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R4R @ Rutgers: Reading for Recovery

R4R is a resource geared towards those interested in the use of bibliotherapy, i. e., guided reading, for substance use problems. It was created at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Library in 2015-2016 with the help of an ALA Carnegie-Whitney grant.

How to Read

Outside of conducting original research, the two main methods of learning are through instruction or through reading. Reading is often thought of as a passive activity, but that attitude can short-change the reader and does not allow one to fully extract the value of a text. Reading can be a great conversation starter and can be a fun mindless passive activity, but it can also strengthen one’s self-knowledge and worldly knowledge if one understands the literary basics. This is equally true whether it be a book about science, philosophy, literary fiction, or a memoir.

One way the R4R project advocates active reading is through guided discussions, such as with the use of a book club model, with some tips above and sample discussion sheets on the "For Librarians" page.

For those who prefer to read alone, or do not have the time or access to these groups, we also provide some guidelines for active reading on an individual level.

Finally, some resources are provided, such as books and other web resources on the topic.

Resources on How to Read

For Guided Discussions

Just as in a book club or seminar, the interests of the participants will shape the discussion. We offer sample questions to get the ball rolling.  Talking about characters may be a good place to start:

Why do these characters (including the narrator) act and think the way they do? 
How do they interact and affect one another?
How might we see addiction playing out in this story?

From here, a discussion can branch out into form:

Why is the story told in this particular way?
How does the text describe people and things, and why?

Writing, whether directly about the books read together or simply inspired by them, can be a valuable medium for participants to do this work of processing – an optional way to prepare for the group analysis or continue it.

Resources on Critical Reading

Highlighted Online Handbook:
Interrogating Texts: A Harvard LibGuide
(Six Reading Habits to Develop in Your First Year at Harvard)


A Weapon for Readers by Tim Parks (The New York Review of Books)

When Reading Informative Texts

General guidelines:

  • Read with a pen in hand, and keep a record of the thoughts that come into your head. Preferably in the margins of the book, otherwise in a notepad (be sure to mark page numbers!)
  • Outline and chart arguments or points made by the author
  • Keep in mind what type of book it is and why you are reading it (for enlightenment? entertainment? information? inspiration?)

For informative/expository texts (e.g., science, history, philosophy):

According to philosopher and educator Mortimer Adler in his seminal work How to read a book, one must understand a piece of instructional writing in three separate ways before one can "master" that work.

#1: Structural understanding

  • Classify the book based on its title, subtitle, table of contents, and preface/introduction (Is this text explaining how something works? What ought to be done?)
  • Be able to summarize the book in just a sentence or two (What is the book's central thesis?)
  • Describe how the parts relate to one another, and to that thesis (Is the logic sound? Is the writing focused?)
  • Define the problem(s) that the author is attempting to solve

#2: Interpretive understanding

  • Spot the important words in the reading, and understand how the author specifically uses them.
  • Clarify the author's individual propositions
  • For each proposition, state the proposition in your own words, or provide an example if one is not provided for you
  • Chart how the author groups propositions into separate arguments. Try to follow the logic with each step of the arguments

#3: Critical understanding

  • Do not critique an argument until you are reasonably sure you fully understand it (#2 above)
  • If you fully understand and agree with the arguments presented, congratulations--you have completed your active reading of this book!
  • If you find some arguments lacking or confusing, present your counter-argument in the following way(s) (Adler, p.256):
    • I believe the author is uninformed on ______
    • The author is misinformed about ________
    • The author's logic does not add up, because _______
    • The author's analysis is incomplete, because __________

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