Understanding a textbook or a piece of writing depends on using various techniques. For example, you can skim for literacy, analyze a book on a granular level, etc. If you want to know how to read a book, we’ll take fundamental reading principles from Mortimer Adler, one of the best American philosopher-educators. 

Now, you should not read every book the same way. That’s what English philosopher Francis Bacon meant when he said some books should be tasted, others swallowed, and some chewed and digested. 

Understanding the various types of reading can help you acquire the most out of textbooks, fictional books, non-fiction books, or whatever books you have. With that said, let’s find out how to read a book by using the following types of reading. 

How To Read A Book Effectively 

I’m sure you were taught how to read books in elementary school. But how well do you know how to read? Did you know there’s a big difference between reading for information and reading for understanding? 

How you read makes a lot of difference in how you gather knowledge. And most people haven’t even thought of how they read. Furthermore, most people confuse understanding something with knowing the name of that thing. 

In other words, just because you know (or heard) of quantum mechanics doesn’t mean you understand how it works. 

Narrowing The Gap Between You And The Author

Also, consider this: anything you read and digest quickly was read for information. 

Take the newspaper, for example. Do you learn anything new? Do you consider the writer as an authority when it comes to knowledge on such issues? The answer is probably not. That suggests you’re reading for information. 

That’s how most of us read. People don’t learn anything new with this type of reading. The result of such a task is that you don’t get to avoid or solve problems, become better at your job or get good grades. 

If you want to learn how to read books, you’ll need lots of mental work. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. If you’re not putting much effort into something, you’re probably not learning anything. You get a lot smarter when you narrow the gap between you and the author. 

How To Read A Book: The Four Levels Of Reading 

how to read a book

Mortimer Adler wrote a spectacular book titled “How to Read a Book” in which he identifies four types of reading: 

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

Your level of reading can likely affect how you absorb and process Adler’s arguments. In other words, it’s possible for two people that read the same book to come out with totally different reading experiences. 

We’ll break the four levels down for you to get the fundamental understanding. But before we do that, here’s something you need to be aware of. 

How You Read Goes With Why You Read 

Your objective for reading determines how to read many books. Reading C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is entirely different from reading Plato. If you prefer reading for information or entertainment, you’ll read quite differently than reading to expand your understanding.  

Even though most people read for entertainment and information, few develop their ability to read for knowledge. So before we can enhance our reading skills, we need to get a firm grasp of the differences in the reading levels. 

Keep in mind that the four types of reading are considered levels. That’s because you can’t go to the next level without a firm understanding of the previous level. In other words, they are cumulative. 

Now let’s talk more about the levels of reading.

What Is Elementary Reading? 

Elementary reading, as the name suggests, is the most fundamental type of reading. Think of rudimentary education; the kind taught in elementary school. If you’re reading this guide, you already have the foundational reading skills necessary to understand the information in the simplest forms. 

What Is Inspectional Reading? 

You can term inspectional reading as skimming or pre-reading. This is where you intentionally read an article or book to grasp the relevant point and takeaways in the shortest possible time. 

Inspectional reading is essential, especially if you want to learn how to read lots of college textbooks. Now, you’ve probably been told that superficial reading and skimming are not good for understanding. That’s not entirely the case. 

When you effectively use these tools, you improve your understanding. If you want to read many books, inspectional reading can help you look at the author’s blueprint and assess the benefits of an in-depth reading experience.  

There are two types of inspectional reading: 

1. Systematic Skimming 

With systematic skimming, you take a fast check of the book by: 

  • Reading the preface 
  • Checking the table of contents 
  • Checking the index, and 
  • Reading the inside jacket. 

If you want to know how to read lots of textbooks, this reading style will give you adequate knowledge to understand the book chapters. So you read various parts of the book without reading over a paragraph or two. 

Since you want to learn how to read many books, systematic skimming can help you a lot. How? By helping you reach a fast conclusion of whether the book is worth reading or not. If not, you put the book down and move to the next one. 

2. Superficial Reading 

Superficial Reading

With superficial reading, you read the entire book without engaging with the text in a significant or meaningful way. You just read. You don’t ponder about the arguments, don’t check things up, or highlight specific points. 

If you don’t understand something in the course of the reading, you move on. However, what you acquire from this method of reading can help you when you later go back into taking a more substantive reading. 

When you get a better understanding of the book’s structure and content through superficial reading, do you want to understand it? Inspectional reading gives you just what you need. Sometimes, that’s all we need or want. 

What Is Analytical Reading 

Analytical reading deals with a more rigorous and complicated level of reading. In the beginning, we stated how Francis Bacon said some books are to be tasted, others swallowed, and some chewed and digested. You can think of analytical reading as the same. It is thorough reading. 

If you want to know how to read lots of textbooks, analytical reading can help you do the following at the end of each book: 

  • Classify and synthesize according to the book’s kind and subject matter 
  • Summarize the entire book in a clear and precise manner 
  • Outline and describe the major parts of the book and how they connect 
  • Explain the problem the author is trying to solve

How To Read A Book: Syntopical Reading 

You can also refer to syntopical reading as comparative reading. According to Mortimer Adler, it is the highest form of reading, and therefore it is complex and demanding.  

This type of reading involves reading numerous books on the same subject. You then compare and contrast the ideas, arguments, and vocabulary. It requires lots of hard work, taking extensive notes, and significant dedication of time. 

Final Thoughts On How To Read A Book 

If you want to know how to read a book, Mortimer Adler’s reading technique can be a great help. You can use this guide as a starting point to learn how to read books. However, there’s more in-depth information contained in Adler’s book, How to Read a Book. You can also check it out. With these steps, you’ll in no time learn how to read many books. If you want to sell your used textbooks, visit BookDeal.com right now and get great offers. We make bookselling easier for you!