How to Read a Book
HOW TO READ A BOOK Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren One reader is better than another in proportion as he is capable of a greater range of activity in reading and exerts more effort. He is better if he demands more of himself and of the text before him. If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened.
Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it. First level of Reading: Elementary Reading Second level of Reading: Inspectional Reading Give us an overall idea of what the book is about. We should know whether the book contains matter what you still want to dig out, or whether it deserves no more of our time and attention. The rule to tackle a difficult book: In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without even stopping to look up for ponder the things you do not understand right away.
We will have a much better chance of understanding it on a second reading, but that requires you to have read the book through at least one. A good speed in reading should enable you to vary your rate of reading in accordance with the nature and complexity of the material. There is no single right speed at which you should read; the ability to read at various speeds and to know when each speed is appropriate is the ideal. How to be A Demanding Reader:
The Essence of Active Reading: The Four Basic Questions a reader asks Ask questions while you read-questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading. 1. What is the book about as a whole? You must try to discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme in an orderly way by subdividing it into its essential subordinate themes or topics. 2. What is being said in detail, and how? You must try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author’s particular message. . Is the book true, in whole or part? You cannot answer this question until you have answered the first two. You have to know what is being said before you can decide whether it is true or not. When you understand a book, however, you are obligated, if you are reading seriously, to make up your own mind. Knowing the author’s mind is not enough. 4. What of it? If the book has given you information, you must ask about its significance. Why does the author think it is important to know these things? Is it important to you to know them?
And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you, it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows, what is further implied or suggested. How to Make a Book Your Own: Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it keeps you awake-not merely conscious, but wide awake. Second, reading, if it is active, is thinking, and thinking tends to express itself in words, spoken or written. Third, writing your reactions down helps you to remember the thoughts of the author.
Reading a book should be a conversation between you and the author. Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author. Suggestions of marking a book: 1. Underlining – of major points, of important or forceful statements. 2. Vertical lines at the margin – to emphasize a statement already underlined or to point to a passage too long to be underlined. 3. Star, asterisk, or other doodad at the margin – to emphasize the ten or dozen most important statements or passages in the book. 4.
Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page – to record questions and perhaps answers which a passage raises in your mind, to reduce a complicated discussion to a simple statement. The endpapers at the back of the book can be used to make a personal index of the author’s points in the order of their appearance. 5. After finishing the book and making your personal index on the back endpapers, turn to the front and try to outline the book, not page by page or point by point (you have already done that at the back), but as an integrated structure.
That outline will be the measure of your understanding of the work. It will express your intellectual ownership of the book. Third level of Reading: Analytical Reading Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading. The analytical reader must ask many, and organize, these questions. Fourth level of Reading: Syntopical Reading It is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. When reading syntopically, the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve.