Let the Reader Understand, Part 2

In my previous post, I outlined the rules for analytical reading of expository literature that Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren give in their book, “How to Read a Book.” In this post, I will outline the rules that they give for analytical reading of imaginative literature. Imaginative literature encompasses some of “easiest” (e.g. novels) and “hardest” (e.g. epic poems) literature to read. I put those descriptors in quotes because the genres assumed “easy” are often harder than they appear, and the ones assumed “hard” are often easier than they appear. Without further ado, here are the rules: Continue reading “Let the Reader Understand, Part 2”


Let the Reader Understand, Part 1

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

– Francis Bacon

Reading is perhaps one of the most significant activities a human can do. The capacities for language, rationality, and imagination are some of the characteristics that set mankind apart from other animals, and reading is one of the best way to cultivate those characteristics. It is even more important for Christians, because we believe that God wrote a book, thereby endowing the activities of reading and writing with a certain dignity and seriousness, and placing any who read that book under an obligation to understand it correctly. Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren have written a great book entitled, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. In it they give 15 rules for analytical reading of Expository books to help readers answer the four basic questions that all demanding readers must ask. Expository books are books written to communicate knowledge primarily in a propositional way; these rules do not apply directly to imaginative literature, however there are some equivalent rules for that genre as well which will take form the substance of a later post. Before proceeding to the rules, two qualifications must be made, first, many books are not worthy of this level of reading, the reader must read each book according to its merits; second, these rules describe an ideal performance of analytical reading which is the measure of achievement, such an ideal cannot always be reached but gives readers a goal to strive for and directions on how to proceed.

Continue reading “Let the Reader Understand, Part 1”