Sunday, September 7, 2008

Musings on How to Read a Book, Chapters 1-5

I've finished reading the first 5 chapters of How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. As he encourages active readers to make a book their own by writing in it, he would be pleased to know that I'm doing exactly that in his book! It still feels very un-natural to me though!

I have been very encouraged by what I've read of this book so far. It has a different feel to it than The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. It is sort of hard to explain in just a few words, but I guess it feels more like a story than the "how to" book its name would imply.

For example, Mr. Adler speaks about how learning to be an analytical reader is a difficult task, but one that is well-worth the effort. In Chapter 5,
he compares it to learning to ski, or some equally complex task. At first you have to concentrate on each of the different 'rules', and it's all so difficult and hard and frustrating. But as you get each step to become habit and natural, you can begin to move from just trying to stay up, into feeling the flow of the hill and the rush of the air.

This is especially meaningful to me. I know how I get when things are difficult and 0verwhelming --- I want to give up! I'm lazy intellectually because I was never challenged intellectually. School was always very easy for me, so when faced with a mental challenge (or any other kind of challenge), I gave up. It's one of the reasons I don't like to read difficult books. It's hard. My brain doesn't take as naturally to words as it does to numbers. Now I see there might be reason that I gave up: nobody ever taught me the 'rules' of how to be an analytical reader. But it's never too late to learn!

Mr. Adler agrees with a point that Mrs. Bauer made in her book: When you are reading a difficult book, it's OK for the first reading to be a ' just get through it' sort of thing. Mr. Adler calls this an "inspectional reading", which sounds much more official than "just get through it". That idea never occurred to me before! I can't tell you how many times I would start books and give up because they were hard for me. I couldn't understand everything that was going on! The notion of keeping on going because it might all fall into place later, or the fact that you get more from half-understanding a hard book than from completely grasping an easy book, never crossed my mind.

So I learned some important things from these first 5 chapters:
  • These first efforts are going to be hard, and messy
  • It's not going to be pretty at the start, and I'm going to make mistakes
  • The more I do this, the easier it will get
  • The results will be worth it!
I find myself getting more and more excited and anxious about this adventure in becoming a great reader! It is helpful for me to know that I don't have to be perfect from the very beginning. This reading and discussing Pride and Prejudice might be the hardest thing I've done in a very long time. It's going to be new and scary, and probably a big mess. But it's also exciting to think that one day I might find myself going back to Pride & Prejudice, and it will be easier! Maybe I'll even make new connections and pull new meanings out of the book at that time because I won't be focused so much on just getting through it!

1 comment:

Max Weismann said...

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 on the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

When we discovered them and how intrinsically edifying they are, we negotiated an agreement with Encyclopaedia Britannica to be the exclusive worldwide agent to make them available.

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:

Thank you,

Max Weismann

Justice and freedom; discussion and criticism;
intelligence and character--these are the indispensable
ingredients of the democratic state.
We can be rich and powerful without them.
But not for long. --Robert M. Hutchins
Center for the Study of The Great Ideas
Founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann
Home Page:
A not-for-profit 501(c)3 educational organization
Donations are tax deductible as the law allows