Tag Archives: Literature

How to Read a Book

Source: Livinganawesomelife.com

Reading is the key to developing a comprehensive understanding of any subject by yourself. By the end of Year 12, you’ll need to have mastered the skills of independent readingnote-taking, and asking for help. Today, we’ll focus on the first of those key skills: independent reading.

There are three main types of reading: inspectional, analytical and synoptical reading. How you read depends on your purpose for reading.

1) News articles require Inspectional Reading

In a magazine or academic journal, skim over the headlines and pictures to find articles that might interest you. I recommend reading New Scientist as an excellent source of up-to-date science news. I used to read this magazine each morning before reading the day’s textbook chapter(s) while I was a student in Cambridge. Inspectional reading involves skim-reading then re-reading if the article is particularly relevant to you. You might even want to cut it out and keep it for future reference.

2) Your Chemistry textbook requires Analytical Reading

The key to analytical reading is to make annotations and excellent notes. If you’ve purchased a printed copy of the book, then you’ve purchased the right to annotate that book with ink, Post-it Notes® and highlighters. In difficult/technical sections of the book (such as the introduction page to NMR spectroscopy in Heinemann Chemistry 2), summarise each paragraph in 7 words or fewer in the margin. Transfer your notes to A4, lined paper and file your notes in an organised way. Note-making is the best way to learn while you read a technically difficult text such as your Chemistry textbook.

3) When you have an assignment due, you’ll need to do a Synoptical Reading of your source materials

When you need to build a bibliography, you’ll need to glean pieces of information from many sources and summarise them into your own words. You’ll also need to keep a properly-formatted references list to append to your assignment. You can read the entire text or just relevant parts – but make sure your reading is varied. Read books or articles from the references sections of books that are particularly relevant to your assignment. When writing your essay, much of the structure of the essay will ‘magically’ emerge when you link together in a logical way the dozens of sentence-long summaries that you created during your synoptical reading.

How do you read?

Is there a special reading/note-taking technique that works well for you? Do you make flashcards or mind maps? Let us know in the comments section below.

Book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States

Uncle Tom's Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States

Succinct, analytical, readable, perfect.
175 pages, ★★★★★

The original text of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was very dense, laced with nineteenth-century English and was a nuisance to read—especially the speech from Tom’s wife, Chloe. Here’s an excerpt of the original:

“An’ de Gineral, he knows what cookin’ is. Bery nice man, de Gineral! He comes of one of de bery fustest families in Old Virginny!”

While it’s intelligible, it’s tiring to read.

However, I learned much more from this book, called Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Mid-Nineteenth Century United States. It uses the concise, logical English language that as a science student (and as a blogger), I’m much more used to. It not only tells you the story, the author’s background, her reasons for writing, and the book’s influence on the American public, but also includes discussions of the devastating slave trade, the ‘ownership’ of women and the extermination of native Americans that occurred in the same historical period. This book concludes with a chapter on Uncle Tom’s Cabin‘s legacy. I learned much more from this book than from Uncle Tom’s Cabin itself.

Reading derivative works isn’t cheating at all. Nobody was expected to read the original text of On the Origin of Species while I was doing undergraduate science. We were, however, expected to know the gist of what it said by reading books that relate heavily to it (The Third Chimpanzee and Genome come to mind).

Instead of reading the dozens of classics on my reading list, I’m going to hunt for derivative works of all of them. I think I’ve finally found a way to make classic fiction both enjoyable and accessible at the same time… ★★★★★

Book: Hocus Pocus (Kurt Vonnegut)

Shallow Rants of a Witty Eccentric. Read 林语堂 Instead.
268 pages, ★★

I loved The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang; and Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut is it’s darker-yet-shallower (Western) sibling. These books belong together in the non-existent genre of Rambles & RantsThe Importance of Living is a rather pleasant (countryside) ramble, whereas Hocus Pocus is more of a rant.

The Editor’s Note warns us that Hocus Pocus is a collection of scribblings that the author had little intention of creating into a book. Parts of this book were even compiled from Vonnegut’s doodles on the backs of envelopes and business cards. Some of the thousands of scraps of paper that comprise the original book contain just one word each. This book is a mess, and it’s post-modernist proud of it.

Hocus Pocus is darker and less balanced than The Importance of Living. I even found Vonnegut stressful to read: he writes Hocus Pocus with moderate pessimism, and his eccentricity too often comes across as sarcasm, draining the reader. For such a scatty book, he puts too much emphasis on the Vietnam War (consider that he could have mused about anything he wanted in this post-modernist, or, “freestyle” book, but instead dwelled on negativity—and in doing so, taught us nothing). I much loved reading Lin Yutang, on the other hand, who writes with optimism, logic and beautiful balance that makes his books a great pleasure to read. See my review here. I feel that all the strong points of The Importance of Living were attempted—and failed—in Hocus Pocus.

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Vonnegut so I should probably give him more time. This is the first Vonnegut book that I’ve read. For the moment, I can only give this two stars. ★★

Book: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

I am edging closer to fiction by reading this book. This book belongs in the middle group of "realistic fiction".

Written from a science fiction perspective
387 pages, ★★★★

Physics of the Future makes references to dozens of (mostly sci-fi) movies that I’m now tempted to download and watch. The author’s a professor of physics but relies very heavily on dozens of examples (Star Wars, Star Trek, Bladerunner, Twister, Rain Man) to illustrate which technologies will become a reality. Robots, genomes, and cheap energy are all among them.

Each chapter focusses on one area of expertise. The chapters are broken into three subsections: early 21st century, mid-21st century, and late 21st century. Each subsection then contains a list of technologies that will transform our lives (such as cold fusion, warm superconductors, space elevators, and human cloning).

Most of this book is pretty accurate. There are some cute mistakes, such as “one day, we’ll all carry our genomes around on a CD-ROM”; but most of the book is well-thought through. He predicts the future of manufacturing and capitalism, as well as the more cliché areas such as energy and transportation. Each technology has a limitation that stops it being a reality today (usually financial limitations, but sometimes insufficient science, ethics or political limits are invoked). I’m comforted to read that technology only seldom has intrinsic limit.

Magic happens hen you piece all of this together: all the obstacles fall like dominoes. Superconductive power transmission allows for a renewable energy boom. Carbon nanotubes allow for space elevators and thus cheap spaceflights. Nuclear fusion allows for energy-hungry magnetic levitation; and super-fast transportation. Mastering just one of the technologies in this book (particularly nuclear fusion or room-temperature superconductors) would allow most of the other technologies to fall into place, like magic!

Machines can become IQ billionaires but will always have an EQ of zero. The further we advance our understanding of robotics and computers, the higher we increase demand for EQ-based “human” services to work alongside them. Widespread computers and robots have the potential to make our work less menial, and our personalities more human. And that’s a world I would love to live in.

Physics of the Future introduces non-fiction readers to fiction; and coaxes science-lovers into reading science fiction. Admittedly, it would be a dull book for sci-fi buffs or lovers of literature, but is a page-turner for a non-fiction lover like me. ★★★★