This article on how to read serious books is based on a book that I have mentioned earlier in my blog: How to read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. Link to my earlier article is below;
The essence of the book is that you need to be a demanding and active reader. It applies to reading for understanding. If you are merely reading for entertainment then you need not do everything the book tells you.
To be a demanding reader you need to ask questions as you read – questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading.
The questions to be asked are:
- WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT AS A WHOLE – What is the main theme of the book and how does the author develop the theme by stating his arguments or reasoning through the various chapters
- WHAT IS BEING SAID IN DETAIL AND HOW – the main ideas, assertions and arguments that the writers is relying on to prove his point(s).
On your first reading of a serious book it is enough if you just stick to the above questions. This will enable you to understand whether you are interested in giving the book a thorough reading. You may decide to put the book away and pick another.
On this first superficial reading you will have already learnt a great deal. Adler’s book gives specific tips on how you can go about knowing the answer to the above questions in the minimum possible time. For example, you can do a first superficial reading (the author calls it Inspectional reading) of a 400 page book in a couple of hours or a day or two.
If you decide that you want to master your book and want to read it thoroughly then you may proceed to your second reading (Adler calls this Analytical reading). This involves your asking two more questions as you read the book a second time:
- IS THE BOOK TRUE IN WHOLE OR PART – This requires you to know the answers to the two questions above and then you will have understood the author’s mind. Following that you need to ask if you agree with the message. You may need to critically analyse the reasoning as you do your reading.
- WHAT OF IT – what are the implications of what the author has said. How will it affect your life and the way society and mankind functions.
If you are a student, scholar or just a person who likes reading serious books as a hobby then I highly recommend that you read Mortimer Adler. This book was published in 1940 and is still in print. That must be because it has a track record of helping people. That is why people still want to read it. Link is below (not an affiliate link):
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