Essential Reading

By: Evelyn Gardett

A book called How to Read a Book?  Isn’t reading such a book an impossible – or redundant – task?  How can you read a book if you don’t already know how to, and why would you read such a book if you do?

Nonetheless, Mortimer J. Adler, one of the scholars who helped develop the Great Books Program at the University of Chicago, wrote such a book, and it is an essential read.  I read the Great Books at Thomas Aquinas College, and the insights in this book helped me to make sense of some of these challenging texts.

One thing Adler recommends is to always skim the table of contents of a book before diving in.  This helps you to know what is covered and whether there is a specific chapter you should jump right to – and save yourself some time!

Adler has specific tools for each kind of reading.  Reading fiction should be done quickly, for example.  If you take weeks and weeks to finish a novel, reading only a chapter or so a night, you will forget the plot and the characters, and the impact of the book will be lost on you.

Adler’s section on active reading recommends constructing the author’s argument in your mind as you read.  This practice is especially helpful for students looking to achieve that high score on the critical reading section of the SAT.


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