How to Read a Book - Ask Your Book Some Questions

Reformers Resource: How to Read a Book -- Series by Thomas Eglinton

As we continue our leisurely stroll through 'How to Read a Book', we come to another highly practical section. This is about how to have a conversation with your book.

I was sitting in on an English-as-a-Second-Language class the other day and the teacher started the class by asking the students to engage in what we call 'small talk'. "Hi, how are you?" the teacher said. "Good thank you, how are you?" the students would reply. And so on.

We do this sort of small talk all the time - it is so common that it has become a habit. We automatically ask people how they are. The point that Adler makes is that the questions we are about to learn must not just be stored somewhere in the back of your mind. It must become a habit to ask these questions as you read. Really, it comes back to the fact that real reading is active reading.

So, what questions should we ask our book as we are reading it?

1. What is the book about as a whole?

Working out what the book is about as a whole is the goal of inspectional reading (see here, or here). This may involve gaining some idea of not just the main theme but also how the author breaks it down into sub-topics.

2. What is being said in detail, and how?

What is the flow of the argument? How is the author backing up their ideas? What assertions are being made?

3. Is the book true, in whole or part?

If you have managed to get the answers to the first two questions, it now remains to ask whether or not it is true. Whether or not what is true?

Well, the main theme of the book for a start. Is the author correct in their fundamental thesis?

But it is also important to be asking if the assertions, ideas, arguments and sub-points are true as well. We need to read with our minds alert.

4. What of it?

Perhaps this is the most important question we can ask of a book. By asking this questions we are trying to find out why what the author says is important. The question sits on a couple of levels.

Firstly, what are the applications of the ideas the author has presented? How does my life need to change as a result? How does my thinking need to be corrected?

Secondly, what are the implications of this book? If what the author says is true, what else is true? What must be false?

Asking questions of the Bible.

Yet again, Adler has picked up on a concept which is so helpful for Christians. Imagine if we read our Bibles in a similar way! The beauty of questions 1, 2 and 4 is that they are really seeking to understand what the author thinks. What point is the author making? What are the details of the author's argument? What does the author say is important about their idea? This is precisely how we should approach the Bible, seeking to ask the author what point He is making and what we should make of it.

So, the next time you are reading a book, ask it these questions. Don't just ask them at the start or at the end of reading - get in the habit of asking them as you read.

In our next installment we will find out some tips for how to make asking your book questions more habitual.

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