Chapter 5 – How to Be a Demanding Reader (part 2 of 2)


There are three quite different kinds of notes that you will make in your books as well as about them. Which kind you make depends upon the level at which you are reading.

The questions answered by inspectional reading are: first, what kind of book is it? Second, what is it about as a whole? And third, what is the structural order of the book? … You may and probably should make notes concerning your answers to these questions, especially if you know that it may be days or months before you will be able to return to the book to give it an analytical reading. The best place to make such notes is on the contents page, or perhaps on the title page.

The point to recognize is that these notes primarily concern the structure of the book, and not its substance. We therefore call this kind of note-making structural.

Then, during an analytical reading, you will need to give answers to questions about the truth and significance of the book. The notes you make at this level of reading are, therefore, not structural but conceptual. They concern the author’s concepts, and also you own, as they have been deepened or broadened by your reading of the book.

What kind of notes do you make when you are giving several books a syntopical reading – when you are reading more than one book on a single subject? Again, such notes will tend be conceptual; and the notes on a page may refer you not only to the other pages in that book, but also to pages in other books.

There is a step beyond that, however, … That is to make notes about the shape of the discussion. We prefer to call such notes dialectical. Since they are made concerning several books, not just one, they often have to be made on a separate sheet of paper. Here, a structure of concepts is implied – an order of statements and questions about a single subject matter.


Any art or skill is possessed by those who have formed the habit of operating according to its rules. This is the way the artist or craftsman in any field differs from those who lack his skill.

Now there is no other way of forming a habit of operation than by operating.

Knowing the rules of an art is not the same as having the habit.

Incidentally, not everyone understands that being an artist consist in operating according to rules, … No matter how original his final production, no matter how little it seems to obey the “rules” of art as they have traditionally been understood, he must be killed to produce it. And this is the art – the skill or craft – that we are talking about here.


Reading is like skiing. When done well, when done by an expert, both reading and skiing are graceful, harmonious activities. When done by a beginner, both are awkward, frustrating, and slow.

Learning to ski is one of the most humiliating experiences and adult can undergo (that is one reason to young). After all, an adult has been walking for a long time … but as soon as he puts skis on his feet, it is as though he had to learn to walk all over again.

Howe can you remember everything the instructor says you have to remember? … how can you think about all that and still ski?

The point about skiing, of course, is that you should not be thinking about the separate acts that, together, make a smooth turn or series of linked turns – instead, you should merely be looking ahead of you down the hill. … In other words, you must learn to forget the separate acts in order to perform all of them well. But in order forget them as separate acts, you have to learn them first as separate acts.

It is the same with reading. Probably you have been reading for a long time, too, and starting to learn all over again can be humiliating. But it is just as true of reading as it is of skiing that you cannot coalesce a lot of different acts into one complex, harmonious performance until you become expert at each of them.

We say it here merely because we want you to realize that learning to read is at least as complex as learning to ski. If you can recall your patience in any other learning experience you have had, you will be more tolerant of instructors who will shortly enumerate a long list of rules for reading.

We hope we have encouraged you by the things we have said in these pages. It is hard to learn to read well. Not only is reading, especially analytical reading, a very complex activity – much more complex than skiing; it is also much more of a mental activity. … It is much harder to think of mental acts, as the beginning analytical reader must do; in a sense, he is thinking about his own thought. Most of us are unaccustomed to doing this. Nevertheless, it can be done, and a person wo does it cannot help learning to read much better.