Book Review: The Art Of Mindful Reading

The Art Of Mindful Reading: Embracing The Wisdom Of Words, by Ella Berthoud

This book is one that could have bothered me, given my general low opinion of works that support the spread of Buddhism. That said, the author, although she definitely deals with mindfulness and promotes doing yoga while reading, which is something one would expect of a New Age book, mostly manages to avoid overt calls for the practice of heathen spirituality while addressing the subject of how one is to be a thoughtful reader, aware that the books we read have an influence on us for good or for ill, as the case may be. The author’s goal is to encourage readers to read and reflect upon what is good literature, literature that engages our mind and encourages our spirit and that provides a proper example of how we should behave. This is an uplifting sort of reading that is easy to encourage and endorse, whatever perspective and worldview one brings to the task of reading. to be sure, this book has a lot to say about reading and the context of reading, and it is not likely that the reader will always appreciate everything that the author has to say, but all the same there is also the ability for the reader to pick and choose what elements of this book might be worth a try, which makes it a lot easier to appreciate.

This book is a relatively short one at just under 150 pages, and it is divided into several chapters that have an interesting demonstration of interests. The book begins with an introduction and then a discussion of how it is that we can lose ourselves while reading a book (1). The author, of course, views this as a very good thing, as losing oneself is an important aspect of Buddhist thinking. After that the author reflects on various ways of reading, including the timing of reading and the sorts of material one is to read, including a special fondness for haiku (2). After that the author encourages the reader to read like a child, with an open mind for insight (3). This is followed by discussions on how one can share the joy of reading, whether that means to read with other people or to share one’s books with other people, including in the joy of decluttering, something which a lot of books focus on (4). After this the author discusses the paradox of finding oneself in books (5) as well as putting down the book (6), since books are meant to be read and digested but eventually put down, and then there are suggestions for further reading, many of which I have, perhaps unsurprisingly, already read [1], as well as an index and acknowledgements.

What does it mean to read in a mindful fashion? This can be a complicated task. For one, it involves being a thoughtful and intentional person when it comes to reading in the first place. Then there is the matter of reading with other people with whom we can discuss what we read with, and read while doing other activities that might put us in the mood to read better. Humorously enough, the author did not include a discussion of reading in the bathroom, which is the classic and obvious means of reading while doing something else and remaining particularly productive while doing an activity that is not glamorous but which needs to be done fairly often. The author also cares a lot, as might be expected, about the social and moral contexts of reading, including the issue of decluttering and creating a street library so as to bring the joy of reading to other people rather than hoarding books and knowledge as if it was something that needed to be scarce to be of benefit rather than to be spread as far and wide as possible.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2019/06/10/book-review-the-possessed/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/01/27/book-review-how-to-read-a-book/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/10/02/book-review-at-home-with-books/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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