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How to Read a Book

The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading

By Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
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How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren

Since How to Read a Book was first published in 1940, the blank sheet of paper that faces you when you start an essay or report has been replaced by the blinking cursor in a blank Word document. No matter: this classic bestseller, revised in 1972, is still a great guide to tackling a long reading list, extracting all the relevant information and organizing your own conclusions. Be the boss of books with this effective approach to reading and understanding texts of all kinds.

Key idea 1 of 9

In order to get more from books, you need to read actively and learn some basic reading rules.

Do you take any moment you can to get lost in a good novel? When we’re reading for the sheer joy of it, there’s no real need to change our approach to it. There are occasions, though, when we don’t read just for our own entertainment and we need to understand and select information from a text quickly. Before we look at some tips and tricks on how to do this best, let’s first see what it means to be an effective reader.

First, the basics.

The first thing you should know is that reading is an active task, not a passive one. You can see it like a ball game where one party throws the ball and the other party has to make an effort in order to catch it. That is, the “catcher” – or reader – has to make an effort in order to understand what the author, who throws the ball, is trying to convey.

This means that you can’t be lazy and expect all the relevant information to immediately flow to you. Getting what you want from a book requires work and, just as with any other activity, if you want to become a highly proficient reader, you must learn and practice the skills involved.

In the ball game example, you become a skilled catcher if you know the rules of the game, and if you commit to practicing.

So, what must you do to become a good reader?

Master different levels of reading, from the more superficial to the involved and analytical. The following blinks will offer you some guidelines on how to achieve this.

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