Advice on Reading

From Alfino
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Reading is still one of the main and most efficient ways to become more informed and deepen your understanding of a topic as you prepare to do philosophy. But reading is a bit under seige these days and as our reading patterns change, it becomes harder to do the type of "close reading" and "reading for implications" that really helps with philosophy.
So here is some general advice about getting your reading time to work for you and some specific advice about reading for philosophy.

Advice for Reading

  • Look at old class notes for this reading.
  • Reading "around" the text. With a famous text, google a summary, find out about the author, maybe there's a wiki page with his or her key ideas, thumb through the text. The less surprised you are about what's coming in a text the more attention you have for what's there.
  • Physical memory -- Research continues to show that on-screen reading yields less comprehension than reading from print material, even if subjects thing otherwise. One speculation about why this is true is that we still have a "physical" memory. Handling a physical text, marking it, thumbing through it before and after class, might all be part of a physical memory process.
  • Track both the time you spend on reading and try to assess your concentration level. Try to notice what your current "natural limits" are for productive reading. How distractable are you? Try reading in environments that offer fewer options for distraction.
  • As you read, try to imagine what the author's outline might have looked like and what their rationale might be for the choice of topic and detail. "Reverse engineer" the text as you read it.
  • As you read, pause to give yourself examples, raise questions, even argue with the author. The less connected you are to the reading, the less you retain.
  • Avoid setting aside a reading without identifying the 3-5 most important things about it. Within hours of finishing a reading session, this becomes harder to do, but if you jot down just a few notes, they often revive a great deal of detail.