What does it mean to be smart? Mental quickness is part of the story, though it's far less significant in correspondence or composition than it is in conversation. Good health plus a high personal energy level enables persistence in problem-solving. And, at least for some fields, a mysterious inborn "talent" seems to contribute a lot. If you've got it, you've got a big head start over somebody who doesn't.

But in a practical sense, by far the biggest share of intelligence can be traced back to strong abilities for: (1) taking in lots of information, and (2) retrieving it under appropriate circumstances. To win in performing the first part of that couplet almost always demands reading. The printed word is simply the highest-bandwidth, most information-rich channel available for capturing and conveying knowledge.

And in that vein the extraordinary book Read Well and Remember by Owen Webster comes to mind. It was first published in 1965. (Fortunately I discovered it in a local library not long thereafter. Unfortunately, as a foolish youth I only read parts of it then. Fortunately, a few decades later a used copy came into my hands and I finally had a chance to finish it. Unfortunately, I haven't yet had the time or wit to re-read it and study it properly. Fortunately ...)

Owen Webster was a British journalist who moved to Australia and focused his time on teaching people how to read better. His writing combines iconoclasm, dry humor and sage advice. Read Well and Remember finishes up with a thoughtful chapter, "On Becoming a Mature Reader", which then concludes:

The mature reader is quite likely to deny that he is a mature reader; but this is not to say, of course, that everyone who makes such a denial is really a mature reader. I am not a mature reader; neither am I a well-read man. But one day I hope to become both. I will admit to being a self-educated man, but that much must be obvious from the anti-academic flavor of many of my remarks in this book. For many years I was limited by average reading ability. Then I took an evening course in efficient reading and saw its possibilities. Today I am a more powerful reader than I was, and that power is increasing my power to educate myself. I have tried to articulate as much as I can remember of the processes by which I became the kind of reader I am, in such a way that I hope others can make use of them, too. I have tried to point out a few of the ways along which further progress might be directed. Now we are each of us alone. But if you have accompanied me this far, you have the ability to develop further. Go in peace. Keep your curiosity alive, and develop your personality with diligence.

(see GeniusAndComplexity (25 May 1999), BookHouses (14 December 1999), LearningInvestment (11 February 2000), ReadingsOnThinkingAndLiving (1 October 2001), ...)

TopicThinking - 2002-07-31

(correlates: AsimovOnPrecocity, UndeadTrafficIncident, TimeToRead, ...)