How A Book “Pyramid” Can Help You Read For Transformation

Are You Reading What Matters Most?

Reading a book really is a miracle of sorts. Think about it. A book can allow you to spend time selectively with some of the greatest people who have ever lived. Those people may still be alive or figures from the distant past (as in thousands of years ago).  Books also allow you to travel to periods past, the imagined future as well as experience different cultures. All of this any time you want and for as much time as you like.

You can also waste a lot of time with books.

Solomon said it well in Ecclesiastes 12:12: . “…..of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”  No kidding! And those words were penned several thousand years ago and long before the printing press!! Given that knowledge now doubles every 13 months and with more people than ever self-publishing, the number of books available is simply mind-boggling.

Although I’ve grown a lot this year with regard to How I read, I now want to focus more on the Why of my reading.  I want more of my reading to be transformative and not simply for information acquisition. While both are important, only one is lasting.

The Book Pyramid

If you’re looking to read for transformation, then I think you’ll find Van Doren and Adler’s Pyramid of Books helpful as well as challenging. I know I did. The good news here is that although there are a seeming endless number of books available, there are only 3 levels to the pyramid.

  • Level 1- These books are read only for amusement or information.  Adler states that the great majority of the several million books that have been written in the Western tradition alone— more than 99 per cent of them— will not make sufficient demands on you for you to improve your reading skill. Those would be in this category, which can triage your book selection  down significantly. When you do read a book in this level, don’t waste you’re time reading it analytically; skimming will be sufficient most of the time.
  • Level 2- These books are read so you can learn more about how to read and how to live. Books in this level are carefully and thoughtfully written and convey great insights about topics of enduring interest to humankind.  As Adler says of books in this category, “they make severe demands on the reader” and must be read analytically. When you read this kind of book it can stretch you, it can grow you, and you can get all you need from it with a single good reading. While you may refer back to your underlining or notes, you won’t need to re-read the book because it doesn’t have the power to change you further.
  • Level 3- In addition to the advantages of level 2 books, these books also have the ability to transform you. They contain inexhaustible value because each time you read it you get new insights, see new things and gain more understanding while your previous understanding is expanded. This kind of book also differs from a level 2 book in that it has the the mysterious quality of being able to grow with you. Although the book doesn’t change, your capacity for understanding and grasping what it can offer does change. When you read a book in this level it can lift you up over and over again and only does so when you’ve expanded your capacity to be lifted.

Transformational Books

If you want to read more for transformation (and I know I do), Van Doren and Adler have made it easy: Simply review the list of Level 3 books they’ve compiled in Appendix A of How To Read A Book and make your selection. While some of these books may seem daunting, I can only imagine the treasure they contain.

We know that nothing worthwhile is easy, so why would we expect it to be any different when it comes to books?  If you limit your reading to only the most popular current titles you no doubt gain information, but probably little else. Going a step lower, you may also be able to find something of value in a trashy novel or tabloid but is the juice really worth the squeeze? I mean, you can find a scrap of bread digging in a garbage can too, but there’s a better way and much more to be had for your efforts. It’s no different when it comes to reading.

How much of what you currently read is capable of transforming you? If you want your answer to be different going forward, the book pyramid is one tool that can help you get started.

What is your reading goal for this next year? If you don’t have one, what would it be if you did?

Please leave a comment, I’d love to read it!