“Th[e] valuable contents [of a work] can only be retrieved… by the patient and careful reader. Such a reader must certainly practice cogitatio, must cogitate on the text, that is, intellectually discern its meaning as best he or she can. But this is not enough, because, to return to a point we emphasized earlier, such reading is purely reconstructive and therefore nonresponsive. The genuine student will move on from cogitatio to meditatio, meditation, which for Hugh [of St. Victor] means ‘incorporating’ the text—if the text is truly worthy, which the serious reader will discern—into the reader’s own experience. Randall Jarrell, we may recall, says that the book we read at Whim says to us, ‘You must change your life’: David Copperfield likewise was reading not just for entertainment but ‘for life’ itself. He was being changed, enriched and strengthened and consoled, by what he read.
Let me risk one more Latin word here: for Hugh this meditation, especially on sacred texts, could best be achieved by ruminatio, a word which may call to mind something rather more highfalutin’ than Hugh intended. For us to ‘ruminate’ is to engage in a pretty dignified, or dignified-sounding, act, but Hugh was thinking of cows and goats and sheep, ruminant animals, those who chew the cud. A ruminant beast has multiple stomachs, the first of which, the rumen, can be used for temporary storage: the animal chews some food and swallows it, sending it to the rumen, but then regurgitates the partially digested lump and chews on it some more. Only after rumination does the food get passed to the next stomach, from which there is no return. Hugh believes this is the perfect model of attentive reading: to read the text, to pass it along to the depths of the mind—but then to call it back for further thought. (Hugh’s model of reading is notably and consistently physical: he wants to train our bodies to be our assistants in reading, surely because he knows what John Self [from Martin Amis’ novel Money] learned, that bodies have a natural propensity to interfere with still and quiet attentiveness. To ‘incorporate’ is literally to take into the body.) If you have ever read a passage and only later realized that you may not have understood it, and have therefore returned to reread it, you are a ruminant reader.”
— Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction