其實也不單中國人有這種看法。希臘歷史學家修西得底斯(Thucydides)早有過類似的說法。不妨參考How to Read a Book 中的轉述﹕

Thucydides himself said that he was writing his history so that men of the future would not have to repeat the mistakes he had seen made and from which he had suffered personally and through the agony of his country.   He described the kinds of human mistakes that would have meaning to men other than himself, to men other than Greeks.  Yet some of the very same errors that the Athenians and the Spartans made 2,500 years ago, or at least very similar ones, are being made now, as they have been made over and over again since Thucydides’ time.(頁241)


The first is: if you can, read more than one history of an event or period that interests you.  The second is: read a history not only to learn what really happened at a particular time and place in the past, but also to learn the way men act in all times and places, especially now.(同上)




How to Read a Book 談到如何閱讀小說時,有些說法好像跟一般寫評論的人略有不同。例如要讀得快,否則未讀至最後,前面的情節可能已忘記了大半,對整體看法可能有影響。

另外,要讀得投入,更要設身處地,不宜遽然批評內容和情節或人物。也即不要聽古駁古。Don’t criticize imaginative writing until you fully appreciate what the author has tried to make you experience(頁213)。此書作者固然有其道理。且不論這些,倒是有些講法說新鮮不新鮮,卻能點出小說與人生的微妙關係與不一樣的況味,無妨細味一下。

A story is like life itself; in life, we do not expect to understand events as they occur, at least with total clarity, but looking back on them, we do understand.   So the reader of a story, looking back on it after he has finished it, understands the relation of events and the order of actions. (頁219)

Paradoxically, however, a story ceases to be like life on its last page.  Life goes on, but the story does not. (頁220)

We suspect that life as we know it is unjust.  Why do good people suffer, and bad ones prosper?  We do not know, we cannot know, but the fact causes great anxiety in everyone.  In story, this chaotic and unpleasant situation is adjusted, and that is extremely satisfying to us. (頁221)

The tragic hero does learn why, though often, of course, only after the ruin of his life.  We can share his insight without sharing his suffering. (頁221)



How to Read a Book 第14章的Genereal Rules for Reading Imaginative Literature 一節中,有不少說法可堪玩味。



Don’t criticize imaginative writing until you fully appreciate what the author has tried to make you experience. (頁213)


The good reader of a story does not question the world that the author creates—the world that is re-created in himself….That is, we must merely appreciate the fact that a writer sets his story in, say, Paris, and not object that it would have been better to set it in Minneapolis; but we have a right to criticize what he does with his Parisians and with the city itself. ( 頁213)


Before you express your likes and dislikes, you must first be sure that you have made an honest effort to appreciate the work.(同上)


By appreciation, we mean having the experience that the author tried to produce for you by working on your emotions and imagination.  Thus, you cannot appreciate a novel by reading it passively ( indeed, as we have remarked, you must read it passionately ) any more than you can understand a philosophical book that way. (頁213-4)



One other caution: the foregoing rules apply mainly to novels and plays.  To the extent that lyric poems have some narrative line, they apply to lyric also.  But the rules do not cease to apply to non-narrative lyrics, although the connection is much less close.  A lyric is the representation of a concrete experience , just like a long story , and it attempts to re-create that experience in the reader.  There is a beginning, middle, and end of even the shortest lyric, just as there is a temporal sequence in any experience, no matter how brief and fleeting. And though the cast of characters may be very small inf a short lyric, there is always at least one character—namely, the speaker of the poem.(頁212-3)


如何看待書中的「事實」,出現在傳遞知識的書中,跟在想像文學中,大有分別。在How to Read A Book 中,就毫不含糊地說﹕

Don’t criticize fiction by the standards of truth and consistency that properly apply to communication of knowledge. (頁207)


When we read a novel we want a story that must be true only in the sense that it could have happened in the world of characters and events that the novelist has created, and re-created in us. (頁208)



愈看,愈覺得How to Read a Book 吸引。以為什麼都說盡了,卻原來「柳暗花明又一」。寫至第三部分,才進入「實戰」部分,教人如何閱讀各種類型的書時,先說「實用型」的書,更毫不「避嫌」以自己作例子,「本書就是實用書」。然後才教人如何閱讀想像類的書。How to read imaginative literature。



The problem of knowing how to read imaginative literature is inherently much more difficult than the problem of knowing how to read expository books.  Nevertheless, it seems to be a fact that such skill is more widely possessed than the art of reading science and philosophy, politics, economics, and history.  How can this be true? (頁203)


It maybe, of course, that people deceive themselves about their ability to read novels intelligently. (頁204)


This might indicate that people can be good readers of fiction without being good critics. (頁204)


A critical reading of anything depends upon the fullness of one’s apprehension.  Those who cannot say what they like about a novel probably have not read it below its most obvious surfaces. (頁204)


However, there is more to the paradox than that.  Imaginative literature primarily pleases than teaches.  It is much easier to be pleased than taught, but much harder to know why one is pleased.  Beauty is harder to analyze than truth.(頁204)

儘管我不盡同意以上所有說的,可能作者說的Imaginative literature,主要以「流行」作品為例,因為如海明威的《老人與海》,以及曹雪芹的《紅樓夢》等imaginative literature,就不是或不單是pleases than teaches。但無疑有些東西還是我忽略了的。




How to Read a Book 已進入第三部分,也即「實戰部分」,逐一介紹各類型書籍的閱讀方法。

最先介紹的是「實用書」Practical Books。這章書的篇幅不再那麼長,因為法則在前兩部分已一一講述,到這裡就是如何應用這些規則的時候了。作者可謂幽默。實用書嘛,當然要「用」得著啦,否則紙上談兵,不去實行實踐,最終也只是空談,得個「吉」。最顯淺的道理,如教了你如何掙錢謀生的方法,作者不可能由書中走出來幫你掙錢,還得靠你自己親自實行才能解決問題。


說作者幽默,是作者不忘以自己寫的這本書來作例子,以說明什麼是實用書。包括烹飪書、駕駛指南之類,跟本書一樣同屬兩大類大類中的一類,基本上在說明規則,無論談論什麼問題,都是為了規則而來。「這類書很少有偉大的作品。」(There are few great books of this sort. ) 這樣說,算是幽默吧,倒又有點蒼涼。

再看另一類,主要在闡述形成規則的原理。「許多偉大的經濟、政治、道德巨著就屬於這一類。」(Most of the great books in economics, politics, and morals are of this sort. )(頁194)大概很易聯想到馬克思的《資本論》。


無論如何,最重要還是臨門一腳,否則方法有多好,理論有多完備,不去實踐出來,也是沒用。所以歸根到柢,要評斷一本實用的書時,一切都得與結果和目標有關。If you do not share Karl Marx’s fervor about economic justice, his economic doctrine and the reforms it suggests are likely to seem to you practically false or irrelevant. (頁196 )因此,既然為實用而看一本書,

Your main judgment will always be in terms of the ends, not the means.  We have no practical interest in even the soundest means to reach ends we disapprove of or do not care about. ( 頁197)


這章書說的都不是什麼大道理,不是巨著嘛,卻有很多提點,忽略了就是忽略了,不單讀書、做人,還是做事,有用的提醒或方式,及早知道總是好的。正如書中說到的一句話,「一針及時,可省九針。」(A stitch in time save nine .)(頁195)


How to Read a Book在講述如何藉著相關的經驗來了解一本艱深的書時,提到我們一般認識的兩種經驗,一是普通經驗,一是特殊經驗。


那麼,什麼是普通經驗呢?餓和飽的感覺,當然是,也不用多作解釋就明白了。做兒女的經驗是嗎?但有些出生即成為沒有親生父母的孤兒,就不可能有這種經驗啊。這也算「普通」經驗(common experience)嗎?作者說,算。縱然這不一是普世(universal)的經驗。連做愛,雖然也不是人人都有過這種經驗,甚至也如一些要做實驗才有的「特殊」經驗一樣,也會在實驗室做做愛的實驗,但做愛仍是普通經驗。這樣解釋,算是難嗎?不多轉述了,看原文吧。(頁170)