I am trying to unlearn the long-time habit of reading books from cover to cover. Don’t get me wrong, some books I still want to read leisurely. I want to linger over sentences and savor the dialogue. Fiction books certainly fall into this category, and some non-fiction as well. However, there are so many more books out there that I want to get to and read for information. I need a more effective way of reading.
I’ve found that the previewing method works well for me. I start off with the book cover, the author’s bio and the table of contents. That gives me an idea what the book is about, who wrote it, and how it is structured. I often do it before I actually buy the book. The next step requires more discipline. On my first read, I want to spend just a few seconds per page and go through the whole book quickly. I will glance at the headings, subheadings and any visuals. That’s where my efforts often derail because I dig into something sooner than I need to. If I do the skimming properly, I usually get a pretty good picture of the main ideas and arguments. I also know where to find the information I need to focus on. Then, I can go back to the pages I want to read more carefully.
Sometimes, I feel guilty rushing through the book. After all, somebody took time to write it. I am concerned that I may miss some gems of wisdom. I also like to be surprised by an idea. At the same time, I realize that I gain more from a book if I read it with a purpose in mind. If I know what I am looking for, I have a better chance of capturing it in my memory. The truth is that even if I read the whole book page by page and pay attention to every idea or example, I will eventually forget the stuff that is not relevant to what I am doing. I need to be more pragmatic about reading books: “What’s in it for me?”
What do you think? How do you read books?