How to Read a Book Like a Pro

how to read a book
Courtesy: @kaitlyn_ria
  • Open a book
  • Read the words
  • Close the book
  • Move to a next book

We all know how to read. We all are taught how to read a language when we were in primary school. Though just reading and reading well are two different things. In this case, how do we do the latter one?

There is a difference between reading for information and reading for understanding. And how you read makes a huge impact in the way and amount of knowledge you accumulate over the time.

If you’re like most of my friends, you might have never given a thought to how to read. They also think knowing is equal to understanding, which I think is wrong! Knowing the name of something without much understanding or significant context gives you a little benefit, especially, in practical life.

Consider the newspaper you read today in the morning, did you learn anything new at all? Do you consider the writer superior to you in terms of the knowledge for that particular subject? Not, for obvious reasons. This means that you’re reading for information. And hence, you’re likely to mimic an opinion which isn’t yours.

This is how people around me read! There was a time when I was one of them. I wasn’t really gaining anything significant. Nor it was giving me any sort of edge. Or making life any better. Or help me in solving any real-world problems.

And that’s when I had to get into the anatomy of how to read.

To learn anything insightful requires you to work. And for that, you need to read above your current level. You need to discover writers who are more acknowledged on a particular subject, if not experts, than yourself. And this is how you get smarter, by shrieking the bridge between you and the author.

Purpose of Reading: How you Read

The purpose of reading determines how you read. For example, reading the latest John Green novel is not the same as reading Plato. If you’re reading for entertaining yourself or information, you are bound to read differently than reading for learning or knowledge. While most of us are pro at reading for entertainment (newspaper, social media posts, online articles, anyone?), very few of us have the ability to read for the knowledge.

To evolve yourself from reading for entertainment to reading for knowledge, you need to first understand the difference and different level of reading. Mortimer Adler literally wrote the book on reading. Adler identifies four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary Reading
  2. Inspectional Reading
  3. Analytical Reading
  4. Syntopical Reading

Since elementary ready is something we all know and syntopical reading is mostly for scholars who are extensively studying a subject, we are going to discuss how to make use of inspectional reading and analytical reading for your evolutionary benefits.

Inspectional Reading

We’ve been taught that skimming isn’t a good thing. However, it isn’t really the case. Skimming can be used as an effective tool to increase your understanding of the book. And hence, it gives you the ability to evaluate the reading material according to your taste.

  • Systematic Skimming: This generally includes evaluating the book from four touch points, a) going through the preface, b) checking the table of contents, c) checking the index and d) reading the inside jacket or about the author section. By exercising these points, systematic skimming will help you in reaching a decision point: whether this book deserves more of your attention or not. If you can’t decide, read a paragraph or two from a random page but not more than that.
  • Superficial Reading: This helps when you want more understanding about the book, specifically beyond the preface and table of contents. However, this is when you just read and read. Do not look up for the context. Do not underline or write anything in the margin. Now that you have a better understanding of the book and the central idea the author speaks about, do you want to dwell more on this topic?

Inspectional reading gives you the ability to inspect a book. Or in other words, the ability to judge the book beyond its cover. Sometimes all we want is the gist. And sometimes more. However, only if reading is not a part of a to-do list of yours!

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.

Francis Bacon

Analytical Reading

Analytical reading can be considered as a thorough reading. Or the type of reading where you chew and digest the books. And this will require some work.

Inspectional reading can be done be quick without time as a constraint while analytical reading can be done best given that you have enough time. While reading analytically, you will have to converse with your mind and deep dive into what you’re reading to extract the best out of it.

Before you get started with it, classify the book according to the subject and kind of topic it speaks about. Further, understand the book as a whole with as much detail as you can gather.

When you finally start reading the book, underline the paragraphs you think are relevant to you or you may write in the given margin for your future references. In the end, do these three things:

  1. Define the problems the author is trying to solve.
  2. Figure out the relevance and practicality of the solutions.
  3. Modify the projected solutions and create your own timeline and summary of the book.

This may sound easy but it will definitely require some work. Once you finish the book, you will have a better understanding of the problems and the solutions you can start working on.

How analytical reading helps you in general?

  • Increases your attention spans
  • Enhances your ability to think critically
  • Shapes your character

If your problems are more comprehensive or a specific subject interests you more, you should look up for varied resources and try to find what exactly you’re looking for. For this, Syntopical Reading will help you about which we will discuss in a different post.

Demand More from your Reading

Reading is about acquiring knowledge. And you acquire knowledge when you ask right questions. Before you start reading a book, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What is the topic of the book?
  2. What are the problems being discussed?
  3. Book discusses the problem in whole or in part?
  4. Ultimately, how relevant are these problems to you?

If the ideas we discussed seems to be a lot of hard work to put into practice, you’re right! 99 per cent of people won’t do it. It upto you to decide whether you want to be in those 99 per cent or 1 per cent.

If there is any other specific strategy you follow, feel free to comment or shoot me an email. I’d like to hear from you.

One thought on “How to Read a Book Like a Pro

  1. I try to self reflect the understanding in my life. Often I discuss with my peers and for other reasons, I pen down them into blogs. Writing the posts, allow me to travel back in time when I need to revisit my experiences and acknowledgment.

    Liked by 1 person

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