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How To Read For Yourself

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren on Critical Reading Techniques

This book is by no means an easy read, but then again, nothing worthwhile ever is.

To align what you read with your life, mastering the craft of reading critically and reflecting is more necessary than ever. And because of this book; it’s no longer a secret how to go about it.

What I like about the book is how the writers cut through the noise and get to the point. It kicks off with a simple premise – you’ve been reading all your life, but do you really know how to read?

The book is divided into levels; from elementary reading, inspectional reading, to analytical reading.

What has been emphasized throughout the book is that reading and reading well is a process; they turn the fundamentals of a book into an engine; first, inspect the book, size it up, and then figure out what the author is trying to say. 

This isn’t going to be a casual stroll through the literary landscape. The book gives you exactly what you need to understand about the craft of reading.

Here are some of the fundamentals:

Critical Reading Technique #1 Become a Demanding Reader

  • Ask questions while reading to engage actively with the text.

  • Mark a book a avoid passing reading. I think it’s a big mistake to read a book passively, especially when you want to read to remember and evolve.

Critical Reading Technique #2 Come To Terms with the Author

  • Identify and understand the important words, phrases, or sentences in a book. There will always be an underlying pattern that defines a book – be it fiction or non-fiction.

  • Understand the author’s message by interpreting these key elements.

  • Engage in extrinsic reading, considering the book’s subject matter in the context of other books you’ve read in the past or want to read.

Critical Reading Technique #3 Become a Critical Reader

  • Differentiate between the objective and subjective aspects of the book.

  • Separate knowledge from personal opinion and you’ll soon notice a shift in how you view your own thought processes and perception.

  • One of the perks of being a critical reader is that you can form opinions based on your personal understanding and not just information.

  • It also allows you to break down complexities, understanding the unity and separateness of life.

How To Read For Yourself: Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren on Critical Reading Techniques

This book is a rewarding read for many reasons: it provides fundamental insights into the craft of reading, it’s well-structured, offers practical techniques for us to implement immediately and the concepts presented in the book are timeless and encourage critical thinking for all types of readers.

But, what it is not is a “quick fix” – the book doesn’t entertain techniques that’ll make you read books 10 times faster. They recommend techniques that require additional time and effort, which could be a challenge for readers.

So if you’re one of those people who want to read a book as quickly as possible, this book is not for you.

Also, there’s no room for passive reading here. Implementing these techniques might take some extra commitment, and the detailed breakdown may feel overwhelming for those seeking a casual approach. It’s not a one-session read, that’s for sure, you’ll need to read multiple times to absorb it fully.


I love to tie this to the concept of the Compound Effect.

The Compound Effect takes place when we make small improvements in our daily living that go beyond reading for pleasure. It, in essence, embodies the concept of long-lasting personal growth in a series of small, everyday choices. Reject the pursuit of immediate remedies and gratifications and “quick fixes” that are 99% of the time impermanent and very quickly lose their charm to motivate us and keep us going.

I wrote something in the margins on one of the pages of the book, page 206, but I don’t remember where I found it:

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”

Now one of the driving forces of human behavior is that whatever we do that’s immediately rewarded is most likely to be repeated. The rewards, as stated in this book, are what we observe not just in the world in which we live but in our own minds.


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