Re: Useful suggestions, distilled from “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Below are reading guidelines culled from the classic “How to Read a Book by” Mortimer Adler.  This book was recommended to us by Phil Terry when we began our journey with Herodotus.  Since I commute four hours a day, it has been convenient for me to read hardcover Herodotus while seated on Metro North and soft cover Adler while hanging on the Lexington Avenue subway.  What I share with you below is highly reductive.  I truly encourage all of you to wade into the Adler, using the very guidelines he suggests.  (disclosure note:  This was proofed only by me and I am very bad at proofing my stuff, so all typographical errors are my responsibility.)

Chapter 4 – Inspectional Reading I:  Systematic Skimming/Pre-Reading
1.    Look at the title page and the preface if the book has one.  Read quickly.
2.    Study the table of contents.
3.    If the book has a dust jacket, read the publisher’s blurb.
4.    Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to the book’s argument.
5.    Turn the pages, dipping in here and there, never more than two pages at a time.  I find it useful to read the first and last paragraph of each chapter, or the sections of each chapter, and review the exhibits, photographs, charts, and in our case maps.

Chapter 4 – Inspectional Reading II:  Read through the work quickly, skimming
1.    “In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things that you do not understand right away. ” (1)
2.    “ . . .do not try to understand every work or page of a difficult book the first time through.  This is the most important rule of all; it is the essence of inspectional reading.  Do not be afraid to be, or seem to be superficial.  Race through even the hardest book.  You will then be prepared to read it well the second time.” (2)

Chapter 5 – How to be a Demanding Reader
Answer the following questions for yourself.
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 part?”
4.    “What of it?”  What is the significance?

Chapter 5 – Notetaking:  How to Make a Book Your Own – Marking

1) In the case of “The Landmark Herodotus, I do this chapter by chapter. 
2) I have found this hard to do with the Herodotus, as I invariably get happily distracted throughout my attempt to skim each chapter first.  Also, I am concerned about getting all the reading done for our calls.  I think the point is to adapt Adler’s guidelines to the book at hand and one’s circumstances at the time.

30. April 2008 by Arrian
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