to read a book critically and why
by Kevin Beary 2/16/05
I was planning on writing an essay on how to get
the most out of a book by reading it analytically
and critically. I realize that to describe each aspect
of reading a book in my own words would become tiresome
and may not convey the simple questions one should
ask of a book. Therefore I present this piece as delineated
Notes , and not as a paragraphical article. Look for
the ** if you find yourself re-reading this after
your next good book.
I will quickly emphasize why one should have a system
on reading books , especially more complicated books.
Some of the best books may be a bit over ones head.
This is a book that could be read again and more knowledge
or insight gleaned from it. These , in my opinion,
are the best books to read. You will always Gain from
reading a book like that. You will Profit from this
book. Some books , like beach books , or magazine
articles , etc can be read quickly and all information
absorbed and little insight gained. Reading a classical
work on the other hand , and one will share ideas
with someone (author) who has so much to tell them
and so much for you to profit from , wether you agree
or disagree (we`ll get to that). A writer Must be
Superior , his book must convey the insights he possesses
and the readers lack. The reader must attempt to overcome
this lack and become equal to the writer. You will
learn to Think , the way the author thinks , and not
just one , but as many authors (teachers) as you can
digest. You can know what they know, learn to analyze
and think the way they think , you will come to a
stage where You will find knowledge Easy to grasp
, difficult ideas easy to intuit , and your own ideas
, easy to relate. You will learn how to think critically.
We start by asking the book questions. One doesn`t
need to be in a book discussion group to do this.
One does this naturally , but possibly in a limited
sense. By following some of the ideas and questions
I will put forth , one can see how knowledge , ideas
, wisdom , insight can all be Pulled from the text.
Not every question I will present will apply to every
book you read but you will be surprised at how much
**The Beginning - It is a good idea to quickly
associate yourself with the book. Get a feel for the
structure of the book. Start by skimming the The foreward
, table of contents , authors review if any etc; Find
when the book was published (the time written can
affect the views in the book) Any literary movement
at the time (romanticsm ,naturalism) You could also
quickly research the author for background on what
he is about . One can skim to find out the time frame
and/or area the book is SET in. If a reality book,
mentally brush up on the history of the time and area.
Now Lets Read the book keeping in mind the following
questions you are going to ask it upon completion.
To start - A book needs to be evaluated in Three
Stages- A classical educational system known as the
Trivium calls these stages Grammar , Logic , Rhetoric
or simplified - Facts , Analysis , Argument.
Grammar (facts) - Basic questions
** Classify the book - History , Biography
, Theoretical essays , Practical essays , Imaginative
Literarture (fiction) etc
We will start by focusing on Fiction Primarily - as
other types of books vary in their approach and their
subjects more difficult generally.
*What is the book about as a whole?
*what is the main event of the book
*Who are the characters
*what happens to them
*how are they different afterwards
These are the basic questions most of us ask the book
naturally. Next stage is
Logic (analysis) - In a non-fiction book this is where
you would locate the argument in the book in detail.
You would decide if you were persuaded. You would
determine what problems the author puts forth and
if he solved them.
A fiction books approach is different. You are invited
into a written story. Do you appreciate the authors
prose ? You are invited into a world. Have you been
transported ? Do you sympathize with the characters.
Do you understand their desires , or problems or are
you left unmoved. This is where you attempt to truly
understand the book.
**Is this book a Fable or Chronicle ie; (Fantasy
--- (How do you know ?)
If fantasy is it Allegorical , Speculative
Allegory - Like Gullivers Travel , A real man visits
an unreal world
Speculative- Like Orwells Animal Farm , A completely
unreal world but resembles reality in character ,
action or other.
**Are there any Themes ,Terms , Phrases , Metaphors
that the author uses consistently ?
-what do they mean?
*Who is the central character in the book
*What does he/she really want
* Is there a villain (direct or indirect)
* has the character(s) solved the problem ---how ?
** Consider the style of writing , (simple , complex
, flowery , setting , use of detail , internalization
of characters thoughts)
** What point of view is story told (1st , 2nd,3rd
obj or 3rd omniscient)
** Does the book in any way reflect the authors philosophy
(beginning , ending of book, events , characters ,
Rhetoric (Argument) - With non-fiction books you would
at this time decide if you agree / disagree with the
authors arguments or analysis. In order to agree ,
one must understand the book wholely. One must have
explainable reason to either Agree or disagree. If
disagree one must prove a) author is uninformed (missing
knowledge) b) misinformed (innacurate knowledge) c)
argument is illogical and how d) argument is incomplete
One must satisfy one of the above to disagree , or
if incomplete can suspend judgement. This is where
you critically decide on the book.
A fictional book again is treated slightly differently.
** Is the book true ? (is it an accurate portrayal
** Do you agree with the ideas
*Do you sympathize with the characters or events ,
which ones and why ?
** Does the authors technique or style (as described
above) covey authors philosophy (just an example -
the setting (does it affect the characters) Does that
reflect the authors philosophy (maybe he/she believes
environment determines who we are)
**Does the writers times affect the authors book (literary
movements , political climate , belief or knowledge
structure at time) Ex ( naturalism - Crane?s The Red
Badge of Courage.) or consider one fiction book about
WWIII during the cold war (russian nukes) and now
**Is there an argument in the book (not all novels
have an argument) but consider the Hero or Villains
, downfall , fate or triumph. Is there a statement
or argument there ?
** Do you agree or disagree -
Well , thats what I got for you thus far. I did the
best I could to put as much information down without
writing a book. Therefore , a lot is missing , and
much explanation has been left out. If you have specific
questions for me , I will do my best to answer them
as I`ve come to understand them. The bulk of what
I have put forth I have learned from three particular
The Well-Educated Mind - Susan Beyer
How to Read a book - Adler or Adler/Van doren
How to read a book and why - Harold Bloom.
All three of these books have LISTS of reccomended
reading and sort of reading programs. Most of the
reccomendations are classics or western canon books
but is definitely worth looking into.
Kevin Beary 2/16/05