Friday, April 16, 2010

How to Inspect a Book (and putting the idea into practice)

One of the books I'm going to have my highschooler go through is "How to Read a Book" by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren (so it was nice to find this relatively recent post at The Common Room discussing the book).

Even though Kieron won't read the book till next fall, I do want him to use some of the principles contained ahead of time. In fact, I think it will be easier for him to read the book if he's already lived it a bit. My older kids have all found it difficult to get past the title though it didn't stop them from reading the book and getting worthwhile things out of it : ).

Fortunately, the internet makes it super-easy to preview concepts in books -- in effect, do some of the pre-reading or as Adler says, "inspectional reading" or "systematic skimming" that helps one to get the most from the act of reading.

Here are a few links:

  1. A Google preview of the chapter.
  2. A blog summary of the book. The blogger quotes a fairly substantial section of the chapter on inspectional reading:

Rules for Inspectional Reading I:
  1. Look at the Title Page and, if the book has one, at it’s Preface. Read each quickly to note the subtitles and other indications of the basic scope or aim of the book. This would answer the question: what is the book about?
  2. Study the Table of Contents to obtain a general sense of the book’s structure. The table of contents are designed specifically for this purpose.
  3. Check the Index. Make a quick estimate of the range of topics covered and the kinds of books and authors referred to. [Books on Biblical Studies and or Theology typically have an Authors Index, a Subject Index, and a Scripture Index for consideration].
  4. If the book is a new one with a dust jacket, read the Publisher’s blurb. The blurb is not just fluff for marketing but often an author’s attempt at a concise summary of the books contents. At this point you may already have enough information and have made a decision as to if the book will be useful to you or not. If you decide to keep looking the actual skimming of the book now begins
  5. Look now at the chapters that seem pivotal to [the Book's] argument. Read the summary statements at the beginning and end to further your knowledge of what the book is about.
  6. Finally, turn the pages, dipping in here and there, reading a paragraph or two, sometimes several pages in sequence, never more than that. Thumb through the book in this way, always looking for sings of the main contention, listening for the basic pulsebeat of the matter. Also, do not fail to read the last two or three pages of the book to know its conclusions.
Rules for Inspectional Reading II:
Superficial reading is basically reading a book through once without stopping much to ponder its contents but instead reading through to understand its basic structure and flow. Pay attention to what you can understand and don’t worry about what you might not understand just yet – you’ll get back to that later. Just press on!
Related to Inspectional Reading II is How to Read a Difficult Book (hint: you just read it). This is something else I want my highschooler to have in his mind even before he starts reading the book. Adler points out that generations of children have been taught to hate literature by having to fill out study packets on Romeo and Juliet, etc. It shouldn't be that way. More and more I've been noticing how much our modern study skills are tailored towards knowing "about" things rather than knowing them. It affects everything we do and handicaps the amateur because he has to wait for the expert to explain what the things he reads REALLY means. CS Lewis describes this well.

Adler has rules for Inspectional Reading (pdf) that might help.   Maureen has some notes on inspectional reading, too.

More resources connected to HTRAB:

  1. A Powerpoint Presentation intended for a class -- I can't link to it directly but you can reach it through this html version.
  2. An outline of the whole book.(Schola Tutorial)
  3. A tutorial on Reading 101

A couple of PDFs

1 comment:

  1. We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery--three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos, lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot over exaggerate how instructive these programs are--we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!