I read How to Read a Book a year ago in preparation for one the greatest reading events of a graduate student’s life: comprehensive exams. I rarely recommend books because what I find useful, might not resonate with you and reading is an investment that you may not have the time or space for and then what good is the recommendation. Instead I’ll share the list of reading questions I generated from the words of Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.
SOME WAYS YOUR STUDENTS CAN USE THESE QUESTIONS:
- to take organized and semi-systematic notes for a research paper
- to help survey a field of literature for example in the case of a literature review
- to plan for writing an annotated bibliography
- to keep track of what has already been read for future reference
- to focus their reading on the most important bits
- to prepare for lecture or tutorial discussion
1. What kind of book is it? What discipline does it belong to?
2. In one (or two) sentences, what is the main point?
3. How is the book structured/organized?
4. What are the author’s problems? Questions?
What are your research questions guiding the reading?
5. Find the key words and come to terms with the author (look up meanings where needed).
6. Locate the important sentences/passages and identify the author’s argument.
7. What are the author’s solutions/conclusions?
8. How does the author aid/address your questions/problems?
9. What of it?
What issues are raised when compared to how others address/shed light on your guiding questions/problem?
10. Consult additional resources for context:
-Who is the author? What tradition do they belong to?
-What time period and what was happening during the writing?
-What geographic location?
-Who are the influences (teachers, other scholars, religion, political affiliations?)
-Controversies and criticisms?
Mortimer, Adler J. and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent
Reading. New York: Touchstone Book, 1972. Print.