A well-read person is not one who reads widely, but one that reads well. A person who reads well is a person that understands a book and elevates themselves to become peers with the author.
The book itself is long-winded but the process seems legit. I’m making it a goal to follow Adler’s book reading process from now on.
There are four levels of reading.
First Level of Reading: Elementary Reading
- At this level of reading, the question asked of the reader is “What does the sentence say?”
Second Level of Reading: Inspectional Reading
- Systematic skimming: Your main aim is to discover whether the book requires a more careful reading.
- Look at the title page, and if the book has one, at its preface.
- Study the Table of Contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure
- If the book has a dust jacket, read the publisher’s blurb
- Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to its argument.
- Turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that.
- Superficial reading
- Read the book through without stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.
How to be a demanding reader
There are four main questions you must ask about any book (or anything worth reading.) These four questions inform the process for the next level of reading.
- What is the book about as a whole?
- What is being said in detail, and how?
- Is the book true, in whole or part?
- What of it?
Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading
- Classify the book according to kind and subject matter.
- State the unity of the whole book in a single sentence, or at most a few sentences
- Set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organised into a whole, by being ordered to one another to the unity of the whole.
- Define the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.
- Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
- Grasp the author’s leading propositions by dealing with his most important sentences
- Know the author’s arguments by finding them in, or constructing them out of, sequences of sentences.
- Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and which he has not; and as to the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed to solve.
- Do not begin criticism until you have completed your outline and your interpretation of the book.
- Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
- Demonstrate that you recognise the difference between knowledge and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgment you make.
- Show wherein the author is uninformed
- Show wherein the author is misinformed
- Show wherein the author is illogical
- Show wherein the author’s analysis or account is incomplete
Fourth Level of Reading: Syntopical Reading
- Find the relevant passages
- In syntopical reading, it is you and your concerns that are primarily to be served, not the books you read
- Your aim is to find the passages in the books that are most germane to your needs.
- Your task is not so much to achieve an overall understanding of the particular book before you as to find out how it can be useful to you in a connection that may be very far from the author’s own purpose on writing it.
- Bring the authors to terms
- It is you who must establish the terms and bring your authors to them, rather than the other way around
- Get the questions clear
- Frame a set of questions that shed light on our problem and to which each of our authors give answers
- Define the issues
- Often, more than two alternative answers are given to a question.
- In that case, the opposing answers must be ordered in relation to one another, and the authors who adopt them classified according to their views
- Analyze the discussion
- The solution to the problem consists of rather in the ordered discussion itself than in any set of propositions or assertions about it. Thus, we have to ask them in a certain order and be able to defend that order; we must show how the questions are answered differently and try to say why; and we must be able to point to the texts in the books examined that support our classification of answers.
- The syntopical reader tries to look at all sides and take no sides.