Author: Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren.
This was one of the first books that I read after putting together my reading list. I figured that if I am going to spend the next year reading a bunch of books that I should figure out how to get the most out of them.
What is Active Reading?
This is what the authors describe as participating in reading and getting more out of it. If you are actively reading then you will be engaged with the book, you will catch more allowing you to understand the complexities in the book that you are reading.
The Art of Reading: The process whereby a mind passes from understanding less to understanding more with no outside help. They discuss two different ways or reasons for reading. The first is Reading for Information, this increases our store of information. An example of this type of reading would be the news. The second type of reading is reading for understanding; which becomes a communication between reader and writer. In this type of reading the writer knows more about the subject than the reader.
The Four Levels of Learning
Level One: Elementary Reading.
This is the simplest way to read a book. According to the authors this is how most people read today.
Level Two: Inspectional Reading.
The aim here is to get the most out of the book in a short amount of time or a given amount of time. This is also referred to as skimming or speed reading. They call it Skimming Systematically, you look at the structure of the book, the parts. Read the index of the book and what you think are the most important chapters of the book. Never read more than two consecutive pages. Make sure to read the last page or couple paragraphs of the book. Authors like to summarize their stance in the final paragraphs of the book.
Level Three: Analytical Reading
This is the best and most complete reading of the book that you are capable of given unlimited time.
Level Four: Syntopical Reading
This is the most complex and systematic type of reading of all. At this level, the reader reads many books about the subject. Then places them in relation to one another and to a subject. In syntopical reading, the reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books.
How to do the Inspectional Reading
- Look at the title page and preface if the book has one. This will give you a good idea of the subject.
- Study the table of contents. This is often overlooked and many authors spend a considerable amount of time creating their table of contents.
- Check the Index. Look at the number of times terms are used. You see terms listed that seem crucial, you can also look up some of the passages cited. These passages might contain the crux of the book. There might be a new departure which is the key to the author’s approach and attitude.
- Read the Publisher’s blurb on the back since many authors write these themselves and sometimes they summarize the main point of the book in these blurbs.
- Look at the Chapters that Seem Pivotal to its Argument. If these chapters have summary statements in their opening or closing pages, read these carefully.
- Read a Bit Here and There. Turn the pages, stopping here and there to read a paragraph or two, up to a couple of pages in sequence but never more. As you thumb through the book, be on the lookout for signs of the argument. Especially, make sure to read the last two to three pages of the book.
If you are reading a book that is difficult for you then you should read it all the way through without stopping to look up words or think about any of the concepts that you do not understand right away.
Adler and Mortimer talk about reading speed, this is something that I have struggled with. If you read any productivity books or blogs almost all of them at some point advise everyone to talk a speed reading course. Their thought process is reduced to a mathematical equation.
Example, if you spend five hours a day reading and you read at 300 words per minute or 90,000 words in five hours. Then logically speaking, if your reading speed is 1,200 words per minute you can get the previous five hours of work finished in just over an hour.
What I never really thought about until I read this book, is that a ‘good reading speed’ is not just faster. Adler and Mortimer discuss reading speed and the quality of books. A reader is wasting time if they read a book slowly that deserves to be read fast.
‘Many books are hardly worth even skimming; some should be read quickly; and a few should be read at a rate, usually quite slow, that allows for complete comprehension.
How to Read a Book
Fixations and Regressions
The primary task of most speed reading courses is to fix the fixations and regressions that slow so many readers. This is something that I have noticed as I have started to read more, I would read an entire paragraph and realize that the entire time I was thinking about something else. This effected me in college, although looking back I had very poor study habits. I would study all week and then when it came time to take a test, I could remember the page with the information all of the photos on the page and then everything that was happening in the room at the time I was studying the page.
Reading Faster & Comprehension
To read faster you place your finger on the text of book and sweep you finger across the line a little faster than is comfortable for your eyes. Then you just keep practicing this increasing the speed. With practice you can double, even triple your reading speed.
In addition to your hand increasing your reading rate, your finger will also help you concentrate on what you are reading. When done right, this will make you an active reader.
Using this technique has definitely helped me. I use to fall asleep when I was reading, which I usually blamed on the book not being interesting. I look back now and see that I was not reading actively and that was the reason. Since, I started marking up the book and practicing active reading I think that I understand more and I have not fallen asleep once.
How to be a Demanding Reader
They talk a lot about being an active reader and the benefits of reading like this. They spend a number of pages discussing the four basic questions that make up the essence of active reading.
1. What is the book about as a whole?
You want to discover the main theme of the book and how the author develops this theme.
2. What is being said in detail, and how?
Try to discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the author’s particular message.
3. Is the book true, in whole or in part?
If you are reading seriously then you need to make up your mind on whether what the author is talking about is true or not.
4. What of it?
You must ask yourself about the significance of the information that you got from this book. Why does the author think it is important to know these things? Is it important? What else follows, what is further implied or suggested?
- Vertical lines in the margin
- Star/Asterisk in the margin
- Numbers in the margin
- Number of other pages in the margin
- Circling keywords or phrases
- Writing in the margin
What is the author’s problem? The author starts a book with a question or set of questions.
Find the most important words in the book and through them, you can come to terms with the author. Next, mark the most important sentences in a book and discover the propositions they contain. From here you can locate or construct the basic arguments in the book by finding them in the connection of the sentences.
Finding Key Sentences
In most books that you read you will understand most sentences with little difficulty. “The sentences important to you are those that require an effort of interpretation because at first sight they are not perfectly intelligible.”
These are the sentences that you are going to want to pay attention to. While they might not be the most important sentences for the author, but to you they might be since you are likely to have the greatest difficulty with the most important things that the author has to say.
Another way to spot the key sentences is that they are probably composed of the important words that you have marked.
You must discover the proposition or propositions that each of the sentences contains or you must know what the sentences mean.
State in Your Own Words
The best test for telling that we know something and have understood the proposition(s) is to state this in your own words. If you cannot get away from the authors words, then it shows that only words have passed to you and thought or knowledge.
Find out what the author’s solutions are
Once you have gotten to this point, you have followed the author along their journey. If you have chosen a book that is above your comprehension then you have come along way. You must complete up to this point before you can begin to argue with the author and complete the second stage of analytical reading.
Second Stage of Analytical Reading
- Come to terms with the author by interpreting their words.
- By dealing with the most important sentences you can grasp the authors prepositions.
- Know the author’s arguments.
- Determine whether the author’s problem has been solved.