How To Read (Week 26 Of Wisdom)
Mortimer Adler wrote a book called How to Read a Book, which makes the case for why reading, and gathering information, does not constitute knowledge. He breaks down the different types of reading styles, and the different types of books that exist.
To Adler, a book’s primary purpose is to force you to think. Television and radio are mildly stimulating to your mind, but they do not force you to think. They provide you with pre-packaged opinions that give you the illusion that you are thinking.
You are enlightened, not when you know what the author has said, but when you know what he means when he said it, and why he said it. You need to be informed to be enlightened, but information alone is not enough.
There are two types of ignorance. There are those who cannot read at all. And there are those who can read but are ignorant. There have always been literature ignoramuses throughout history. The Greeks had a name for the mixture of learning and folly, that is, the bookish but poorly read. They were all sophomores.
There are four levels of reading: 1) Elementary Reading 2) Inspectional Reading 3) Analytical Reading and 4) Syntopical Reading.
1) Elementary Reading: The most basic level of reading.
2) Inspectional Reading: contains two types:
a) Systematic Skimming: when you read the table of contents, preface, index, and a few paragraphs in the book, before deciding if it is worth your time.
b) Superficial Reading: You go through the book quickly, without thinking about the arguments or looking anything up. The quick read helps you decide if you want to read it carefully and will help you understand the book better if you do.
3) Analytical Reading: When you read a book properly, you chew and digest it. There are different ways of reading a book. As Francis Bacon remarked, some books should be tasted, others to be swallowed, and a few to be chewed.
There are four basic questions you should ask as a reader.
1) What is the book about as a whole? 2) What is being said in detail and how? 3) Is the book true, in whole or in part? 4) What of it? If the book has given you information, what is its significance?
4) Syntopical Reading: A shortcut to reading many books. You look for the paragraphs that matter to you. Analytic reading involves you studying the entire work of the master, but syntopical reading is about you being the master.
Assuming you want to understand a topic better and have prepared a reading list, you would do the following:
1. Inspect the books already identified as relevant to your subject, to find the most relevant passages.
2. Since you are reading different authors, who may be using different words to describe the same thing, you must establish a standard vocabulary to apply to all.
3. Create the appropriate questions and make sure they are clear.
4. Understand the issues. Know what you should be mindful of in terms of the different perspectives that exist.
5. Your questions will have opposing answers. This is where you engage with the different answers by analyzing them. If you do this well, you will have an informed opinion.
If you are short on time, and you want to read more books, there are hundreds of articles online that can teach you how to read faster. Speed reading has become popular, and not only are there many resources available, but many of them are high quality.
But there is a caveat. While there is nothing wrong with the idea of reading faster, you must understand the trade-off that comes with reading faster. Your comprehension will suffer, and so will your enjoyment. Sometimes, this trade-off is worth it, and at other times, it is not worth it at all.
To know whether the trade-off is worth it, you should answer one question: Why are you reading?
Reading for Pleasure
If you are reading for pleasure, you should take your time when you read, to allow the ideas to sink in, and to never feel too stressed. Further, it does not matter whether you skip some parts, or read every single word slowly. Do what feels comfortable. Go for works of fiction, as they are more entertaining, and they will tap into the unconscious. Most books you read will not improve your reading skills, but a tiny proportion will.
Reading for Knowledge
If you are reading for knowledge, then you should be more mindful of how you read. First, identify whether you are reading for breadth, or reading for depth.
A) Breadth: If you are reading for breadth, then you should learn to skim, or to speed read. This means going through pages as fast as possible and aiming to get nothing more than the gist of what you are reading. This includes the two parts of inspectional reading (systematic skimming and superficial reading).
B) Depth: If you are reading for depth, then you should take your time, examine footnotes and make personal notes. You should engage in either analytical or syntopical reading.
There is no correct way to read because it depends on your goals. But the biggest error that you can commit is to be unclear about what your goals are.
Originally published at https://unearnedwisdom.com.