Monday, August 9, 2010

How to Read a Book

     Well, the weekend is now coming to a close and I was thinking about all the books I have on my reading list. So many different topics and subjects, so little time!

     As I was considering where to attack the list of things to read I was reminded of a classic book on that very subject. How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler is recommended by many and for good cause. You can find it as a Google book here.

     If you are not familiar with this book, hopefully you are at least familiar with the techniques of reading a book. I realize most people find it rather insulting for someone to recommend they read a book about how to read books. When the fury of the supposed insult passes consider the weight of such a recommendation. Perhaps there is some secret technique you are missing. Something that will unlock the literary world and allow you to gain untold knowledge. Hardly!

     What it really comes down to is shear hard work and toil. Like the time you thought you could make thousands by "working from home" but after the initial purchase of the "work at home" kit you learned you had to hunt down recently deceased people and ask them if they wanted the money they left in their bank account. Except this task will actually lead to some reward.

     Mr. Adler does lay down a some very definitive and persuasive thoughts about how to read a book. Even though you think you already know how to read a book, it is worth a look. He starts by stating the importance of active reading. That is, being actively engaged with the reading material. This may be common sense, but think back to all the times you starting thinking about something else while reading and had to go back a few pages and pick up where you started day dreaming. Part of actively reading is asking questions about the book and the material. Simple things like:
- What is this book about as a whole?
- What is being said in detail, and how?
- Is the book true, in whole or in part?
- What of it? What does it mean to me?
These different questions allow you to "interact" with the author.  Mr. Adler cogently relays how one should be stretched by his reading. How one can view reading as a distinct science in itself. How to improve your skill as a reader and expand your mind.

     To often we allow ourselves to get bogged down with reading lists and tasks. We don't take the time required to properly read the material and absorb it. We should step back and see reading as an exercise all its own. We should challenge ourselves to become better at reading. Not just to settle for how we already do it. I think many of us do not continue to expand ourselves throughout time. We give only what is required. We rarely choose to expand our minds when not forced to do so either because of our college degree or our jobs. Take that step and read a book you never would just to learn something new. Yes, for some that might mean reading a nonfiction book. Scary isn't it? What is scary is knowing there are people out there who only read fiction.

     The advise and information that Adler gives about how to inspect a book for reading and how to prepare to read it is valuable stuff. Hopefully you already use some of these ideas when beginning to read a book. He recommends that you inspect the cover front and back. Read the information there. Spend time to familiarize yourself with the different sections contained in this particular work. Such as the table of contents, appendices, index etc. Learn what you can about the author to try to understand his viewpoint better.

     He then communicates the levels of reading. This is the main thrust of the book. The different levels and what each one is. How to determine where you are and how to improve. Which level most people are and why. He lays out the levels as follows:
-Elementary reading, one acquires initial reading skills, learns the rudiments of the art of reading
-Inspectional reading, getting the most out of a book in a given time
-Analytical reading, the best and most complete reading possible given unlimited time
-Syntopical reading, reading many books and placing them in comparison with one another

     He spends many chapters telling you how to approach different books on various subjects - works of mathematics, philosophy, stories, social science and more. Mr. Adler even provides a couple of appendices which give you a recommended reading list, and exercises and tests of the four levels of reading.

     I find that Mortimer Adel does a fantastic job of explaining in detail this rather mundane subject. He will cause you to expand what you thought you already knew. He will challenge you to take a deeper look at what you read - to wrestle with a book and allow it to expand you. I think everyone should be acquainted with these ideas. Reading is so foundational that this book becomes essential. I don't know how you currently read books, but this instruction manual will help you get the most out of them. I admit when I read it and considered some of the suggestions he makes I wondered how many people actually don't already read this way. The information seemed a little redundant. However, it appears that many people actually do not know how to get the most from a book. This book will get you on track and give you much additional information about reading. So, whether you do know how to read a book or not, you should read this one. That's right, one more book to add to the reading list. This might go against the message of the entire post, but you might be able to just watch the movie instead :-P

I thought you might like a little motivation! If LeVar Burton recommends reading as well, you can't go wrong.

1 comment:

  1. Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann