me in these issues.

(For the Kindle version of the book, go here.)

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is the author of The Authorship of Hebrews: The Case for Paul.)