Mortimer Adler is many things to many people. Or a nobody to some. He has become an important figure in my life because of his work in putting together a collection of the best works in Western literature. Then, I got to read his own work and learned some more.
What better way to start my Book of the Week Club than with a book about how to read books? I know of no better book that Mortimer Adler’s classic “How to Read a Book.”
I read Adler’s book in about 10 days but it can totally be read in a week if you get one of those easier weeks without deadlines outside your normal homeschool routine. Translation: no canning projects or publishing deadlines and then it can be done in a week.
Adler posits that a book can be read on four different levels:
- At the most basic level, one must know how to read – the mechanics of putting letters into words that make sense, reading a full sentence, understanding, and moving on to the next. Repeat until you have reached the end of your reading goal for the day.
- A quick glance at a book should tell you if it is worth your time. Read the title, the name of the author and the reviews and text on the jacket of the book. If that does not intrigue you, you will probably not care to read it. Your next step would be to read the Introduction, usually done by the author, or, if there is such a section, the “How to Use this Book” section. It will give you so much information you can use to make your decision. All this can be done in less than 5 minutes, which can spare you hours and days in the long run.
- Once you decide a book is worth your time, level three reading starts. This is the most important way in which to read a book. I am not sure that every book you read should be approached this way, but you can read Adler’s suggestions and make your own version of his way. I usually like to read with a pen or highlighter nearby, so I can underline certain things I find important or beautiful.
- Synoptical reading goes beyond reading individual books. It’s when you read a series of books which all deal with the same subject. Let’s say you are teaching modern history to your child and now you must select titles for him to read about World War II. You come up with a list and you read them all – they have the same subject, treated in different ways. Some may be fiction, others nonfiction, some will be autobiographical, others will deal with only one particular battle etc. At the end of the reading, you will have accumulated a wealth of information about WWII from different sources and you can sit down and write about these books and how they tackle the topic.
As you can see, the most important way to read a book happens at Level 3. It would be hard to explain Adler’s technique of Level 3 reading in just a few sentences. So get the book from your local library or from Amazon and enjoy.
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We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and 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—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.
Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.
I cannot 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:
Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler