Learning how to read books intelligently is an important skill to acquire. Learning how to read a book is not something that a professional thinks about. We learn how to read a book when we’re children. But the way you learn to read as a child, is no longer suitable, when you get older. Yet, you are never taught how to read intelligently. You are not given a reading guide.How to Read a Book
Over 12 years ago, I discovered How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. It took me a few attempts to read the book. But I am sure glad I stuck to it, because it has helped me so much in the work I do.
It’s more of a reference book, but it makes sense to read it through once, then reread specific sections. This is important because reading is such a big part of life. Or it should be! Because the workplace is so dynamic, professionals have to learn continuously, if they expect to succeed. And reading is one of the best ways to develop professionally.
Below, you’ll find some of my notes from How to Read a Book!
Initial Thoughts: Learning How to Read Books: What’s the Best Way to Read a Book?
As a professional, you are constantly asking the following questions:
- How do I read more books? (Please read the post, Read More Books Now)
- How do I read faster? (Please read the post, Best Speed Reading Method? BrainRead by Göran Askeljung)
- How do I get the most from the books I read? ( Please read the post, Spotting Patterns: Getting the Most from Reading Books)
- What’s the best way to read a book?
- How do I choose which books to read? (Please read the post, One Year Extreme Reading Challenge: How to Get the Most from It)
But in my opinion, learning how to read books intelligently, and what’s the best way to read a book is the first step to building a strong foundation for getting the most out of the books to read. After you have mastered that skill, then you can focus on addressing the other question.
UPDATE: This was first published in July 2010.
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren define the art of reading as :
“The process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations. The mind passes from understanding less to understanding more. The skilled operations that cause this to happen are the various acts that constitute the art of reading.”
The stated primary goal of How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading is to “know how to make books teach us well” if we are open to continuous learning and discovering.
Why do you read a book? Do you read for entertainment, for information, for knowledge? How often do you read a book? What kinds of books do you read? Do you read books that stretch and grow your mind?
According to Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren in their book, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, there are three reasons for reading a book. Before you read a book, decide which of three reasons why you are reading the book for. Making this kind of distinction determines how you would read the book.
- Deeper understanding
Few Points on Learning How to Read Books
Years ago while studying the program “Lead the Field,” Earl Nightingale stressed the importance of learning and growing. He suggested that we read a book a week and learn a word a day. Do you think that’s good advice, and relevant today?
I mastered reading a book a week, and now I try to read two to three books a week since I write book reviews and summaries for the Invisible Mentor Blog. I also created the Read the World Extreme Reading Challenge and I am also participating in it. I subscribe to two vocabulary builder websites that email me a word every morning. And I also purchased a vocabulary builder system.
How easy is it for you to expand your vocabulary by a word a day? Having an extensive vocabulary, and reading more books are all a part of learning how to read books intelligently.
The book Superlearning 2000 (Review), suggests that the best way to learn words is to hear them on a tape, while playing 60 beats per minute baroque music in the background. Even though I wasn’t exposed to a lot of classical music while growing up, like most things, the more you are exposed to them, the more comfortable you become with them. I now play baroque music while I do my work, and I have noticed that it has a calming effect, while heightening my alertness. What about you, what type of music heightens your awareness?
The interesting thing is that you’ll notice the difference in your writing when words pop into your head and you suddenly realize that your efforts to expand your vocabulary are not in vain.
Learning How to Read Books: What is How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler About?
If you do not read many books, and are wondering how you can read a book a week as suggested by Earl Nightingale, perhaps, the best place to start is by reading How to Read a Book. And, say for instance, at work you are working on a project, which requires you to amass large amounts of data on a specific topic, how do you read through all that information? You would read syntopically to be more effective. You’ll also learn how to read different book genres. All this and more is covered in How to Read a Book.
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren was originally written in 1940 and updated in 1972. It’s packed with lots of useful information, and it isn’t the type of book you read once. It functions best as a reference book, and you would find it beneficial to discuss the contents with a group of people to fully grasp and make use of the wealth of knowledge that it contains.
What’s the Best Way to Read a Book? Four Levels of Reading
The authors describe four levels of reading – Elementary Reading, Inspectional Reading, Analytical Reading and Syntopical Reading.
Elementary Reading: This is the level of reading that you learn in elementary school.
Inspectional Reading: There are two types of inspectional reading. Systematic skimming or pre-reading and superficial reading. With inspectional reading, the emphasis is on time – getting the most out of a book within a short time frame (this is ideal for students who have to complete assignments in a specified period of time). Or for professionals who have to complete a project by a certain date.
Analytical Reading: Analytical Reading deals with classifying the book, coming to terms with it, determining the book’s message, and criticizing the book and the author. Analytical reading is a very active type of reading.
Syntopical Reading: Syntopical reading or comparative reading, the most complex form of reading, is the reading of multiple books on the same subject and placing them in relation to each other. This type of reading is ideal when you are trying to master a topic. It’s been said that to become an expert requires reading five good books on the topic. Reading the five books syntopically, would enable you to read them faster.
What’s the Best Way to Read a Book? Actively Reading a Book
If you actively read a book, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- What is the book about?
- What is being said in detail, and how?
- Is the book true, in whole or in part?
- What of it?
If you are able to answer these questions, you truly understand what the author is trying to say. I would also like to add, and after you have read a book, if you are able to extract the five big ideas, you understand the material.
Final Thoughts: Learning How to Read Books: What’s the Best Way to Read a Book?
Adler and Van Doren suggest that if you are reading to become a better reader, or in other words reading for understanding and enlightenment, you cannot read just any article or book. You must read material that stretches and grows your mind.
I recommend How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, but be prepared to read it at least twice to get the most out of it. This extra effort will save you lots of time later when you are using the information to read other books.
Learning How to Read Books: Best Books To Learn How to Get the Most from Reading
Books I Mentioned in This Post
How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren
Superlearning 2000, Sheila Ostrander & Lynn Schroeder with Nancy Ostrander