How to Read a Book, by Mortimer J. Adler, is one of my favorite books. At first glance, the title probably makes you snicker. But within its pages lie thoughtful strategies on book analysis and reading comprehension. One of the key principles that all of the others feed off is the act of re-reading.
I’m curious as to how many people re-read books. I’ve personally re-read maybe one or two in my life. It’s something I know I should do more often, but I always find my mind gravitating away from the old and towards the new.
So, why should you (and I) change that dirty habit and re-read certain books? Before we get there, I should note one important thing. Adler points out that not all books deserve to be re-read. Only re-read those that are important to you and challenge your way of thinking. Okay, on to the Whys!
- How did I miss that?
After a dense novel or textbook, I usually have a general grasp of the big ideas and some key thoughts. But I know I probably missed some interesting subtext and subtleties that one just doesn’t catch upon first reading. In that regard, I think it’s a lot like looking at a painting or listening to music. There are so many little parts that come together to make up the whole, each contributing in its own way, often coloring and affecting other parts. Most people will find a greater appreciation for the big picture when they’ve dug a little deeper and have analyzed how it all comes together.
- How can I apply that to my life?
This applies to technical books (self-help, professional, etc.) for the most part, but you may find yourself gaining insights from fiction as well. Re-reading helps to stress concepts, making sure they don’t just bounce off your brain cells and out your ear a week later.
Your instincts will tell you when you’ve reached a point of diminishing returns; a place where you realize the cow’s been milked for all it’s worth. That’s when you can put the book on the shelf or give it to your best friend.
You know, I think I will take Adler’s advice to heart. What better way to apply it than to re-read his excellent book.