The Intellectual Life:
Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods
"To speak is to listen to one's soul and to the truth within it. To speak alone and wordlessly, as one does by writing, is to listen and perceive with a freshness of sensation like that of a man who rises in the early morning and holds his ear to nature." (p 200)
This is a book devoted to the intellectual life as a vocation. It is in great part spiritual, but also practical and in its essence it demonstrates, I believe, the two are not at odds. If at least part of your purpose in reading is to improve yourself this is a book that is for you. The title sounds imposing and the intellectual life is not for everyone, but if you take the time, and this is a short book, to consider the practical recommendations in this classic work you are likely to find aspects of the book that will prove useful in your reading life. Also, do not be deterred by the mystical assumptions and aphorisms for "noble" minds may find the spiritual in themselves and nature. This short book presents chapters on organization of one's work, time, and life. However, the best chapter for me was chapter seven, "Preparation for Work", which focused on reading, memory, and note-taking. His recommendation for reading is to read little, but by that he means thinking about what you read rather than picking up just any book willy-nilly. More importantly he distinguishes between types of reading:
"One reads for one's formation and to become somebody; one reads in view of a particular task; one reads to acquire a habit of work and the love of what is good; one reads for relaxation."
It is up to the individual to decide how to allocate his reading time among these four areas and the author is primarily interested in promoting the first three kinds of reading. This is a good example of the type of practical advice that readers and thinkers may glean from this book. I found it both entertaining and educational and may return to it as my intellectual life progresses. Perhaps the following quotation from the book is the best way to present the purpose and tone that imbues the spirit of the text:
“It is a painful thing to say to oneself: by choosing one road I am turning my back on a thousand others. Everything is interesting; everything might be useful; everything attracts and charms a noble mind; but death is before us; mind and matter make their demands; willy-nilly we must submit and rest content as to things that time and wisdom deny us, with a glance of sympathy which is another act of our homage to the truth.”
The Intellectual Life by A. G. Sertillanges. Catholic University of America Press, 1998 (1934)