How to Read a Book: State what the book is about in one sentence

Posted by Thomas Eglinton on

How to Read a Book

Rule number 1 of Analytical Reading was: Know what kind of book you are reading.

Rule number 2 of Analytical Reading is: Know what the book is about. More specifically, Adler says you must be able to state what the 'unity' of the book is about in one sentence or a few sentences at most.

Being able to do this demonstrates that you really know what the book is about. Perhaps it is a romance book which Adler argues will have the plot 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boys gets girl'. Or perhaps it is something else.

So, what are some quick ways to start to get an idea of what the short summary of the book might be?

Firstly, the title can be of great help. For example, the book that we are working through in this blog is called "How to Read a Book". This gives us a good start on a summary but perhaps doesn't quite capture the essence. We may need to add to it by the time we reach the end of the book and learn more of what it is about. Already we could probably add that it is about 'how to read a book in order to really understand what the author is saying by progressing through stages of reading with a particular focus on Analytical reading'.

Another helpful place to look is the preface. Unless the author wishes to keep you in suspense (in a fiction book for example), she will often state her own summary of the book in the preface or in the introduction. A good author will do this very well as they will have a clear idea in their mind as to what they wish to say in the book.

Here are some examples from some books I just randomly pulled off my shelf:

"Real life is found at the end of me."

or

"I feel like I reached this point in my life when I had absolutely nothing left, and it turns out that for the first time in my life Jesus has become real."

Both from the introduction of 'The end of me' by Kyle Idleman.

"This book intends to ... teach you not merely a doctrine, concept, or story line, but a study method that will allow you to open up the Bible on your own. It intends to challenge you to think and to grow, using tools accessible to all of us..."

From the introduction of 'Women of the Word' by Jen Wilkin.

"My aim in this book is certainly not to pass on my own thoughts on the subject, but to present wisdom from the Bible. All of us, whether we feel lonely or enjoy many close friendships, need to hear [the Bible's] challenge to live intimately connected lives, and how to give to and receive from others in that context."

From the introduction of "True Friendship" by Vaughn Roberts.

These are all very helpful but the introduction isn't fool-proof. Sometimes you may not have a great author so the author may not have spent the time to put down the summary of the key idea in an introduction or preface. At other times, you may want to expand or adjust the author's summary.

Alder argues that:

"the obligation of finding the unity [of the book] belongs finally to the reader, as much as the obligation of having one belongs to the writer. You can discharge that obligation honestly only by reading the whole book."

So, consider the book you most recently read. Can you tell me what it's about in a sentence or two?

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