How to Read a Book - Inspectional Reading: Superficial Reading

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

Today we will look briefly at how to read a book 'superficially'. That is, superficial reading. This is the second part of what Adler calls 'Inspectional Reading'. The first part is 'pre-reading' which you can read about here.

Once you have checked out a books title, contents page, index, sub-headings etc., what is the next step? Well, Adler chooses a word with negative connotation to describe the next step. He calls it reading superficially.

You see, often we come to a book that is worthy of a good read - it has some content that we don't understand (read more about why you should read books like that here) and so we need to read it properly - and we start reading it.

We start at page 1 and soon come to a place where a concept is described that we don't understand. So we pause. We re-read that section. We follow the footnotes. We search for another book that might explain the section we are having difficulty with. All the while, we have forgotten the flow of the authors discussion up to that point! So, even if our efforts are successful, by the time we get back to reading the book the argument has become disjointed and even more difficult. We can end up missing the forest for the trees.

'Superficial reading' is where you read right through the book without stopping, ignoring the parts that you don't understand, paying no attention to sections of the argument that didn't make sense, but taking in anything and everything that is clear to you. The idea is to read the book relatively quickly without much stopping or starting.

By reading a book through once superficially, you will be much more prepared for the second time around. You will understand the authors main point. You will have some idea of the flow of the discussion. And this is the case even if you only really read 50% of the book.

The idea is, of course, not to stop here. We must now start reading the book  for understanding. But more about that later...

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