Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Stirling W. Sill on Improving Reading Skills©

Introduction: Sterling W. Sill has been one of the more influential people in my religious and intellectual life. I have read most of his books and greatly benefited from all of them. A hallmark of his writings was his emphasis on practicality–especially the practicality of applying gospel principles in one’s life.The proper application of gospel principles is one definition of wisdom. From this perspective Elder Sill was a man of considerable wisdom.  

One thing he exemplified in his personal life and about which he often commented was the importance of reading. Below are seven suggestions from Elder Sill about improving our reading skill.  I hope they will benefit you.


It is thought that one of the most important skills we can acquire is to learn to read effectively. The following suggestions may help us to help ourselves.
1.  We should remember that mere reading does not compare in its value with a good reading habit. A good reading habit can place us among the educated and successful ones of our day in a very short time and, at the same time, make the process pleasant as well as profitable.

2.  We should plow deep enough in our reading that ideas uncovered become our permanent property. Sometimes we allow ideas to skate so lightly above the surface of our brains that they do not remain long in our possession. We should develop a reading ability so that we know what the author said and meant, what we think about it, and what we are going to do about it.
3.  By reading effectively we can actually learn to get out of a book more than there is in it.  To be able to do this is a valuable skill. In some ways, reading a book is like any other process of invention or discovery. We add to it as we think about it and use it, and we ought to take notes as we read.
4.  We ought to learn to correctly pronounce the words we read and use. We ought to know what they mean. We ought to think about applications of those words and how we can use the ideas they present.
5.  Some people are “eye-minded”: sight is the most important entrance to the mind. Other people are “ear-minded.” A soldier gets his orders through his ears and, consequently, the orders increase in importance in his understanding. Some people develop a still greater ability to understand by utilizing the double focus of eyes and ears. They read aloud to themselves so that the impulse comes not only by sight but also by sound.
When we learn to read, we ought to develop the ability to read to ourselves convincingly and entertainingly and with as much harmony and music as possible. We don’t like to listen to a boring, dull, unenthusiastic reader or speaker who makes the most exciting ideas unpleasant. But we can put ourselves to sleep, intellectually, quicker than anyone else can. When we are bored with our own performance, the needle of our brain does not record very much.
6.  In more ways than one, we ought to learn to follow the Ethiopian eunuch in developing a great interest in and sincere love for righteousness. One passage of scripture says that Cain loved Satan more than God. We are in trouble when we love cheap, profane, and vulgar ideas more than we love high-mindedness and intellectual power.
7.  One of the most beautiful reading aids is memorization. We like best those personal friends we have known and loved for a long time. And our love usually increases as we get to know these friends better.
We enjoy singing best the beautiful music that is most familiar to us. We love magnificent pictures that become a part of us. As we learn to love people, so also can we form an affinity for important ideas, memorable experiences, and great biographies in literature. Those ideas that are stamped more permanently into our hearts by memorization are the ideas that can most readily and advantageously change our lives.


Let’s think together again, soon.

Source:  Sterling W. Sill, Great Literature and the Good Life, (Bountiful, UT.: Horizon Publishers & Distributors Inc., 1985), pp. 98-99.


  1. Thanks! I like item number 3. I've always loved making connections to other reading as I read but I haven't considered that leading to getting more out of a book than what's in it. Great!

  2. Getting more out of a book than is in it is an interesting idea--almost self-contradictory. However, if you reflect on your own experience you will recall many times when something an author said stimulates a memory or idea which begins to take you beyond the original. Especially in my field of teaching religion this has many times led to large additions to outlines, often even new outlines. It is a true principle, but it only happens when one reads with a purpose. Casual reading or skimming doesn't produce that kind of result. I once read an article in American Scholar about memorizing. The author argued that a similar phenomenon takes place when we learn something "by heart." Disparate items frequently come together to form a totally knew idea--which we call "insight." I think it is at the "understanding" level of learning. Lowest level: facts and knowledge; second level, understanding; and third, wisdom. I had an experience with understanding on a trip to Israel. We were at the beach near Tel Aviv and the guide told us that the sand was the gift of the Nile. I did not understand the knowledge he was giving us. Later at home I read a book on the geography of the Bible lands and in referring to the Mediterranean Sea, and inland sea, its currents were counter-clockwise. That bit, connected with the guides statement made sense. The currents carry the sand sediment at the estuary of the Nile and deposit them on the shores of Israel. Ah Ha! Understanding. More than was in either the book or the guides observations.

  3. I find great fulfillment in reading with purpose versus reading to merely get through a book. I appreciate your thoughts on knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. I feel we can assess when we understand something and understanding can increase. Is it possible to self-assess our own wisdom?

    Second, I've often heard that wisdom is the application of knowledge. I'm now thinking that wisdom is the application of understanding. What do you think? Abinidai condemned the priests of Noah for not applying their "hearts to understanding" therefore, he stated they had "not been wise."

    1. I haven't thought through thoroughly the second question you ask about application of understanding, so what follows are just random musings. Knowing facts is the lowest form of knowledge. Understanding is a much higher and more meaningful form of knowledge, so it seems to me that your analysis has considerable merit.

      As far as assessing one's own wisdom, I think we can sense when we are growing in wisdom. It is also a gift. There are two teaching gifts listed in Moroni 10--to teach knowledge and to teach wisdom. I have always felt deficient in the latter, so for much of my career I sought wisdom as I studied the scriptures and the conference talks. The more I did, the more I began to feel that my personal wisdom was growing. As I more clearly understood the commandments and principles the better I could conform my personal conduct to them. But I also feel something in my mind that suggests I'm thinking in wisdom's ways more and more than I used to. Incidentally, wisdom isn't totally dependent on age. Elder Bednar is an extremely wise man, as was Elder Evans when he was young. We saw a number of missionaries in the CRM who seemed to possess unusual wisdom for their age, and It wasn't always, or maybe never, associated with the highest intellects of the mission. We had some very bright missionries who struggled with application.

      For what its worth.....

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  5. Elder Bednar speaks of reading the scriptures correctly in line with this post and makes mention of understanding:

  6. PS: I also think it is true that there can be a "particular" wisdom which is different from "general" wisdom. That is, one may be wise in a particular area of life, but not in all areas. Elders Bednar and Evans seem to have a more general wisdom. I had a stake president once who had the gift of church administration. When presented with administrative problems he could see through to the core issue almost instantly, and then go from there. I considered him extremely wise in church administration. He had others areas as well, but that one stood out to me as unique and very obvious.

  7. Thank you for reminding me to frame wisdom as a gift and pointing out examples of Wisdom in certain areas that can be with or without application.

    As it is a gift, when wisdom is employed perhaps we can discern it in ourselves through the fruits of the spirit: peace, joy, love, humility, etc. at other times maybe not.

    I'm thankful for the wisdom of many people in my life that I get to observe and hopefully become better through. Our gifts never seem to be for ourselves but rather to be a benefit to others as D&C 46 points out. Thanks for all the thinking on this!

  8. By the way, the above dialogue is on my mind again. I'm reading Elder Bednar's book INCREASE IN LEARNING. He outlines the same discussion but he refers to intelligence rather than wisdom. He adds that intelligence (synonymous with wisdom in my mind) is acting in righteousness because of what we know and understand. He mentions that knowledge is the head, understanding is the heart, and intelligence is what we become as we act in truth. I'm half way through the book. More to come. Just thought I'd continue the convo.

  9. Thanks for this. Sorry I was so late in seeing it. I thought I checked for new comments more recently, but alas I fear my age is getting the better of me now and then. Anyway, thanks for pointing out Elder Bednar's thoughts. I've read that, but forgot about it in relationship to this. My age again ....