Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“How to Read a Book”

Written by: on September 8, 2016

I found it ironic that the first book that I am asked to read in my doctoral program is the book “How to Read a Book” by Mortimer J Adler and Charles Van Doren. The irony is in the fact that it can be assumed that once you reach this level of academia you should know how to read a book.  I was intrigued by the title and wanted to understand what motivated Adler to want to write on this subject matter. In reading through this book, I realized how the literacy needs he was intending to address are still relevant today.  Adler emphasizes that reading is meant to be active. It is intended to be informative as well as enlightening.

Active reading varies within the four levels of reading-Elementary, Inspectional, Analytical and Syntopical. Each of these levels encompasses the previous level. So as a reader at the Syntopical level has matured in each of the former levels of maturity and can use the skills and habits formed in each to truly read at a Syntopical level.

Instead of summarizing each level of reading I prefer to hone in on a few high level takeaways:

  1. There is no universal speed in which to read books. I remember years ago the infomercials on speed reading techniques. I was mesmerized watching people go so quickly through the page and be able to recite what they read afterwards. I was reminded in reading this book that each book requires its own speed cadence. Depending on the subject matter, it is best to know when and how to use reading techniques to ensure that you are actively engaging with what you reading. I laughed to myself when he noted that there are times when we can read something quickly or even slowly and still not be able to recall what you read.
  2. Another factor that contributes to speed is the amount of time you have to read the book. When not given a lot of time to read a book, it is best to very quickly get acquainted with the book you are reading. Being that we only had a couple of days to review this book, I began early on using my systematic skimming/ superficial reading ability to get a feel for the entire book. It was very helpful in understanding what Adler was trying to convey to his readers about how to read. Mastering the ability to inspect a book properly, among other skills, will enhance my ability to read at a Syntopical level.
  1. What in the world is “dialectical objectivity”? That is the question I asked when I first saw those words. Adler stresses that truly analyze a discussion you must look at every point of view being expressed while not taking on any of them. That is pretty much a non-realistic ideal; however, by not taking one stance over another you are able to formulate questions that can be applied to all points of view. In doing so, you can analyze each of voice in the discussion more objectively.

There were so many more jewels but the Theraflu I am taking has my brain going mush! I will definitely take heed to his recommendation on various methods of note taking. It is true that just having the information isn’t enough. Knowledge has to be incorporated in actively doing.  I am hoping that as I continue to evolve and grow in my understanding that I will be able to turn this information into better habits that help me navigate through this program.



About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

15 responses to ““How to Read a Book””

  1. Katy Lines says:

    I appreciated his challenge to remain objective, as well as his admission that objectivity was essentially impossible. The impossibility should not discourage us from attempting to read (or listen) with an open mind.
    And… I hope you feel better.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      I appreciated Adler’s discussion in the history section about objectivity. His advice there was to read books from different points of view. Hopefully, a rich perspective will be gained by combining these.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      It is definitely impossible! I kind of relate it to loving unconditionally. We all strive towards it even though we know that our human nature will not allow for us to fully do so LOL 🙂

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Enjoyed your post Christal! It does seem hard to believe that even in our well connect world—at least in the USA—there remains a literacy problem. Good point.

  3. Mary Walker says:

    Well, if you got all of that amazing insight on Theraflu I can’t wait to have many deep discussions with you!
    I agree that we need all of those critical thinking skills and hope to grow in that area during the next 3 years.
    Great post, Christal!

  4. Chip Stapleton says:

    Thanks for the post…. the piece about objectivity is so crucial, and sadly, I think so missing in most of our current culture’s interaction (I am sure I am guilty of not having it)….. As you say, true objectivity isn’t a realistic goal, but I do feel like we should at least be trying for it. Instead, I think we often simply judge a book/article/etc.’s value based on if it matches our preexisting beliefs. That isn’t a great way to learn or expand our horizons.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Chip I agree. I think it is because prior to our graduate education the emphasis was on reading critically. So we have been conditioned to read as a “critic” and then provide our own analysis. In order to read at a Synoptical level we will now have to retrain ourselves to read more objectively and focus on understanding what the author is truly intending to communicate.

    • Katy Lines says:

      Other assets to the goal of reading objectively is to a) acknowledge what our own biases are as we enter into a text, and b) make use of the global (and local) Body of Christ to bring in other voices to the text, thus allowing us to learn & grow together through different perspectives.

  5. Lynda Gittens says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. I must have skimmed through the part on objectivity. This book challenged my objectivity in the beginning. My mind said I know how to read. But I admit I did learn something new.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      Linda it is hard not to be objective with a book entitled “How to Read A Book” but it is refreshing to know that even when we think we know so much, we can always learn so much more. 🙂

  6. In spite of the Theraflu, I appreciated your concise summary. Yes, I can also appreciate the irony of this being our first read. It does set a nice stage for the onslaught of reading coming our way.

    • Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

      I am grateful that my next post will not be sponsored by Theraflu…LOL I agree it does set the stage for the rest of our reading in this program. 🙂

  7. Wow Christal, you do pretty well on Theraflu! I hope you are feeling better.
    I too appreciated the reminder toward objectivity while recognizing that none of us can really remain objective. The reminder to at least TRY to be objective is something I need to keep in front of me as I read differing opinions during research.
    Thank you for highlighting the difference between speed-reading and quickly taking in the material through the tools Adler and Van Doren give for inspection. I think that is going to be very valuable for all of us over the next couple of years. 🙂

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