Sunday, June 23, 2013

How To Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

This old book allows one to digest the meaning of reading.  Although written with a condescending tone and sets of "rules", the book is helpful in sorting out the different ways one navigates through various types of reading.  Highly opinionated, Adler and Van Doren attempt to explain reading that is rarely done at school.

Elementary reading that is negotiating the words of a sentence to come up with some intelligible idea, action or thought was the only discussion I can remember being taught in my formal education.  For me, the negotiation came so difficult that as a result I did not put in much time to master it.  I would be rather playing ball than figuring out a story line.  When my father would coach me and say "you don't have to read every word. Just read for the ideas", I could never understand conceptually what my father was talking about!  My own advancement in reading came years later after I was married coming out a theater complaining "how come at the movies I have instant understanding yet with a book I don't?"

Through self discovery, I have come to realize that reading is an active search and not a passive repose.  One must actively search for purpose and meaning on the page because each author is communicating an action, thought or idea.  Good writing which is organized with topics and theses makes reading easier than one might think because the author is painting a scene.  If one is actively seeking that scene, one will be successful.

How to Read a Book is a good reminder of how to read analytically; it reminds one to read with the unity of the book in mind and reminds one to ask questions of the author that need to be answered.

I wonder why reading in school rarely is discussed beyond the elementary stages.  When one gets to high school teachers make demands on students that require skill in reading that have not been taught.  I am not sure in my own case that had my teachers taught reading analytically that I would have been successful.  Help for me came from a book on mechanics of reading: Faster Reading Self Taught by Harry Shefter.  Such a book mapped out a page conceptually and I was able to improve by searching for topic sentences and thinking that I was watching a picture.

1 comment:

  1. I was referred to this book by Rabbi David Fohrman, who (respectfully) applies some of its approaches and questions (e.g., "what kind of book is this"?) to the Bible.