🔗AIP 58 These 4 Reading Levels Will Supercharge Your Linked Reading

🔗AIP 58 These 4 Reading Levels Will Supercharge Your Linked Reading
Photo by Blaz Photo / Unsplash

Three years ago, I read How To Read A Book by Mortimer J. Adler and realized I had been reading wrong my entire life.

The problem is school doesn’t teach us how to read. It only teaches us how to elementary read a book, but not how to do the three other levels of reading.

The three other levels of reading are where the true gold of linked reading comes from.

In this article I’m going to teach you what your school teachers never did–how to go to the bathroom without a bathroom pass. I’m just joking lol. I’m going to teach you the other three levels of reading.

By the end of this week, you’re going to be so good at reading you’ll make Mrs. Frizzle Jealous.

According to How To Read A Book there are four levels to reading:

  • Elementary reading: the type of reading we learn to do in school. We read THE words but we don’t read BEYOND or BETWEEN the words.
  • Inspectional reading: reading to quickly scope out a text and inform if deeper reading should be done. Also reading through a text without pausing for confusions so you can understand the argument in context.
  • Analytical reading: reading to deeply analyze a single book. There are four main chronological question stages to analytical reading:
    • What is the book about as a whole?
    • What is being said in detail and how?
    • Is the book true, in whole or in part?
    • Why is it significant?
  • Synoptical reading: reading by putting multiple books in conversation with each other to further discussion on a research question. It works through crafting a preliminary bibliography on a subject and then putting the books in that bibliography in discussion with each other.

It’s important to note these levels of reading are cumulative. Each level of reading encompasses the lower. To analytically read, you must elementary and inspectionally read. To synoptically read you must elementary, inspectionally, and analytically read.

This is why synoptical reading is the most difficult level of reading.

But it also makes it the most fruitful.

So let's get started by learning how to read inspectionally.

🕵️Inspectional Reading

There are two types of inspectional reading:

  1. Pre-reading
  2. Superficial Reading

🔎Pre-reading

The first type of inspectional reading is pre-reading.

You do this type of reading to determine if you should read something deeper. Most often, this comes by answering the question, what is the book about as a whole? The additional benefit of inspectional reading is primes you to dive deeper into the book’s arguments. Think of it like warming up at the gym. It prepares your muscles for the onslaught you are about to put on them–if you’re doing leg day at least.

Answering this question involves four steps:

  1. Classifying the book according to kind and subject matter.
  2. Stating what the whole book is about in a few sentences.
  3. Outlining the major parts of the book in their order and relation.
  4. Defining the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

Let’s go through each of the four steps.

Firstly, classifying the book according to it’s kind and subject matter.

It’s incredible how many people start reading without classifying a book. The problem is different types of information promote entirely different types of reading! The way you read your math or science book differs completely different from how you read a novel.

That’s why it’s essential you classify a book before you even read the first page.

At the highest level, there are two types of books:

  1. Expository
  2. Imaginative

Expository information primarily conveys knowledge through theories, opinions, hypotheses, or speculations. This includes works that range from math/science to philosophy and history. Imaginative works convey emotions and experiences through narrative. This includes works like novels, poems, plays, or fiction.

Expository information splits into two more categories: Theoretical Practical

Theoretical information teaches you something is the case. Practical information, however, teaches you to do something with information. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, a book that describes the history of the universe and modern astrophysics, is purely theoretical as it doesn’t point you to do anything with its information. Well, except opening you to thinking about the sheer meaningless of your existence on this planet and the ever-fleeting nature of all life.

Wow, that got dark fast…

Wahoo! Everything is better with Mario.

However, how-to information like How to Read (so meta) or opinionated information are all practical as they all point you to do something.

The first and easiest way to start making these distinctions is by analyzing the information’s title.

It seems obvious, I know, but many people forget to start with this critical step. Tell me, what is the title of Charles Darwin’s famous book on evolution?

It’s not unlikely you said The Origin of The Species.

The actual title, however, is The Origin of Species. The difference is astronomical. The first tile would imply an exploration of the evolution of just the human species, whereas the second would allude to an exploration of species as a whole.

By analyzing the title, you can usually tell if it’s expository or imaginative.

Then practical or theoretical.

Then, you must differentiate if a book is historical, scientific, or philosophical. Historical information typically has the word history in the title or alludes to something in the past. If you can’t tell from the title, historical works usually convey a feeling of narrative throughout the information, much like in many imaginative literature pieces. Differentiating between science and philosophy can be done with a simple rule: If theoretical or practical information deals with things outside your typical daily experience, you’re dealing with scientific information. If not, philosophical.

Once you have classified the book, the other steps of inspectional reading are about answering the ladder three questions:

  1. Stating what the whole book is about in a few sentences.
  2. Outlining the major parts of the book in their order and relation.
  3. Defining the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.”

These questions are X-raying the book–that’s right, you get to be a doctor while you inspectionally read!

Every book has a skeleton between its covers. Our job as inspectional readers is to uncover that skeleton (All right, I’ll stop with the doctor joke). In this way, the job of the writer and reader are complementary opposites. A great writer starts with an outline and adds prose around it to make the writing more engaging. A great reader begins with the full text and attempts to break it down into its outline–skeleton–I’m sorry I lied.

This is how you differentiate bad books from great ones.

Great books should make pre-reading as seamless as possible

If the author knows what they are doing, x-raying should be easy. They should signpost their argument in every chapter, have clear, logical progression throughout, and summarize their argument at the end.

Bad books, unfortunately, won’t give you this same luxury.

There are seven steps to X-raying a book:

  1. Examine The Preface: Read it to get a sense of the book’s subject and the author’s perspective.
  2. Study the Table of Contents: Use it to understand the structure of the book, akin to how one would use a road map before a journey.
  3. Check the Index: If the book has one, glance through it to gauge the range of topics covered and the references made. Look up key or crucial terms to understand essential points or the author’s main arguments.
  4. Read the Publisher’s Blurb: If the book is new and has a dust jacket (how cute), reading this can give you a general sense of the book’s content and significance. Note that some blurbs are purely promotional, while others provide insightful summaries.
  5. Read the Conclusion: “Huh, no, you wouldn’t possibly read the conclusion first?!” If it were an imaginative work, no. But for an expository work, reading the conclusion can give you a valuable synopsis of the author’s arguments and if they solved the problems they started with. In addition, it gives you an idea of whether the material is interesting enough to read more deeply.
  6. Inspect Pivotal Chapters: Based on your understanding from the previous steps, identify and look at chapters that seem central to the book’s argument. Pay attention to summary statements at the beginning or end of these chapters.
  7. Thumb Through the Book: Skim the pages, reading short sections sporadically. Focus on getting a sense of the book’s main ideas. It’s crucial to read the last few pages or the conclusion, as authors often summarize their main points or contributions.

During and after X-raying, the culmination of Pre-reading involves four steps:

  1. Classifying the book according to kind and subject matter.
  2. Stating what the whole book is about in a few sentences.
  3. Outlining the major parts of the book in their order and relation.
  4. Defining the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.”

These steps provide a framework for quickly understanding a book’s content and determining whether it’s worth a deeper read.

Here’s the cool thing: you can use this process outside books.

The art of inspectional reading is relevant to all types of information with some modifications. Use it to discover if you should dive deeper into a three-hour podcast. Or a long YouTube video. Even a short blog post online.

You will not only save countless hours but also prime yourself to consume the information if you do.

🔦Superficial Reading

The second type of inspectional reading is superficial reading, which is reading through a book quickly without stopping to ponder things you don’t understand.

It’s different from pre-reading in that it’s mainly done on difficult books. And books you intend to read deeper already.

Why superficially read?

Because you can’t understand a difficult book without understanding its entire argument in context. Great books should be organized and argued so you can understand them partially on the first tackle. But even the greatest of books can’t be understood totally on first reading if they have difficult subject matter–for example, if they are high on the ​Inverted Reading Pyramid​. That’s why, in tackling a difficult book for the first time, you should read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away.

Then, you can give it a deeper read on your second go-through.

I made the tragic error of not doing this the first time I read Thinking Fast And Slow by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

It’s well known as one of the best books in Behavioral Economics. It’s also 500+ pages long and packed full of difficult-to-conceptualize psychological ideas. On first read-through I didn’t Inspectionaly read. Instead, I painstakingly made my way through every chapter, attempting to understand every sentence. It took me a month of nightly reading to finish.

Don’t make my same mistake.

👟On Reading Speeds

You have now learned the two types of inspectional reading, pre-reading and superficial reading.

You might wonder, “where is the part where you tell me how to read 500 pages in negative seconds?” The faster you read, inevitably, the less you will comprehend. Don’t fall for those speed reading courses that say you can read 1,000 pages in 3 seconds and with full comprehension. I did that once with War and Peace. Wanna know what I think of the book?

I think it’s about Russia… 🤣

So don’t read at one speed all the time.

How fast should you read? My point is very simple:

Many books are hardly worth skimming; you should read quickly, and a few you should read quiet slow for full comprehension.

The exact reading speed is up to you to determine. What balance of comprehension versus speed are you willing to have? Even while analytically or synoptically reading, there will be times when you should read faster or slower.

It’s up to you to determine the right rate.

Summary of Inspectional Reading

You now understand the two types of inspectional reading: pre-reading and superficial reading.

Pre-reading involves four steps:

  1. Classifying the book according to kind and subject matter.
  2. Stating what the whole book is about in a few sentences.
  3. Outlining the major parts of the book in their order and relation.
  4. Defining the problem or problems the author is trying to solve.

And superficial reading is done by quickly reading difficult books so you can prime yourself for a deeper read on the second go.

Finally, you understand there is no one right reading speed. You should change it up depending on what you are reading and your goals.

So don your Sherlock Holme’s Cape and magnifying glass because you’re now a professional inspectional reader!


If you found learning about inspectional reading valuable, you should sign up for the waitlist of the new video course I’m building: The Art Of Linked Reading.

The video course will help people who struggle to find, actively consume, remember, notetake, apply, and intelligently communicate insights from books, learn to do so with linked notetaking apps like Obsidian, Tana, Logseq, and more. The course includes information on the other three levels of reading as well as how to apply them.

Join the waitlist here:

​But I’m not going to keep the POWER of the other levels of reading behind a paywall.

You can read about analytical and synoptical reading in the full blog post this newsletter is based upon on my website.

Here’s what I would like to share this week.


📸News From The Channel!

📺Latest On De YouTube - ​The Only Beginner Obsidian Video You’ll Ever Need​: This is the Obsidian Beginner guide I wish I had 3 years ago. I will teach you what Obsidian is, its basic functionality, and the 20% of plug-ins that will give you 80% of the results.

🎙️Latest On De Podcast - ​E30: Ilya Shabanov Navigating Personal Knowledge Management In Academia​: llya Shabanov is an Obsidian Notetaker and Academic. Spending 12 years in industry he daringly decided to get his Ph.D. in Biology at 36 managing to get his first paper published in just 6 months. He hosts the Effortless Academic newsletter which helps people learn to leverage modern information tools and systems to excel as a researcher or student. He teaches in-depth long format tutorials on how to do things better in academia: note-taking, reference management, writing, publishing, and visual thinking.

In this podcast you will learn:

  • Best mindsets for navigating PKM in Academia
  • How PKM relates to spirituality
  • Biggest traps to avoid doing PKM in Academia

✍️Latest On De Blog - ​👁️Nothing You Perceive Is Real:​ We see the world not as it is but as we are. Since childhood we are socialized to feel, think, and act in certain ways by our parents, friends, teachers, strangers, schools, institutions, culture, and society at large. In this article, I explore the effects of this and how awareness can help you become a better person.

💡My Best Insights:

P.S. Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links.

📖Book - ​The Alloy Of Law:​ Yup, I’m reading another Mistborn book. Surprised? This is the fourth book in the seven book series and a stand alone novel. It takes place in the same world as the first three books but in a period that reflects that of the early 20th century.

📺YouTube Video - ​Awakening From The Meaning Crisis By John Vervaeke​: I’m about to finish the cataclysmic 50 episode series that is Awakening From The Meaning Crisis. Awakening From The Meaning Crisis is a series that explores why we are experiencing a modern day meaning crisis and what we can do to navigate it. It’s NOT an easy watch. Absorbing it over the last 4 months has been difficult. It includes lots of difficult language and ideas. But it has been one of the most influential pieces of information I have ever consumed in my life. I’m definitely going to make a video on it in the next few weeks so stay tuned.

Quote Of The Week - 1. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” - George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons