Closeup of two hands on the pages of an open book.

How to Read Classic Texts


Available Sections

Offered for
06:00 pm—09:15 pm
Taught by
Kendall Sharp

This course is intended to address some of the more persistent and daunting difficulties we face when beginning to read classic texts of the Western cultural tradition.

We will begin from recommendations of Adler and Van Doren in How to Read a Book, and move toward more immediately practical approaches to reading classic texts, both expository and literary. We will practice how to prepare to contribute to productive class discussion, like that in the four-year Basic Program.

Each session will be divided into two parts. In the first we will consider the reading of classic expository texts (philosophical, social scientific, political, etc.) and especially how to read for a thesis and supporting argument (based on evidence and grounds).

In the second, we will consider literary and poetic texts—what it means to interpret, understand, and comprehend them, with particular attention to how form (diction, structure, genre, etc.) and content (image, narrative, theme, etc.) work together to achieve specifically literary and poetic effects.

Students will be encouraged, but not required, to complete weekly short (1-2 page) writing exercises that have proven useful in students' effort to appreciate and understand these various kinds of texts. Students will be encouraged, but not required, to bring these to class and share with other students. At the very least these writing exercises have proven useful to help prepare for class discussion.

Readings will be selected largely from the four-year Basic Program list, with the idea that not only will this be an opportunity to learn techniques for good reading, but also an occasion for reading and discussing, again, selections from some truly great works of the Classical and Western traditions (e.g., Aristotle, Kant, Freud, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare). Students are asked to do the reading for the first week before the first session meets.

Course Syllabus



Course Outline

Required Texts Adler, Mortimer and Van Doren, Charles, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading, ISBN: 978-071212094

Other texts will be provided as handouts on Canvas.

Students can purchase books at the Gleacher Center Bookstore online using the Textbook order form, or by using the ISBN number to order the correct edition elsewhere.


Online registration deadline: Friday, March 15 at 5 pm CT

Remote courses require you to login to Canvas to access the Zoom Classroom. You will receive an invitation to join Canvas about a week before your course begins. Please visit the Liberal Arts Student Resources page to sign up for Student Remote Learning Training session and to find step by step instructions for Canvas and Zoom: Online Learning Resources