Friday, November 22, 2019

WALK WITH THE SCHOLAR PROGRAMME: How to Read and Review an Academic Book?

On 20 November 2019, I received the privilege to visit Government College, Thalassery at Chokli as a resource person to teach students how to read and review an academic book. The class was composed of fifty brilliant students. The session was part of the Walk With the Scholar Programme conducted by the Department of Collegiate Education. Here are some of the insights that I planned for the class. I hope those who are unable to attend the class and those who are less fortunate to have a formal education in government colleges could get a glimpse of the concepts I discussed and benefit from it.    


Reading is a very complex activity. Researchers are done on the activity of reading. There are many reasons for reading. In the early stages of growth, a very young reader goes through simple texts, often short in length. Such reading involves reading aloud. This early reading phase is for a very short period. After that, the readers move to 'real' reading, which involves reading texts that carry complex grammatical structures, vocabulary, and expressions. In this case, reading for meaning involves silent reading.

When we compare reading aloud and reading silently, the first style of reading consumes more energy. It involves observing a word in relation to the next word and the word before it, understanding the context of the word, and then uttering it aloud. Some of these steps are not involved while reading silently. 'Reading silently' can also be called 'reading for meaning.' In this method, we can grasp the total meaning of the text quite fast. Another significance of 'reading for meaning' is that while we read for meaning, or reading silently, we do not need to read every letter of every word in each sentence. One can make guesses based on a few letters from a word and a few words from a sentence. 

For example, I w-s ta----g ab--t y--. 

Reading is an active process. The reading process is essentially a process of decoding. 
During the writing of a text, the writer has some common assumptions with the reader. Problems in a text arise when the assumptions of the reader do not match that of the writer and the common set of assumptions fails to establish itself. 

Regarding the meaning of a given text, there are many theories. A reader's prior life experiences influence the meaning a reader constructs concerning a text. The vocabulary, syntax, and form of text also influence the meaning.

Reading an Academic Book:

Reading skill involves literal reading, interpretive reading, creative reading, and critical reading. All these skills are required while reading an academic book. 
Literal reading- The reader's focus is to comprehend the text. 
Interpretive reading- Also known as "reading between the lines". This means, reading for hidden meanings in a text.  
Creative reading- Creative reading is the rendering of new ideas, applications, methods, and reflections. 
Critical reading- involves analysis of the text to reach a judgement regarding the text. 

Three major modes of reading are: 

Skimming: It means skimming over the surface of a piece of writing, or glancing rapidly through a text, to find out its general content, central idea, or gist. We do this, for example, when we want to find out whether a certain article is relevant to our area of study or research, or when we glance over a page of a newspaper to see if there is anything worth reading in detail, or when we leaf through a book to find out its subject matter.

Scanning: It means darting over much of a text to search for a specific item or piece of information that we wish to discover. This skill therefore also involves the ability to reject or pass over irrelevant information. It is the kind of reading we do when, for example, we read a biographical account to find out the date on which a certain event happened, or when we go through the table of contents in a book to see whether a certain aspect of a problem has been dealt with in the book. Another method to scan a book is to go to the Index section at the back of the book. Most academic books have a page marked as "Index" in the back of the book, where important words in the book would be given with their page numbers. This shall be used to locate the precise information regarding the particular word you are seeking. Also one can use the content page to locate the specific information.  

 Writing a Review for an Academic Book

While reviewing an academic book elaborate on the following concepts:

  1. The subject of the book
  2. The objective or aim of the book: Does the book establish any new information, meeting the demands of the time? 
  3. The politics of the book: Are there fresh perspectives? Or is the book a rehash of existing notions?
  4. The context of the book. Where does the book stand in the existing stream of knowledge? Make a comparison with other similar/dissimilar books.  
  5. The gist of the book: elaborate on the subject of the book and summarise it in a minimum number of words. 
  6. Is there any lacunae or gap in the book? Critically comment on the shortcomings of the book. 
  7. Judge the reliability of the book regarding the facts shared in the book.  
  8. The conclusions made in the book, if any. 
  9. Other matters: such as comments on price, cover design, availability, etc. 
  10. The relevance of the book. 
  11. Concluding remarks: Any particular concepts that you liked or disliked as a reviewer. 
  12. Works Cited (use "Works Cited" as a title with bold letters in the centre of the page, after your concluding paragraph. Follow the instructions given in the latest edition of MLA Handbook for filling this section. Or use guidance from your teachers/supervisors)

If you follow these points and write in the elaborate format of an essay-that is, with paragraph divisions and with a beginning, middle, and conclusion,- you could create a successful book review and garner good grades and impression from your peers and teachers. You could also blog about your book reviews and make a fan following. The same can be sent to publishers of academic journals for publication. 

I wish you the very best. 

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