Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to Read a Novel

It is chiefly through books that we enjoy intercourse with superior minds...In the best books, great men talk to us, give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours. -William Ellery Channing 

Taken from The Well-Educated Mind:

Frederic Leighton
Study: At a Reading Desk
Classical self-education demands that you understand, evaluate, and react to ideas.  Here is how:

Read early in the day and schedule short sessions a few days a week.  Keep a journal, which helps memory and organization of your thoughts.

Keeping a journal, or commonplace book, is used to collect specific phrases, sentences, and paragraphs as you read; after each chapter summarize briefly what you have learned; and after you finish reading, then write your own reactions, questions, and thoughts.

The trivium has three stages in reading:
I. Grammar stage: to understand the book's basic structure and argument (the WHAT).
II. Logic stage: to evaluate the book's assertions (the WHY and HOW).
III. Rhetoric stage: form an opinion about the book's ideas (the SO WHAT).

How to Read a Novel

Grammar-stage first reading (informative):
1. Read the cover, the back cover, and the table of contents.
2. Do not read the preface unless written by the author.
3. The first time you read through a book, keep going without stopping.
4. If you come across something you do not understand, bracket it in the book and ear mark it.
5. Stop at end of each chapter to summarize in one or two sentences the chapter content.
6. Jot down questions or reflections distinct from summary.  Include page numbers, so you may review them later.
7. When done with first reading, go back and assemble your summary sentences into an outline.

Logic-stage (inquiry):
1. Second time reading is to gaze over individual sections of book that were identified as difficult.  Do they make sense now?
2. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Can you identify the climax?
  • What is the author's argument?
  • Why did the author write this book?  Did author lay out facts to support purpose?
  • Did author succeed or fail?  Are facts unproven?

Rhetoric-stage (discussion):
Third time reading is to look back through book for answers to questions about ideas:
  • What does the writer want me to do?
  • What does the writer want me to believe?
  • What does the writer want me to experience?
  • Am I convinced?
  • Have I experienced what writer wants me to experience?
Always use direct quotes to support your ideas, forcing you to be specific.

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