I was browsing free Kindle books on logic when I came across this little treasure. It was a balm for my soul today.
In this short book, Carroll likens reading to eating and the life of the mind to the life of the body. And so, he gives practical advice for how to properly feed the mind.
His three basic rules are that our mental intake should include the right kind, amount, and variety of reading to support a well-nourished mind.
From there we must (1) be careful to provide the right amount of time between meals (giving the mind an opportunity to rest) and (2) make sure that we properly chew and digest our food (he calls it ‘mastication’ and sums it up with Cranmer’s famous words that we are to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest‘).
Here are a few of my favorite quotes with a brief introduction to each:
1. You know what foods don’t sit well with your body; shouldn’t you know what kinds of books don’t sit well with your mind?
First, then, we should set ourselves to provide for our mind its proper kind of food. We very soon learn what will, and what will not, agree with the body, and find little difficulty in refusing a piece of the tempting pudding or pie which is associated in our memory with that terrible attack of indigestion, and whose very name irresistibly recalls rhubarb and magnesia; but it takes a great many lessons to convince us how indigestible some of our favourite lines of reading are, and again and again we make a meal of the unwholesome novel, sure to be followed by its usual train of low spirits, unwillingness to work, weariness of existence—in fact, by mental nightmare.
2. Don’t be a mental glutton. Over-reading is probably not a danger for most people today, but I myself went through a period in my life where I experienced it and needed a break.
Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount. Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite…
3. Take short breaks
Having settled the proper kind, amount, and variety of our mental food, it remains that we should be careful to allow proper intervals between meal and meal, and not swallow the food hastily without mastication, so that it may be thoroughly digested; both which rules, for the body, are also applicable at once to the mind. First, as to the intervals: these are as really necessary as they are for the body, with this difference only, that while the body requires three or four hours’ rest before it is ready for another meal, the mind will in many cases do with three or four minutes. I believe that the interval required is much shorter than is generally supposed, and from personal experience, I would recommend anyone, who has to devote several hours together to one subject of thought, to try the effect of such a break, say once an hour, leaving off for five minutes only each time, but taking care to throw the mind absolutely ‘out of gear’ for those five minutes, and to turn it entirely to other subjects. It is astonishing what an amount of impetus and elasticity the mind recovers during those short periods of rest.
4. Chew your food; digest your food. Don’t eat any more until you’ve digested your last meal. This may be the best advice, and the advice I will take most to heart, of this book.
And then, as to the mastication of the food, the mental process answering to this is simply thinking over what we read. This is a very much greater exertion of mind than the mere passive taking in the contents of our Author. So much greater an exertion is it, that, as Coleridge says, the mind often ‘angrily refuses’ to put itself to such trouble—so much greater, that we are far too apt to neglect it altogether, and go on pouring in fresh food on the top of the undigested masses already lying there, till the unfortunate mind is fairly swamped under the flood. But the greater the exertion the more valuable, we may be sure, is the effect. One hour of steady thinking over a subject (a solitary walk is as good an opportunity for the process as any other) is worth two or three of reading only.
All in all it is a book that is as delightful as it is short, serving as a practical guide to get the most out of your reading. You can get the book for free for Kindle HERE, for free on the web HERE, and you can buy a paper copy HERE.