Monday, March 9, 2015

How to Read a Book, Part 3

How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren.

Chapter five, "How to be a Demanding Reader," is the last chapter of part one. It is meant to prepare the reader for the meat of the book, how to read a book analytically. The title of the chapter refers to active reading. How to stay awake while reading. Adler thinks the reader can stay awake by asking the text questions. He list four questions that every reader need to answer while reading a book.

1. What is the Book about as a Whole?

What is the main point of the book. What is the one point the author is trying to get across. This could be the thesis of the book or the one question it is seeking to answer. This could be found in the preface, introduction, and conclusion of the book.

2. What is Being Said in Detail, and How?

How is the book structured. The table of contents can help the reader here. What are the main ideas and arguments of the book.

3. Is the Book True, in Whole or Part?

The first two questions must be answered before answering this question. You must understand what the book is saying before you can judge whether it is true or not. You must make up your own mind about the book. It is not enough to know what the author thinks.

4. What of it?

What are the implications of the book. Is what the author saying significant or not? Does it matter?

The rest of the book discusses these four questions in more detail.

The second part of chapter five shows "how to make the book your own." This is done mainly through marking up the book. Marking the book and asking the book questions will help you to be an active reader. Marking up the book will help you to have a conversation with the author. Adler notes, "Marking a book is literally an expression of your differences or your agreements with the author" (49). You are paying the author the highest compliment you can pay him.

There are many ways to mark up a book. Adler just gives some he likes, but the reader can use them or select other ones he might like. Here are some of Adler's recommendations:

1. Underlining--of major points; of important or forceful statements.

I have a tendency to underline too much. How do you know what are the important points of the book before you have read it through? Maybe, the pre-reading will help here.

2. Vertical Lines at the Margin--to emphasize a statement already underlined or to point to a passage too long to be underlined.

3. Star, Asterisk, or Other Doodad at the Margin--to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or dozen most important statements or passages in the book.

4.Numbers in the Margin--to indicate a sequence of points made by the author in developing an argument.

Arguments are used to support the major claim of the book. A book can be outlined by the arguments it makes.

5.Numbers of Other Pages in the Margin--to indicate where else in the book the author makes the same points, or points relevant to or in contradiction of those marked here.

In some sense, you are making your own index of the point. You can use "CF" or some other symbol.

Circling of Key Words and Phrases. This is similar to underlining.

Writing in the Margin, or at the Top or Bottom of the Page--to record questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raises to your mind; to reduce a complicated  discussion to a simple statement; to record the sequence of the major points right through the book.

Both front pages and back pages of the book can be used to make additional notes. You can create your own outline on the table of contents.

The author lists three kinds of note-making. First their are notes about the structure of the book, how it is organized. These are mostly discovered in the inspectional reading. Inspectional reading can help you with the first two questions, but not the last two. The type of notes you take reading analytically is more about the concepts of the book. A third type of note-taking occurs when reading syntopically. You are taking notes on the conversation that is occurring between multiple books.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

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