Is “Reading” 286 Books in a Year a Sign of Addiction?

One of my greatest passions is reading. I developed this passion at an early age, and have continued to strengthen it over the years. In addition to being my passion, reading is also an important part of my role as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. In that role, I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix every two weeks. SUMS Remix is a modified book summary in which I develop a solution to a common problem faced by church leaders from 3 different books. So, preparing SUMS Remix in 2016 alone means I have gone through dozens of leadership and organization development books to arrive at the 78 used in producing 26 issues this year.

Other parts of my role required reading current trends books, used for social media posting and content writing.

Then there’s my passion area of Guest Experience, in which I am constantly researching customer service books for application for churches.

And, as many readers know, I am a Disney Fanatic – which extends to building a Disney library, currently 139 volumes and growing!

Finally, there’s just the pure pleasure of reading – an almost nightly hour or two in the late evening reading a wide range of books, both brand new and classics, fiction and nonfiction.

Add those 5 categories all together, and in 2016 I have “read” 286 books. 

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First, a disclaimer: I did not read all 286 cover to cover. With such an immense (and pleasurable) task in front of me, I have to resort to some method of finding out what an author is trying to say without reading the whole book.

Here’s how I did it – and, of course it starts with a book!

How to Read a Book

Literally – that’s the name of a classic book by Mortimer Adler.  The first lesson of reading is to learn that you don’t need to “read” each book the same way. Here are Adler’s 4 levels of reading:

  • Elementary Reading – What does the book say?
  • Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?
  • Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?
  • Syntopical Reading – What does a comparison of books on the subject reveal?

Some books are only meant to be read at the first level; others are meant to be digested at some of the other levels. Know which is which!

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:

  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction
  • Read the Table of Contents
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and subheadings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph in each chapter. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always.
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

If the book captures your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

The converse is true: if a book doesn’t capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic – there are always more waiting for you!

With that caveat in mind, my “cover-to-cover” reading for 2016 was 157 books.

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While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. Why don’t you bless yourself and those around you by reading a new book in the first weeks of 2017, and sharing its wisdom with others?

Me? Well, I’ve got four books lined up for delivery by Amazon the first week of January, and another two on reserve at the library.

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Wednesday Weekly Reader – How to Read a Book

During my elementary school years one of the things I looked forward to the most was the delivery of “The Weekly Reader,” a weekly educational magazine designed for children and containing news-based, current events.

It became a regular part of my love for reading, and helped develop my curiosity about the world around us.

Regular reading of both books and magazines remains a part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for writing and publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders.

SUMS Remix is finishing its fourth year – the first two years contained a single book in each issue; the last two years include three books in each issue. If I’ve done my math correctly, that’s 201 books covered in 102 issues since the fall of 2012.

I do like to read!

Today I’m launching a new series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday. And there’s no better place to start than “how to read a book.”


You have a mind. Now let us suppose that you also have a book that you want to read. The book consists of language written by someone for the sake of communicating. Your success in reading it is determined by the extent to which you receive everything the writer intended to communicate. – Mortimer J. Adler

sums-1-howtoreadabookMortimer J. Adler was an American author, educator, and philosopher who championed the repopularization of the Great Books and Great Ideas curriculum of study. A prolific scholar, he was the author or editor of more than fifty books, including editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s very fitting then, that one of his best-known works is How to Read a Book.

The art of reading is the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from the outside, elevates itself by the power of its own operations.

 

The Levels of Reading

There are four levels of reading – so called because they are cumulative in that each level includes all the others, and you can’t progress to a higher level without mastering the levels that come before. They four levels are:

  • Elementary
  • Inspectional
  • Analytical
  • Syntopical

1 – Elementary Reading – What does the book say?

In mastering this level, one learns the rudiments of the art of reading, receives basic training in reading, and acquires reading skills. Our first encounter at reading is at this level; sadly, many people never progress beyond this level.

At this level of reading, the question asked of the reader is “What does the sentence say?” While that could be conceived as a complex question, in this setting take it at its simplest sense.

The attainment of the skills of elementary reading occurred some time ago for almost everyone reading this summary. Nevertheless, we continue to experience the problems of this level of reading, no matter how capable we may be as readers.

Many readers continue to have various kinds of difficulties reading at this level. Most of the difficulties are mechanical, and can be traced back to early instruction in reading. Overcoming these difficulties usually allows us to read faster.

There are four basic stages of Elementary Reading:

  1. Reading readiness’ (early physical development)
  2. Simple reading (small vocabulary; simple skills)
  3. Expanded reading (large vocabulary; diverse subjects; enjoyment)
  4. Refined reading (understand concepts; compare different views)

2 – Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?

The focus of reading at this level is to get the most out of a book with in a given amount of time. When reading at this level, your aim is to examine the surface of the book, to learn everything that the surface alone can teach you – which is often a good deal.

Techniques for Inspectional Reading of a book include:

  1. Systematic skimming or pre-reading
  2. Look at the title page and preface: try to pigeonhole type of book
  3. Study table of contents: look for structure/road map for trip
  4. Check index: estimate range of terms and topics; look up some passages that seem crucial
  5. Check the dust jacket: read the publisher’s blurb
  6. Look for chapters which seem most pivotal: read opening and/or
 closing passages/pages carefully
  7. Thumb through entire book, reading a few paragraphs and/or pages
 here and there, esp. at the end, looking for the main argument(s)

3 – Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?

The third level of reading, analytical reading, is both a more complex and a more systematic activity than either of the previous two levels of reading. Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading – the best you can do. The analytical reader must ask many organized questions of what he is reading.

Analytical reading is hardly ever necessary if your goal in reading is simply information or entertainment. Analytical reading is preeminently for the sake of understanding. Moving your mind from a condition of understanding less to a condition of understanding more with the aid of a book is almost impossible unless you have at least some skill in analytical reading.

Techniques for Analytical Reading include:

  1. Underlining key sentences
  2. Vertical lines to mark key sections
  3. Marginal doodads like asterisks and stars
  4. Numbers of other pages in the margin
  5. Circling key words or phrases
  6. Writing in margins, or top and bottom
  7. Structural notes – about the content of the subject
  8. Conceptual notes – about the truth and significance
  9. Dialectical notes – about the shape of the argument in the larger discussion of other people’s ideas

4 – Syntopical Reading – How does this book compare with other books?

The fourth and highest level of reading is the most complex and systematic type of reading. It makes very heavy demands on the reader, even if the materials themselves are relatively easy and unsophisticated.

Another name for this level of reading may be called comparative reading. The reader is reading many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another and to a subject about which they all revolve. Mere comparison of texts is not enough: syntopical reading involves more. With the help of the books being read, the syntopical reader is able to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books. Syntopical reading is the most active and effortful kind of reading.

Techniques in Syntopical Reading include:

  1. Find the relevant passages
  2. Establish a common terminology
  3. Clarify the questions
  4. Define the issues
  5. Analyze the discussion and look for the truth

Reading and the Growth of the Mind

Active reading is the asking of questions and looking for answers. Good books stretch our minds, improve our reading
 skills, and teach us about the world and ourselves. Good books make demands on us.

But there is a world beyond good books – that of great books. Good books need have no more than one meaning and one reading
. Great books, on the other hand, have many meanings and need to be read over and over again.

The test of a great book:

  1. If you were marooned on a desert island, which ten books would you select?
  2. Does the book seem to grow with you?
  3. Do you see new things every time
 you re-read it?
  4. Is the book is able to lift you over and over again?

Seek out the few books that have these values for you.

Reading well, which means reading actively, is not only good in itself, nor is it merely a means to advancement in our work or career. Reading keeps our minds alive and growing.


You can learn more about SUMS Remix here and subscribe to SUMS Remix here.