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There is a difference between reading for understanding and reading for information.
A lot of people confuse knowing the name of something with understanding. While great for exercising your memory, the regurgitation of facts without solid understanding and context gains you little in the real world.
A useful heuristic: Anything easily digested is reading for information.
— Edgar Allen Poe
Mortimer Adler literally wrote the book on reading . Adler identifies four levels of reading:
This is the level of reading taught in our elementary schools. If you’re reading this website, you already know how to do this.
We’ve been taught that skimming and superficial reading are bad for understanding. That is not necessarily the case. Using these tools effectively can increase understanding.
Inspectional reading gives you the gist of things.
At this point, you start to engage your mind and dig into the work required to understand what’s being said. I highly recommend you use marginalia to converse with the author .
Francis Bacon once remarked, “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
You can think of analytical reading as doing that chewing and digesting. This is doing the work.
This is also known as comparative reading, and it represents the most demanding and difficult reading of all. Syntopical Reading involves reading many books on the same subject and comparing and contrasting ideas, vocabulary, and arguments.
This task is undertaken by identifying relevant passages, translating the terminology, framing and ordering the questions that need answering, defining the issues, and having a conversation with the responses.
The goal is not to achieve an overall understanding of any particular book, but rather to understand the subject and develop a deep fluency.
There are five steps to syntopical reading:
Reading is all about asking the right questions in the right order and seeking answers.
If all of this sounds like hard work, you’re right. Most people won’t do it. That’s what sets you apart.
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