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Old June 26th, 2012, 02:33 PM   #1

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On Being a Critical Reader


Most of my reading is nonfiction, and because I aspire to be a generalist (inspired by Isaac Asimov and Will Durant), much of it is outside the specialization I pursued in university. Evaluating a work written within my particular field of interest is relatively easy, because I know the major works in that field, the points of view which prevail and which dissent, and can place a new work into the appropriate context. But when I'm reading in science or in a field of history outside of my focus, I feel as though my enjoyment of the text is hampered by my inability to think about it critically. Oh, I know how to spot a flaw in an argument -- an author depending on assumptions that aren't justifed, for instance -- but in absence of having a good grasp on the that subject, I feel uncomfortable. When reading on a subject new to you, how do you assert yourself critically?
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Old June 26th, 2012, 02:39 PM   #2

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Generally, the only thing critical you can do is check their source. There are times when passages they have paraphrased or translated come up incorrect or in-congruent to their argument. There is no way really to approach a single piece critically without further research. Like you said there is no way to place it. Lucky for me, I only read philosophy and history and with philosophy I don't really have to call BS so much.
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Old June 26th, 2012, 04:39 PM   #3

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Cross referencing is the best approach I can think of.
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Old June 26th, 2012, 08:13 PM   #4

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If I find a new field of interest, I assume to position of a sponge.
I want to absorb as much as I can. As the picture of the subject
comes into focus more, I can jettison the booster rockets and
stare more into little question nuggets that I picked up along
the journey. Analyzing those samples will lead me into better
clarity.
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Old June 26th, 2012, 08:33 PM   #5

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I try to avoid new topics, as I cannot be satisfied until I understand some of the scholarly controversy behind the major points. This is why I tend to avoid the early medieval west and Palaiologan Byzantium - I'd have to read dozens of books in each area to even have a basic understanding of the nuances behind the arguments. I find Ottoman history fascinating, but I simply cannot read about it because after I read one book I've pulled a dozen from the bibliography that I figure I must read. Given that I don't have the time to take on another field of study this is a necessity.
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Old June 26th, 2012, 10:23 PM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by tjadams View Post
If I find a new field of interest, I assume to position of a sponge.
I want to absorb as much as I can. As the picture of the subject
comes into focus more, I can jettison the booster rockets and
stare more into little question nuggets that I picked up along
the journey. Analyzing those samples will lead me into better
clarity.
Yeah, this. As I am only a casual hobbyist that just 2-3 years ago got interested in the field of history and politics, I cannot comment much about those fields. But that sponge-thingy is spot on how I felt about my previous obsession, insects. You just read, read and read. Eventually things become clearer and you start to see how certain things fall into context. That is, in my opinion, almost the only way to get into position where you can approach things with sound criticality. And some pre-screening (e.g. reading amazon reviews etc.) is a good too.

Or something. To be frank, almost 100% of the time I just read because it´s fun...

Edit: I see I didn't read the op carefully. My answer to the op's question is: It is hard to be critical about the new subjects, and I don't know how to easily get past the wisdom of "read more". If "read more" is not possible or not yet achieved, then I guess you have to just have clear mind to distinguish writers that are knowledgeable, that have good arguments and that are not dogmatic.

Last edited by Omar Giggle; June 26th, 2012 at 10:46 PM.
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