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Good Reading Skills and Analysis

Written by: on September 4, 2015

Adler: How to Read a Book
Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren are to be credited for showing the activity of quality reading to be an art, a science, and a skill. They have produced an outstanding and thorough work on techniques, levels, and types of reading that has become a classic model for informing serious readers throughout the generations.
In Chapter 8, “Coming to Terms with an Author,” the authors attest to the efficacy of gaining the greatest comprehension of a book through the process of “finding its important words, identifying their shifting meanings, and coming to terms.” This is understandably a necessary step in the process if one can endure the tedium of reading a book in this fashion and time is not a factor. Realistically, this appears to be a cumbersome way to understand a book and the time element could be a big factor for many people in dissecting a book this way. But, this has been a tried and proven methodology over decades and probably once the technique is mastered, it will become second nature and will not have to be intellectualized.
The demands Adler and Van Doren place on the reader is noteworthy. For them, it is not enough for the reader to merely understand what the author conveyed, but the reader has the right and the responsibility to engage the book critically with the author. The reader is in the position to do this when the author has successfully enabled the reader to understand the book, and the reader becomes a semi-peer of the author. But, Adler and Van Doren caution that in critical judgment, “The reader must know how to judge a book, just as he must know how to arrive at an understanding of its contents.” Ultimately, making a judgment and taking a position is incumbent upon the reader, to agree, disagree, or suspend judgment. The reader must be able to give reasons for critical judgments of agreement or disagreement that can be supported or defended by evidence. Readers are advised to be open-minded concerning the resolution of judgments of disagreement.
It is interesting that the authors’ recommended reading list is comprised only of authors in the Great Books of the Western World and Gateway to the Great Books. These are the only works they deem worthy of mention for repeated reading to become a better reader, expand one’s mind, or for continually deriving fresh insights, wisdom, and new revelations about oneself and the world. They acknowledge the cultural-literary bias in their selection by the statement that, “We are not particularly knowledgeable outside the Western literary tradition. . . . There is something to be said for knowing your own tradition before trying to understand that of other parts of the world.” This line of thinking is unprofitable because it specifically rules out the wealth of wisdom in the greatest of all books, the Holy Bible, as a valuable resource. Overall, the book has the potential of being an effective tool for the conscientious reader and researcher.

About the Author

Claire Appiah

7 responses to “Good Reading Skills and Analysis”

  1. mm Colleen Batchelder says:

    Claire, You made a great point in stating, “…probably once the technique is mastered, it will become second nature and will not have to be intellectualized.” The technique is a process. The text overwhelms all the senses at first glance, yet as we pour over each page, we become familiar and teachable to the author’s instruction. Many of us seek to read for pleasure or to simply master the task before us. We asses the situation, peruse through the bookstore and purchase that one book that will be our antidote; however, we’re left unchanged, because we refuse to let the author really speak to us. Engagement must take place in order for enlightenment to ensue. This is more than strict attention or detailed understanding of the main points. It challenges the reader to make a case – to quiz the witness and the criminal in the case until the verdict becomes clear. Adler asks the reader to question, “Is it true? and What of it?” (Adler, 163). He asks the reader to delve into the evidence and take the stand – he asks us to make our case.

    • mm Rose Anding says:

      Thanks colleen for a very informative blog, which gave us great point on finding truth; but may I speak on a elementary level? There are many readers still at level one. As Mortimer Adler ,tells us about the three types of knowledge: practical, informational, and comprehensive; which discusses the methods of acquiring knowledge, concluding that practical knowledge, though teachable, and reading for content: that means that you are observing how the story is put together, so this is a practical book. It aims to help people become intelligent readers.

      I understand your point, but when one read with perceived ideals, it causes a stop; because their view is clouded from the truth of the matter; therefore most reader never gets beyond the mundane of reading to reach the level of truth. And you will find criticism at forefront, before reading is completed This rationale will take you back to “reason”. People read book for various reasons, and most of the time it is not for “truth”. The Bible say you shall know the truth and it shall set you free. Do you think people want to be free?
      You gave us some great nuggets,that we can apply to our techniques of reading.It is an excellent post!Thanks

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Colleen,
      Thanks for helping me to get my perspective right and to approach the Adler book with a proper attitude, in order to be teachable and learn what these great authorities on the matter have to say. True, the technique is a process, and a process is work. Work, which I was not initially willing to do. I now have an attitude adjustment and I am willing to do the hard work and whatever it takes to become a skilled reader, writer, and researcher. Thanks much for the enlightenment and encouragement!

  2. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Claire I find myself in a similar (I think) dilemma regarding the thoroughness required by Adler’s Analytical Reading techniques in a world where a certain body of material must be read in a limited time. Here’s hoping our skills improve enough that we get better at it, so that it becomes a bit second nature.

  3. Thanks for your post Claire. Your points reminded of the part in the book where the authors state that the only way we can gain knowledge is by reading books that are over our heads. I think, like parts of the book, this new journey that we are embarking on has many “over-our-head” components and maybe we can learn for the detailed steps to reading books, as outlined in this book, how to be a great cohort together.

  4. I believe that this book is great to digest over a longer period of time than we have had available. But the author encourages moving quickly through the material, which I was more than happy to do. Some of the repetitive nature of the material made it very difficult to keep an accurate train of thought as to the importance of things being repeated, again.

    The over our heads part of the book can be conquered with the outlined steps if you have the time to accomplish that task. I believe when those lists become second nature to us we will have started to arrive at being great readers.

    Kevin

  5. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Claire,
    The “Ethical practices in visual ethnography”, is a very important concern when working as an ethnographers. According to Pink, there are many ethical issue that can be described or expressed as the “tension between the aims of research to make generalizations for the good of others, and the rights of participants to maintain privacy”. I read this statement somewhere that ethical issues are most likely to occur when, “The ethical issues and moral dilemmas are seen, to arise in almost any type of research concerning human participants; in quantitative, biomedical, psychological, anthropological and sociological research”. Because ethics can be defined as a “set of moral principles and beliefs that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity” with its main principle of doing ‘good’ and preventing harm (Oxford Dictionaries: 2011).In my reading, I was unable to find any set code of ethics for ethnographers, it seem they follow the anthropology code of ethics.
    Thank for sharing a very interesting blog. Rose Maria

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