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jennysbookbag

Jenny's Book Bag

I'm an avid reader, writer, and blogger. I have a diverse taste in books, everything from new releases to classics.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading - Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren As an avid reader, I felt a little silly checking this book out at the library, but I became intrigued by it after reading this article. I’m passionate about reading and learning, so I picked this up hoping to learn new techniques that will help me read more books this year.

I was surprised by how much I got out of this book. I was expecting more of the same advice and it did have some information that I already knew, but it had enough new information to keep my attention. The book is broken down into four parts: the dimensions of reading, analytical reading, approaches to different kinds of reading matter and the ultimate goals of reading. In the first part, it discusses the basics such as the four level of reading: elementary, inspectional, analytical and syntopical. There’s a brief section on speed reading and comprehension, which is a personal interest of mine, especially when it discusses fixations and regressions. I found this quote encouraging:

“The mind, that astounding instrument, can grasp a sentence or even a paragraph at a “glance” —if only the eyes will provide it with the information it needs. Thus the primary task —recognized as such by all speed reading courses—is to correct the fixations and regressions that slow so many readers down. Fortunately, this can be done quite easily. Once it is done, the student can read as fast as his mind will let him, not as slow as his eyes make him.”


Part two primarily refers to nonfiction, but you learn about the different stages of analytical reading and each stage has different rules. I wish I had read this book in college because part two would have helped me a great deal with all of my required reading. If you’re a college student, you want to read this section.

One of the most beneficial sections for me was part three since it discusses reading literature, plays, and poems. It references a lot of classics in this section and whenever a book references literature, I’m always compelled to read them. Some of the dos and don’ts of reading literature are common sense, but a little refresher doesn’t hurt. For example, this “don’t” is common sense:

“Don’t try to resist the effect that a work of imaginative literature has on you.”


Or this “do”:

“Hence, to complete the task of criticism, you must objectify your reactions by pointing to those things in the book that caused them. You must pass from saying what you like or dislike and why, to saying what is good or bad about the book and why.”


If you want to learn more about how to reading history, science, math, philosophy and social sciences, then this section will also benefit you.

If your goal is to become an expert through syntopical reading, you’ll find part four helpful. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what syntopical reading was until I read this book. Basically, it’s reading and comparing multiple books on one subject. This was another surprised to me, because I was planning to set a personal reading challenge to read 10-20 books (or more) on one subject and I didn’t realize that there was a strategy to it.

What I like most about this book is that it has something for everyone. Granted much of the book is regarding nonfiction, fiction readers will still learn helpful strategies to get more out of their reading.