This is my favorite lesson to teach upper-level humanities students–because it rocks their world! Spoiler alert, if you are reading every word of a book starting from the intro and ending with the conclusion, you are doing it wrong!
Unfortunately, I find that most undergraduates (and even new graduate students) don’t know how to read. No, I don’t mean they can’t comprehend the words on the page or the argument the author is trying to convey. I mean, they don’t know how to read strategically and efficiently. You wouldn’t watch every TV show or movie the same way–some are simple and funny while others are intense and complex–so why are you reading every book the same way?
Novels and magazines are usually read for pleasure. You start at the beginning and follow the story to the end. This seems like a logical way to read. But it is not a logical way to read everything!
First you should understand why you are reading. Is it to study for an exam? Contribute to an in-class discussion? Write a paper? Prepare for a lecture? Different purposes require different strategies.
Every section, or even every word, of a book shouldn’t be given equal attention or time. If you are trying to simply gather facts, you focus on specific relevant chapters. If you need to engage with an author’s argument or methodology, you focus the majority of your time on the intro and the conclusion, since the middle of the book consists of evidence to support their argument/methodology.
I created this fun info graphic (which are all the rage right now) as a guide to efficient reading!