how we read

An OGB Guide To How We Read

How do you actually read? At Online Great Books, we subscribe to the Adlerian checklist as we engage in active reading:

  • What is this book about was a whole?
  • What is being said in detail, and why?
  • Is the book true, in whole or part?
  • What of it?

This method of investigation is our gold reading standard as we encounter Great Books authors from Aristotle to Shakespeare. Adler gives the ideal, but how do you do it in the real world?

Tune In To Hear More: Podcast #43 How We Read

We asked this question to our members in our community Slack channel. Scott, our Reader-in-Chief, responded in the thread,  “I read like a drowning man.” When asked what he was drowning in, Scott responded, “too darn much. In Aristotle’s Ethics, he put’s his whole being into it… but drowning in Aristotle is a good thing to do.”

OGB Member Thiago responded in the same thread, ” A man when he is drowning values every breath not because he has time to think of it’s worth, he values it because he is violently fighting for it, for he knows what it is to breathe. I’d like to think I read as one who knows that he can and that with every word there just may be a new breath to breathe.”

Sometimes, though, you just want to remain onshore. In these instances, you might pick up a Stephen King thriller or the newest romance on the bestseller list. Knowing what you’re reading for is the first step to determining the method by which you engage with a work. Why are you reading the book in the first place?

To answer this question think of Aristotle’s 4 Causes. Material (what it’s made of), Efficient (the mover that causes the thing to be), Formal (form in which it’s arranged), and Final (the purpose for which the thing exists).

If you know the final case, why you want to read, all the details of how you do it makes sense. If you’re reading for entertainment your method will be different for reading for enlightenment.

Entertainment Reading

Karl defines entertainment reading as “divisioinary… they’re palet cleansers.” Still, a good novel is better entertainment than good television.


  • Audible
  • Before-bed reading


  • Speed Reading- catch the first and last part of the line with your peripheral- you’re not reading conjunctions or articles of the sentence.

Granted, you’re not going to be speed reading Hobbes or Aristotle all sleepy-eyed before bed. We recommend a different way of taking in reading for enlightenment.

Enlightenment Reading


Here at Online Great Books, we set reading goals for our members to accomplish in 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week. When we’re setting reading goals, we take into account that all of these authors write with a different rhythm, a different vocabulary, and a different style. You’re going to read slower at the start in order to get accustomed to the author, especially if you’re meeting them for the first time.

As a guiding principle, Scott and Karl agree that the minimum reading dose to get any good done is between 30-45 minutes. Scott adds, “I read in a chunk because it takes me a minute to get that pace, that rhythm, to turn the rest of the clown world off.”

We recommend the Pomodoro Technique:

  1. Get rid of distractions (turn off electronics)
  2. Set a timer to 30 minutes
  3. Once the timer goes off, put your book down and go about your day. Or, reset the dial and go for round 2.


Karl’s Pick:

Karl likes the PILOT FriXion Erasable Pens to take notes in his book. Why? With the erasable pen, you’re able to retract notes if you no longer find it useful. For longer reading notes, Karl will use his BOOX tablet which syncs straight up to Evernote. He perfers using Evernote for it’s searchability features.

Scott’s Picks:

Scott uses the 0.5 mm Eversharpe Mechanical Pencil paired with a standard 6-inch ruler for its precision tip when writing in a book margins. Also, he recommends the Uni-Ball Jetstream Retractable Ballpoint Pen for taking notes on notecards. He takes his Songmics bamboo lap desk with tilting top with him to ensure a comfortable reading environment.

Note-Taking System:

The problem with most of the notes we take is that we never look at them again. In order to use notes as more than an aid to memory but also as a source of invention, Scott and Karl both use Malachy’s note-taking method. In principle, collect notes on what you read, experience and think. Fashion these notes into questions and answers. Sort your notes by the type of question they address. Using notecards allows you to sort through them easily. If you’re a member with us, you can include your notecards on the book pages they correspond to and use that as your meeting prep. It’s also an easy way to expand your note set if you chose to revisit a text!


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