HOW TO APPROACH A BOOK AND
WRITE BOOK REVIEWS
[Original author unknown. I
may have written this years ago or it may have been a
handout from one of my own
What to look for in your reading?
1.†††††††† What are the critical issues?
2.†††††††† What is the view of the world contained within the document?
3.†††††††† What is the way of life required by the document?
4.†††††††† What are the key symbols referred to by the document?
5.†††††††† Look for critical tensions, recurrent themes and points of
Ask questions while
you read questions that you yourself must try to answer in the course of reading.
The art of reading on any level above the elementary consists in the habit
of asking the right questions in the right order.
1.†††††††† WHAT IS THE BOOK ABOUT AS A WHOLE?
You must try to
discover the leading theme of the book, and how the author develops this theme
in an orderly way of subdividing it into its essential subordinate themes
2.†††††††† WHAT IS BEING SAID IN DETAIL, AND HOW?
You must try to
discover the main ideas, assertions, and arguments that constitute the authorís
3.†††††††† IS THE BOOK TRUE, IN WHOLE OR PART?
You cannot answer
this question until you have answered the first two. You have to know what
is being said before you can decide whether it is true or not. When you understand
a book, however, you are obligated, if you are reading seriously, to make
up your own mind. Knowing the authorís mind is not enough.
If the book has
given you information, you must ask about its significance. Why does the author
think it is important to know these things? Is it important to you to know
them? And if the book has not only informed you, but also enlightened you,
it is necessary to seek further enlightenment by asking what else follows,
what is further implied or suggested.
THE LAST QUESTION
ó WHAT OF IT? is probably the most important one in synoptical reading. Naturally,
you will have to answer the first three questions before attempting the final
Rules for Interpreting
a Bookís Contents
5.†††††††† Come to terms with the author by interpreting his key words.
6.†††††††† Grasp the authorís leading propositions by dealing with his
most important sentences.
7.†††††††† Know the authorís arguments, by finding them in, or constructing
8.†††††††† Determine which of his problems the author has solved, and
which he has not; and of the latter, decide which the author knew he had failed
Criticizing a Book
9.†††††††† Do not begin criticisms until you have completed your outline
and your interpretation of the book. (Do not say you agree, disagree, or suspend
judgement, until you can say ďI understandĒ).
10.†††††† Do not disagree disputatiously or contentiously.
11.†††††† Demonstrate that you recognize the difference between knowledge
and mere personal opinion by presenting good reasons for any critical judgement
B.†††††††† Special Criteria
12.†††††† Show wherein the author is uninformed.
13.†††††† Show wherein the author is misinformed.
14.†††††† Show wherein the author is illogical.
15.†††††† Show wherein the authorís analysis or account is incomplete.
these last four, the first three are criteria for disagreement. Failing in
all of these, you must agree, at least in part, although you may suspend judgement
on the whole, in the light of the last point.
Finally, read some
book reviewed in academic journals such as Studies in Religion, Religious
Studies, Religion, Studies in Nationalism, The Journal
of Politics, African Affairs, or The Times Literary Supplement.