The Kinds of Literature and the Extraction of Ideas

[related writings: What is Worth Reading?, Notes on Translations of Ancient Literature, Lessons in Research of a Past Time, The Kinds of Literature and the Extraction of Ideas]

Why Read? To map words with ideas? To get ideas? To talk about a certain subject? To help me express myself? To argue against how reality works? To compare the theories of reality of others with mine? To understand others’ minds? To gain factual historical knowledge?

Whatever the reason, one enters the world of written word. It’s worse than the world of gossip, because it’s far less fun. But surely there must be an efficient way to get the texts one wants? Find ideas about the things one is interested in?

To begin, one must know the kinds of literature.

kinds of literature

(from basic to large)


dictionary/encyclopedia of selected words/concepts/ideas

a dictionary/encyclopedia of a history of selected words/concepts/ideas

selected text/reading


selected works


anthology/sourcebook/source book




social sourcebook

social topic sourcebook

history of literature (or a kind of literature)

other weird things:

school textbook, or simply, textbook

academic/scientific paper

academic journal

extraction of ideas

Now, that we have the kinds of literature, how to get the ideas? If one simply wants words, then a quick Google of an ideas with “Wikipedia” in the search will likely lead to it. That’s how I got most of my vocabulary/ideas. I’ll try Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society and The Theory Toolbox book soon. Otherwise, ideas can come from any experience. After Wikipedia, my first book was a History of Philosophy (by Bertrand Russell, then Anthony Kenny to fill in gaps). That probably wasn’t necessary, as it consists of the Western canon, but neither was it the worst place to begin in the written world. At my home I have a bunch of books from the Viking Portable Library series; Just finding that series in a bookstore could be heaven, as it consists solely of primary source texts from periods of time; Flipping through several Viking Readers was an experience. From my experience, essays or selected text (usually selected from an essay) seem to be the most concise formulation of the extracting and understanding of an idea via written communication. Essays or selected texts are usually given to students to read, as part of the syllabus. Without a syllabus, essays or selected works that contain ideas can be found in the excellent Penguin Great Ideas series; but it has no direction. Similarly, a reader, such as The Place, People, and Space Reader (by the CUNY environmental psychology department), is also excellent at transmitting ideas, and it has direction. The problem with readers, and all books, is that is it is not a real experience.

That may be as far as I’ve got in my experience of reading, and trying to extract ideas. Those are the best sources I know of: They are the best because the editors select the text [from a primary source] which best forms an idea in the mind. No extra garbage text is added. Furthermore, Secondary texts are usually unnecessary, and generally do not provide nearly as much thought as the primary, because when reading primary sources the mind tries to grasp the author’s mind. It’s comparable to watching a Hollywood film as opposed to a documentary.

Perhaps just reading a few Penguin Great Ideas books and a few readings (selected text) from a reader is enough. It’s 2016. It’s time to play some games, watch films, take the train, meetup, live it up. The ideas come tacitly, there’s not need to explicate them. Perhaps Wikipedia was enough after all. No need to read.