Reading is hard. Even though we already know how to read, I, for one, wish I was better at it. I suspect many of you do, too. For example, have you ever read a story but cant remember some details of the story? Or, have you ever read something and gotten lost, unable to follow the author’s point? Have you ever read something and genuinely enjoyed it, but had trouble explaining to a friend exactly why you liked it so much?
Like many geeks, I have always been an avid reader. Thus, when I first came across a “How to Read a Book” (hereafter, HTRAB), I was intrigued. It promised to teach the reader how to improve their comprehension of what they read, as well as retain that knowledge better.
The problems mentioned at the outset are extremely frustrating. Its irritating to read a book, but then realize that you’ve forgotten most of what you learned from it a few years later. Or, you are stuck and confused, but you really have no good plan to resolve your confusion. So, you plow on ahead, hoping the confusion works itself out. Reading is the primary way that we share knowledge with each other. Reading well is of vital importance to all humans. I personally identify myself as a life-long, independent learner. I love reading and learning, so my ability to understand what I read is fundamental to how I view myself.
Thankfully, HTRAB is here to help us become better readers! It teaches techniques to judge a book before investing too much time into it: what kind of book is it? Is its goal to teach me how to do something, or to describe the way the world is? Is this book worth reading right now, or should I let it sit on a shelf till a later date?
Once you start reading, HTRAB teaches you to identify the key topics that an author is discussing and sketch an outline of the discussion. It also suggests an effective technique for marginalia, and finally, by the time you are done, you know when you’ve gotten all that you can from a book.
Finally, it gives you an outline on how to compose the information given by a book with information from other sources. HTRAB helps you follow the lines of argument across different authors, books, and time-periods.
Fundamentally, HTRAB challenges the reader to think about the way they read. It also encourages them to consider what reading is, what it means to us them individually, as well as what reading means to society in general.
I highly recommend studying it. If you do get a chance to read it, I would really like to hear what you think. Or, if you have already read it, it would be great to hear what you think about it now.