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How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (Adler/Van Doren) – my reading notes

I am very much on record with my view that books should be read in-depth, and that skimming is an important strategy out of a broad repertoire of reading heuristics. Although, I’ll admit that after reading “How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading” by Adler and Van Doren, my priors have been updated. I don’t think I can say the same thing that I used to say before: teach people to read in-depth before skimming. I think one can use Adler and Van Doren’s Levels of Reading as sequencing heuristics to teach various strategies. You can read an excerpt from the book here, specifically the table of contents.

Acwri books

That said, I still insist that we ought to avoid teaching students to ONLY skim. OF COURSE, we also need to learn and teach how to triage our reading workload, too. It’s equally problematic to insist that they ONLY read in-depth. I think we ought to provide them with a broad range of reading strategies (which is why I write so often about the topic – also in hopes to help my students develop these skills).

Someone on Twitter, I can’t recall whom, asked me if I had ever read Adler and Van Doren’s book. Well, no, I hadn’t. So I made some time last night to go through it. As I’ve noted before, I am an extremely fast reader, so I could absorb the entire 350 pages in a very short period of time. I wrote a Twitter thread summarizing my reading notes from the book.

First off: it’s a HUGE book. On how to read books. YIKES.

The above said, it IS a great book.

So, you may ask me: “professor Pacheco-Vega, what’s the strategy then to use Adler and Van Doren?”. Well, grad you asked.

This is the strategy *I* plan to use with my graduate students (remember, they’re all Spanish-speakers, who have learned English as a second language)

For graduate students

1) Give a 1 lecture summary of the entire book, maybe in a workshop format.
2) Produce a Coles’ Notes summary and,
3) Give my students my Coles’ Notes, have them read them, then have them read AVD up until the “reading different types of material” chapter (16, I think?)
4) Have THEM write Synthetic Notes of each chapter (to note, I won’t let them do AIC skim reads. These synthetic notes should be mini-memorandums on ADV).

What would be my strategy for undergraduates?

Most institutions (at least mine does) have an “Argumentative Writing” course. What I plan to do is tell the professor about this book, and suggest that they replicate my strategy up (1 and 2) but then assign a chapter per week.

Bottom line: like Adler and Van Doren, we need to teach different levels of reading and various types of strategies to achieve our own learning goals and those of our students. 10/10 do recommend.

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