How to Read a Book - Two Ways of Learning

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

Next Mortimer takes us through the concept that reading is learning. Then to prove a point and highlight another important element of reading (understanding the key sentences in a book), he spends some time walking us through how to understand the sentence ‘reading is learning’ in the context of this book. The conclusion is that reading will help you acquire knowledge, but not a skill. For example, you can read the book ‘How to read a book’ which will teach you how to read a book better but you still may not be able to read a book well. You need to practice that skill based on the knowledge you acquire.

We then learn a bit more about what it means to not just read for information, but what it means to read for understanding. Mortimer gives a wonderfully helpful illustration based on his experience with some college students. This is his conclusion:

“They never connected one book with another, one course with another, or anything that was said in books or lectures with what happened to them in their own lives.”

This gives us a glimpse into what it means to read for understanding. It means to not only remember what the author is saying but to understand why he is saying it and what he means. It means really engaging with an author and thinking through the set of knowledge put forward in the book. It means considering how the author’s point relates to other information you may know, the perspectives of other authors, your own experience of the world and, perhaps as a Christian, you can add how it relates to what God says in the Bible.

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This argument feeds directly into Mortimers next discussion which is about why it is important that we view reading as learning. Two types of learning are put forward – learning through discovery (let’s call that science), and learning through reading. If we do not learn how to read with understanding then all that is left for us is to discover everything for ourselves. Mortimer argues that this is a waste of time. More than that, it is cutting out an important part of learning how to think. When exploring nature, there is no choice to disagree with the result. When reading, however, you get to think critically. You can choose to disagree with the author – but only if you really know what she is on about. Only if you really understand what you have read.