How to Read a Book (book review) Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren

The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading


150715: this is a later addition: in answer to the title question 'how to...' I must offer my considered reply, that might be buried, might be forgotten, might be so obvious no one ever states it. how? with joy, with pleasure, with desire, in whatever language, in translations, in genres, in history. to add to this, in personal claim: from a comfortable, shaded, breezy lanai of the condo facing the beach, listening to the surf, the wild chickens, the laughter of children in the pool...


first review: i read a lot of books. many are not the sort many people read, but nonetheless i believe i read in a widely- if not 'well'- read way. this is of its time 1940, updated 1972. so the five rating is perhaps deceptive. i do not always agree with some of the suggestions, the judgements, even the final implied value of 'how to read'- where this is 'what to read'. i believe it is more important that you read than what you read. i would not presume to tell readers it is best to read 'above their heads', that reading should be done well, even done at all, but this book works with such assertions given to those of us who, well, like to read, value reading, are open to anything that helps this project...


the five stars is sincere, on the other, as so many intro philosophy texts i have read, in that it encourages me to read on, read more, read other books. by way of describing this book, as it suggests, it is useful to simply refer to the organized and complete contents pages:


part one: dimensions of reading. 1) activity and art of reading 2) levels of reading 3) elementary reading 4) inspectional reading 5) how to be a demanding reader.


part two: third level, analytic reading 6) pigeonholing a book 7) x-raying a book 8) coming to terms with an author 9) determining author's message 10) criticizing a book fairly 11) agreeing or disagreeing with an author 12) aids to reading.


part three: approaches to different kinds of reading 13) how to read practical books 14) imaginative literature 15) suggestions for stories, plays, poems 16) history 17) science and math 18) philosophy 19) social science.


part four: ultimate goals of reading 20) syntopical reading 21) reading and growth of your mind.


for me, i recognize that as the levels progress they blend together and no longer follow each other, that i have part one primarily as unconscious, usually very good, skills. it is good to have them enumerated, examined, so that i might learn consciously. of part two, this is clearest that reading is an active, serious, pragmatic operation, and is familiar awareness, here unstated that it is fruitful to 'stretch your mind'. by part three, it is by order assumed we the readers should learn first the skills of reading nonfiction, that only then can we approach fiction. i have only just read this work, here i am trying to set it in my mind. it is a friendly, helpful, book that offers the reader an awareness if not simply practical advice on how to read. this practical advice is not ignored, but will show up later...


i must admit then i am an inconsistent, perhaps mistaken reader. i do not x-ray books, or read blurbs, commentaries, introductions, i hate coming across readers' notations, underlining, highlighting... so never do this myself, i often have the habit of reading nonfiction such as philosophy as if fiction, i do not like to know too much of the author, i often ignore even pointed declarations of commentators and simply go with what is written, i enjoy poetical tendencies in non-poetic work, such as jargon in nonfiction... on the other: yes i often ''syntopically' read many works by the same author, yes i often think too much power is granted to the writer in fiction and we readers should take it back, yes i read several authors on the same arts, read multiple works by this or that philosopher (henri bergson, husserl, heidegger, sartre, merleau-ponty, ) or writer (ross macdonald, robbe-grillet, saramago), i read only ever for fun- but my idea of 'fun' is four hundred pages on 'how to read'...


this is not the first book i have read on this subject, simply one of the best to start, then you can go on to, say:[book:Literary Theory: An Introduction|16939], or: [book:Literary Feminisms|549369], or: [book:Critical Theory and Science Fiction|393978] or: [book:Postmodern Literary Theory : An Introduction|36327891] or: [book:The Literature of Hope in the Middle Ages and Today: Connections in Medieval Romance, Modern Fantasy, and Science Fiction|8462374] or you can go afield: [book:Russian Pulp: The Detektiv and the Russian Way of Crime|3948821] or more technically: [book:Chinese Theories of Fiction: A Non-Western Narrative System|5315572]


i enjoyed all of these books, though they are more on poetics, more 'this is what you are reading'...

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