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The next principle that Adler covers is the different levels of reading. He presents 4 levels:
This is, as the name suggests, the most basic of levels of reading. This is simply the art of deciphering the symbols we call language. It is not concerned with understanding what is meant by a sentence but simply what the sentence says.
An example Adler gives is the sentence ‘the cat sat on the hat’. He describes a school student learning elementary reading will be able to say ‘the cat sat on the hat’ but will not at all be concerned about whether or not cats actually sit on hats or which hat may have been crushed by this particular feline. The student is simply concerned with deciphering the symbols.
This is described as the task of gathering as much information about what a book is about in a short amount of time. It is “skimming systematically”. This level seeks to answer the question “What is this book about?”.
In this level of reading the table of contents comes in handy as do any other bold headings that the author has scattered throughout the book. For now, though, suffice to say that this is an important skill that we will need to learn as we work on how to read a book.
This is where a reader starts to engage with the thoughts and concepts in a book. Analytical reading is about understanding what it is that the author is meaning. It involves asking questions of the book.
Interestingly, in order to be able to read analytically it helps a lot to have ‘inspectionally’ read the book initially. That way you have a framework to put the more detailed arguments, discussions, examples and thoughts into. Level 2 will help you in level 3.
This reading is where we start to compare different books and make connections between them. It is understanding several different arguments and being able to analyse the differences and similarities; the pros and cons.
This is the highest, most complex level of reading but it is worthwhile as it is through this sort of reading that the reader can end up coming up with thoughts and ideas that he may not have found in any of the books. The reason for this, I suppose, is that the comparative reader is really thinking about a topic.