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April 16, 2018

Book Review Writing: How to Read Difficult Books to Develop Intelligence

This is a step-by-step instruction for book reading which would help you understand difficult materials. This is a skill you might need if you often write book reviews, as this task requires you to read texts you don’t always like. Let’s see how to do that.

Student Bored Reading

You probably read such books: you want to quit reading them after a few pages because it is impossible for you to understand a thing. Here is another viewpoint for you to consider: these are exactly the books you need to read in order to become smarter. Think of your brain as of a muscle you can make stronger. To do that, you need to “pump iron”, which means to read complicated books.

1. Before You Start Reading

Get Rid of School Thinking

At school, you read to answer teacher’s questions. Results of tests confirm you are familiar with the material, and nothing more. Avoid that approach towards reading. Remember, that at the university you read more for yourself, and not for teachers or lecturers.

Let’s suppose that you read a book about Peloponnesian War. It is not that important to remember the fact that there was a conflict between Corinth and Corsica sometime. Pay attention to strategies chosen by the rival camps. Both cities struggled to receive support of Athens. But one side accused Athens of being in debt, while the other one provided a list of pluses coming from cooperation between two cities. Would you guess who won?

In this case, places, names and dates are not that important. Lessons matter the most.

This works for the review tasks, too. You don’t have to retell the content or a plot of the book, no matter if it is fiction or documentary. Your task is to write your own opinion on the author’s thoughts and arguments, on ideas and values, on questions and answers that he or she gives in the book.

Look Through the Last Pages

The reader’s (and the book reviewer’s) goal is to work out why something happened. It is not that important to know what exactly happened. So, it is useful to know the final part of the book or main author’s thoughts and conclusions in advance. Then, you can concentrate on two important questions while reading:

  • What does that mean?
  • Do I agree with that?

Usually, while reading first 50 pages of a non-fiction book, the reader only tries to comprehend what the author intends to say. If you are aware of that beforehand, then you can move to the next stage at once: you try to decide if the author is right and how you can use it to write a review or in practice. Additionally, you will notice main “hooks” when reading a book for the first time at once. Those hooks can often be missed if you don’t have some knowledge about the book beforehand.

Look Through the Feedback

Pay attention to the things that seemed to be important for other readers. Estimate the cultural value of the book according to their comments. Think what it could mean for other people. Think over its main topics basing on testimonials you could find.

2. In the Process of Reading

Read the Intro

That is what you want to skip so much, but still don’t do it. Otherwise you will miss many important things and you will need to read it all from the very beginning once more. Read through introductory articles, interpreter’s comments, references and footnotes obligatory. They can help you understand author’s ideas and prepare yourself to perceive the book you need to review.

Don’t refuse that help. You’ll need it when reading something really complex.

Clarify Things

Don’t pretend to understand everything. Look for the information about things you don’t get. For instance, when you read about war history, it is important to imagine the battlefield correctly. Look through the maps of the area, get familiar with the additional facts. But don’t concentrate on details too much. Don’t forget that you need to get the main ideas to know them and to write a review first.

Mark Interesting Parts

Underline words, sentences or periods that make you feel interest and think. If you don’t have a bookmark or a marker nearby, then just carefully grease a page corner.

Note thoughts, feelings and associations caused by a certain part of the text. Do that at once till you remember about that and have some inspiration. Don’t be afraid of spoiling the book. It will be much easier to write a good book review on it in that case. And these notes will be of much help when made.

3. After Reading

Write Things Out

Come back to a book in a week or two after you finish reading it. Look it through and write out all the text you have marked on cards. Sort those cards according to the topics. This is a very comfortable system that lets you keep important thoughts under control. You can use them anytime: when writing an essay, solving a studying problem or feeling life difficulties.

Student Making Notes

If you don’t want to deal with paper cards, make digital notes. There are many user-friendly applications for that.

Choose the Following Book from the Bibliography

Look through footprints and bibliography list at the end of the book in order to find a new one for reading. This is how you can improve your knowledge in one field.

Use New Knowledge in Practice

You haven’t marked interesting quotes in vain. Use them in your talks and chats. Use them to improve your studying and everyday life. Read them to find inspiration.

Don’t forget the reason of reading. You do not read the book just to make a review, but to learn moral and practical lessons from there. And reading for the sake of reading is not enough. You need to apply the knowledge practically in order to grow and go on developing.

The more satisfaction you get from using new knowledge, the more you want to continue your own self-development.

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