Discussing "How to Read a Book"


This book feels like the title of this article: listen to the excellent students who take turns to share their experiences of how to read.

During my student days, I might have sneered at it - after all, "their honey is my poison." Fortunately, I have read some books, know and admire some people, and see many familiar faces who will "take turns to share." So I will forgive the editor's haste.

Why Read#

Reading generally requires certain conditions, such as solving basic needs before choosing to pursue knowledge at the spiritual level. The "Xici" in the "Book of Changes" says, "The people use it every day without knowing it." It means that most people only satisfy their daily needs without exploring the universal truth behind them. Just like the moon-watcher in "2001: A Space Odyssey" 1, representing the primitive humans, they will only have time to think about the future after releasing a certain amount of energy through the use of tools.

After the basic survival conditions are met, there are higher pursuits, and reading is one of them. The ancients had clear purposes for reading:

The rich do not need to buy fertile land, as there is an abundance of grain in books.
Living in peace does not require a high hall, as there is a golden house in books.
Going out without companions should not be regretted, as there are many carriages and horses in books.
Marrying a wife without a good matchmaker should not be regretted, as there are beauties in books.
──Emperor Zhenzong of Song, Zhao Heng, "Encouraging Learning"

Zhao Heng summed up the pursuit of the general readers: living in luxury houses, driving luxury cars, marrying beautiful women, and making big money. This timeless truth still holds true in the minds of many elders - all things are inferior, only reading is supreme.

However, with the enrichment of material life, reading for the sake of spiritual satisfaction has become more and more common.

How to Choose Books#

Mr. Lu Xun's attitude is to choose the best and read it, otherwise it is better not to read at all. Koizumi Yakumo once advised people not to buy books that they would not reread after reading them once. This is a profound saying about reading, as well as a saying about buying books. Don't fall into the trap of "buying books like a collapsing mountain, reading books like pulling threads." Regarding rereading, Jorge Luis Borges also said that if there is something better than reading, it is rereading, delving into the work and enriching it. Of course, this refers to rereading those classic books.

An unscrupulous and inferior book can waste time at best and disturb one's mental state at worst. Mr. Lu Xun mentioned in "Casually Flipping Through" the unreliability of domestic history books, such as deletions and inaccurate translations... which forced him to choose Japanese-translated books rather than Chinese-published history books. I also agree with and express similar views in a previous article on "deletions" 2. Unexpectedly, after nearly a hundred years, even thousands of years, we have passed down this "traditional virtue" very well.

How to Read#

Mr. Cai Yuanpei humbly said that although he reads every day, he still has no achievements - as if we didn't know that he revolutionized Peking University and created an atmosphere of "academics" and "freedom".

Then he went on to share the reasons for his "lack of achievements":

  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of diligence in writing

Conversely, as long as you can concentrate on reading and diligently write, it is very likely that you will not become "unsuccessful" like him.

Mr. Hu Shi, on the other hand, was not so pretentious and openly said, "Learning originates from thinking, and thinking arises from doubt." His view is a continuation of Cheng Yi, a great scholar of the Northern Song Dynasty: learning originates from thinking. It means that you have to start from the problem, think, and learn. It seems that Mr. Hu Shi is a more pragmatic person. One of my views on learning is quite similar to his: learning driven by questions. When encountering a new field, first think about what problems need to be solved.

Fu Donghua's method is more operational. He first understands the structure from a macro perspective and then delves into the details. He mentioned that when he was at Nanyang Public School (the predecessor of Shanghai Jiao Tong University), he would borrow a bunch of books from the library every few days. He quickly skimmed through the books and then organized the content. As he said, first observe the terrain from the mountaintop, then walk the path down the mountain, so as not to get lost. His method coincides with Feng Zikai's.

Speaking of Feng Zikai, I have to mention an interesting story about him. In his "My Experience of Studying Hard," he mentioned that when he was studying in Japan, in order to learn authentic Japanese, he went to join an English training class in Japan to practice Japanese (his English was very good). This roundabout tactic actually allowed him to quickly master Japanese.

His experience reminded me of a friend in college who, in order to pursue a girl in a photography club, concealed his abilities as a "senior master" and pretended to be a novice, actively seeking advice from the girl. The girl, out of kindness, taught him. This bastard had a positive attitude and made rapid progress in his abilities. Through continuous interaction, he eventually succeeded in pursuing the girl. Similarly, another female student who was very good at computer skills approached her senior for help in repairing computers repeatedly, and in the end, she also won over her senior...

Indeed, successful people are similar - single dogs each have their own miseries.

Returning to this book, I think it is overall good. At least after reading it, I gained a little something, and many of the viewpoints resonated with me.

If I were to pick a fault, it would be that the final "knowledge links" actually summarized the key points of each person's reading, and it might be better to place this chapter at the beginning.


  1. Watching "2001: A Space Odyssey":

  2. Deletions:

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