Hierarchy of Reading

Abraham Maslow made the concept of hierarchies of progression in systems popular via his work on a hierarchy of needs.  Below is a theory about the hierarchy of different types of readers.


Survival Reader
Only reads when critical to survival.  This type of reader regularly denounces the benefits of reading.  They are often too busy to read and can’t see any value in spending time to read.

Procrastinator Reader
Wants to read more.  Understand reading provides pleasure and opportunity.  Asks for book recommendations and has good intentions, but doesn’t make the time to start reading.  Often afraid of the commitment of finishing a book.

Active Reader
Reads semi-regularly for pleasure and social acceptance.  Doesn’t have any focus to the books that are being read and doesn’t process what they read outside of themselves.

Engaged Reader
Takes time to engage with others on meaning of books and reads with a purpose.  Is excited about what they are reading and want to share with others the excitement.  Starts thinking deeper about the meaning of the works and are curious about how it relates outside themselves.

Remix Reader
Assembles content from multiple sources to create new works and/or actively applies to daily life.  Reading enough to find common strands among multiple works.  Actively connects ideas, thoughts, works and people to push boundaries of changing things well outside themselves.  Is able to put read works to practical use.

So where do you sit?  Are you okay with where you sit?


  1. Have you ever read *How to Read a Book* by Adler & Van Doren?

    Their “level” breakdowns (which are cumulative, folded into each other, so to speak) are as follows:

    1. **Elementary** – learning to read as a child, recognizing letters, words, sentences, it is assumed most who finish high school have attained this level, but many need remedial training even as adults…

    2 **Inspectional** – get the most out of a book within a limited time frame, skimming, pre-reading, or reading rapidly

    3 **Analytical** – most complete reading, asks questions, until the book becomes “your own”, for the sake of understanding

    4. **Synoptic** – comparative reading of *many* books, to construct an analysis of the subject that may not be in any of the books

  2. Naum,

    I have not read it, but will be adding it to my list. Seems like a very similar progression. We were talking today here at Integrum about a client we are working with that is seeing a tremendous change is looking to read more. It got us talking about stages people go through.

  3. I just noted the overlap — though your hierarchy is more focused on reader motivation, though it struck me that “remix” == “synoptic”, and it’s the hurdle where I personally am at — comparative reading of many books but really desire to “construct” new work from it, not just in my bits teeming in my thought laden mind ;(

    *How to Read a Book* is exceedingly laborious read (400+ pages) for many, written in an era (originally published 1940) where text was mainly king. It is a classic, and still assigned to a lot of graduate students. Odd that I stumbled across your post (in my Google Reader list) as I about quarter of the way through a re-read.

  4. Derek, Naum,

    The Zeitgeist seems to be showing the same books to Naum and me recently… yesterday my copy of “How to Read a Book” popped up in a home library reshuffle.

    I see “reading” as one aspect of allocating attention, perception, analysis and willpower. Things work together in balance (ideally).

    I’ve been influenced by “Investing, the Last Liberal Art” , which discusses learning and understanding in the large: http://www.amazon.com/Investing-Liberal-Robert-G-Hagstrom/dp/1587991381

    Akso, Kahneman’s delightful new “Thinking Fast and Slow” http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374275637 helps me keep the fragile and error prone nature of both perception and analysis in perspective.

    — Ray

  5. Hey, Derek – that was a cool Hierarchy of Reading. For me, it depends on the level of knowledge I have on the subject. I fit all levels at some point in time depending on the level of knowledge I have. I tend to “remix” when I feel I have sufficient knowledge to re-dispense back to a relevant audience.

  6. Interesting! We read aloud to our children from day one and continued until they were in college. They are all voracious, fast, competent readers, able to comprehend the most challenging works with surprising ease. Two scored 2400 on the SAT, the other came very close. What also surprised me was how the read aloud approach developed their listening skills. When they were younger, they would play with blocks and legos while I read, or draw. Yet, they followed along with the stories as if they were in the story. I knew that because when I asked them questions about the book, their answers, their depth of understanding was incredible.

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