Reading for Understanding not Entertainment

Reading for Understanding not Entertainment

“The Majority of us are addicted to non-active reading” Mortimer Adler

Last week I felt pretty  good about myself after creating a reading list with thirteen books, only to find out I didn’t really know how to read.

In 1940 Mortimer Adler wrote “How to Read A Book” and it’s still a classic textbook on literature  seventy-six later.  The strength of the book is his description of the four different kinds of readings we should be capable of.

Adler’s first level of reading (called the Elementary Level) refers to being literate and able to read almost anything.  There is nothing wrong with this of course…but his issue is most of us (myself included) stop at the elementary level.

“However he is no yet a ‘mature’ reader in the sense in which we want to employ in the terms of this book.  He has mastered the first level of reading that is all.  He does not know how to read beyond the elementary level.”  

Moving past the elementary reading involves:

  1. Inspecting the book to see if it deserves to be read
  2. Categorizing the book before reading it
  3. Creating a two-sentence summary of the books goal
  4. Outlining the book
  5. And stating the main question the book attempts to answer

In other words this kind of reading (what Adler calls active reading) is very hard work

Active reading  is actually founded on the principle that reading instead of being for entertainment is for a deeper understanding of the subject.

See my goal when reading on the porch most evenings isn’t to study the authors motives, but relax after dinner, and do some “fun reading.”  In other words reading is a form of entertainment

Of course there’s nothing wrong with reading a book for fun  however when 85% to 90% of my reading is on the elementary level, I’ll be totally unprepared when it needs to be for a deeper understanding.