So now your children know how to read. Congratulations! That’s a major step, but does it mean that their reading instruction finished? Not at all, we’ve found. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading teaches the average reader how to understand, analyze, and learn from books. It takes students beyond the basics of reading to become scholars. It is, I think, the foundational book in our homeschool high school, besides the Bible.
How to Read a Book Summary
How to Read a Book discusses and explains the four levels of reading as well as different approaches to different kinds of reading material. The book is divided into four exceedingly well-organized parts:
- “Part 1: The Dimensions of Reading” includes information on the first level of reading, which is what we homeschool moms teach our little ones. Then it goes on to discuss the second level, inspectional reading, occasionally called pre-reading.
- “Part 2: The Third Level of Reading: Analytical Reading” includes topics such as pigeonholing a book, coming to terms with an author, determining an author’s message, and agreeing or disagreeing with an author.
- “Part 3: Approaches to Different Kinds of Reading Matter” presents tips for reading both fiction and non-fiction: novels, plays, short stories, and poems, as well as history, science, math, philosophy, and social science. It also includes an insightful section on how to read ‘canonical’ books. For example, it explains how reading sacred writings as the revealed Word of God, rather than as mere literature, is entirely different from other kinds of reading.
- “Part 4: The Ultimate Goals of Reading” explains the idea of syntopical reading and tells us what good books can do for us.
- Appendices: These include a recommended reading list as well as exercises and tests at the four levels of reading.
Throughout the book, examples and explanations are taken from the literature of ‘the great conversation’ as the greatest Western literature is sometimes called. This adds immeasurably to the book.
How we use How to Read a Book
We were introduced to this book several years ago by both Ambleside Online and The Well-Trained Mind (first edition). Both resources recommended that students work through How to Read a Book in great detail, and that is what we have been doing. My children go through it paragraph by paragraph, for at least half the book. Each paragraph is summarized in one or two sentences, and I check each summary. This process teaches my teens a lot since it’s one of the few books meaty enough to make such careful attention to detail worthwhile. (It teaches me a lot, too. )
Of course, this is a great deal of work and we spread it out over at least the four high school years. I allowed Miss 18 to absorb the last half of How to Read a Book on her own during the last two years of high school, since she’s the kind of person who will read ahead and study independently. Although she would have learned more if she had continued the detailed summaries, there are only 24 hours in a day; she did read it several times. Mr. 16 and Miss 13 are both doing the detailed summaries.
As mentioned, How to Read a Book uses great books as examples. Thus my teens were exposed to much great writing in an enjoyable and inspiring way. In fact, Miss 18 designed her Intro to Western Literature course using the reading list in Appendix A. Recently Mr. 16 chose to read and analyze Machiavelli’s The Prince because of How to Read a Book’s discussion of an intriguing statement beginning with “A prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred;…”
Although this book is challenging and uses challenging examples, the subject matter is appropriate for Christian teens. They will need to think, true, but they will not be taught evil, immorality, modern political correctness, or revisionism.
Our family has been able to understand other books more deeply because of insights gained from How to Read a Book. Thus studying this one book has had a huge impact on everything we learn from other books. It both enhances the time spent reading and increases our efficiency in understanding new material.
I highly recommend How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading for all teens whose studies involve a lot of reading, and for their moms as well.
Disclosure: I do not receive any compensation for my reviews, and my opinions are entirely my own.
–Written by Annie Kate, a Christian homeschooling mom of five, who reviews and blogs at Tea Time with Annie Kate. You can read her other Curriculum Choice reviews here.
-originally published August 2011
I taught a group of highschoolers literature last year, and I required them to read this book in two weeks. Then we used what we learned in the book, to help us read and understand some classics such as The Odyssey, The Aenid, Confessions, Dante’s Inferno, Julius Caesar, etc… It’s an invaluable book! I think everybody should read it once a year. By the way, the highschoolers survived my class and got much more out of it then they would have without having read “How to Read a Book”.
Yes, any intense literature course should start with this book.
I cannot imagine reading it every year, although it would be a good idea if there was enough time…. Right now I’m struggling to keep up with my teens’ reading, and that’s all I have time for. (One’s into Dickens and one’s reading Kant.) Thanks to How to Read a Book, I can manage, though.
Thank you for this review, Annie Kate. I came over from your blog post on this year’s planning. I am wondering how many paragraphs a day you require of your children? Or do you go by chapters?
Thanks so much,
Annie Kate says
I simply decide how far I want them to get that year and then divide that by 36 weeks and give them page numbers to finish each week. I want them to really absorb the material, so I spread it out over 3-4 years. They can’t forget it that way. The later sections about how to read the different kinds of literature, I just assign one section every week or two. They are not worth summarizing paragraph by paragraph, but rather chapter by chapter.
I hope that helps!
Thanks Annie Kate. I’ll have to have a closer look at the book. We read the first chapter last year, and didn’t really do anything with it!
What a great review. I have a question — would this be helpful for me (as a mom who reads aloud a lot) to read — would it help me in reading aloud to my children? Thanks!
Annie Kate says
I think it would. It will help you select books more confidently and quickly. It will also help you if you want to find background material for the books you read aloud.
Have you read or done anything with How to speak, How to Listen? Thoughts?
Also, what age do think this could begin? I want my son to slow down and truly comprehend and think through what he reads.
Annie Kate says
No, Annie, I have not used How to Speak, How to LIsten.
Many suggest that How to Read a Book can be started around grade 7, but often grade 9 or 10 is better. It depends on the teen’s character, abilities, and enthusiasm.
Most kids will not slow down their reading and think on their own, and I found that forcing them to often made them enjoy the book much less and hence absorb it less. It’s a difficult balancing act. If they are interested in it, they will get what they are ready for, and a bit of discussion really helps.
When they are older and understand the ideas in How to Read a Book this goes more easily. I wish you success!