Monday, September 10, 2007

How to Read a Book

I am in the process of reading How to Read a Book
which was first published in 1940 with a second, updated edition published in 1972. I hope to share snippets of what appears to be an excellent resource for language arts teachers, homeschool parents, and high school students who are preparing for college (although the latter category might flip through the table of contents and read selectively what interests them).

One of the first points that the author, Mortimer Adler, makes is that reading needs to be active. He compares reading to the game of baseball: the reader, like the baseball player, must work at "catching" every type of written communication. A reader will be successful to the extent that he receives what the writer has communicated.

What happens when the reader doesn't "catch" the ball and doesn't understand what he has read? He must go back and work at understanding the passage. Adler believes that this work is vital to the process of growing as an active, analytical learner. He says:

  • "The act of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery; keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection. The reason for this is that reading in this sense is discovery, too- although with help instead of without it" (p. 14).

To show how important this task of discovery is, Adler writes:

  • "If you ask a living teacher a question, he will probably answer you. If you are puzzled by what he says, you can save yourself the trouble of thinking by asking him what he means. If, however, you ask a book a question, you must answer it yourself. In this respect a book is like nature or the world. When you question it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of thinking and analysis yourself" (p. 15).

Adler concludes the first chapter with the goal of this book: "…to know how to make books teach us well." Stick with me and I'll share more tidbits from this well thought through book. Click here to read an overview of How to Read a Book.

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