Reading just about kills some people. Obviously, I don’t mean a physical death. What I mean is that it overwhelms them. It isn’t the casual reader that feels this tension. It is all of us that have an insatiable appetite to learn.
A friend walked in my office this past week, dejected, and let me know he might need to drop out of seminary. His reason – he couldn’t keep up with all the reading. I knew what he needed, so I arranged a lunch meeting for the following day.
Over the past few years, it has become quite obvious to me that I have been stuck in an old rut of reading. All of us took reading courses in elementary school and junior high, but then the courses stopped. In senior high and college, you no longer talk about how to read. Because of this, our vocabulary might increase, or maybe even our speed of reading, but how we read remains the same.
At lunch the following day, we met up with another friend of mine, Stan Ward. He’s a sharp professor type. While working on his doctorate, he’s had to learn what consuming many books quickly looks like. And from a distance, I’d say he’s doing it quite well. Over a few burgers, he imparted the following wisdom.
Think about how you read a book. Once you know it’s the book that you want to read, what do you do? Most pick up the book, glance at the cover, and get right at it, beginning on page one. Some books you find more interesting than others, and so they draw you in quickly. Others are slower at first, and as your friends have told you, “You just have to give it a few chapters.” Yeah, not gonna do that.
This type of reading is like driving a car at night, with no destination in mind. You have your headlights on, and you can see about 50 feet in front of your car. You are following where the road leads, unsure of what’ behind each curve. It might be a fun ride, but the point is that you are just enjoying being carried along, blindly. Novels are great for this type of reading.
There is a different way of reading, though. That way begins with looking at a map. Once you do, you get your bearings on where you are, where you are going, and the route you think you are going to take. You might take detours along the way, but the knowledge of where you were and where you hope to ends up guiding you.
If you read this post from the other day, you would recognize this as inspectional reading. This type of reading can be done quickly. As my friend pointed out, we should be able to read books in an hour, and be able to accurately describe the main gist that the book is attempting to convey. Here’s how:
1. Read the front cover, thoroughly. Think about the information on the cover as a big funnel. This is the widest part of the funnel. Answer questions like: What is this book about? What problem is the author trying to solve? What is the subtitle of the book, and what leads does it give me to help answer the previous questions?
2. Read the back cover, thoroughly. What are the reasons other authors list for why you should read the book? What do they say you will gain from it? What additional information does the author list about the subject material?
3. Read the table of contents. This is where you begin to see the route the author is taking. You can kind of get a feel for how the argument will unfold.
4. Read the index. What books, or people are getting quoted often in the book? Once you find that out, you need to keep your eyes open for their names as you go through the book. Not all books have indexes. If they don’t, just skip this step.
5. Read the introduction, thoroughly. Many authors will state their overall plan for the book in the introduction. If not, they will state why they are making the claim they are making. Either way, you can glean much from the book by reading this.
6. Read the conclusion, thoroughly. This is where you will discover the “destination” for the book. This is where the author plans to bring you. Armed with this knowledge, you make an educated guess about the route the author will take. This route might change as you read, and that is OK. At least you have a feel for where you plan to end up.
7. Touch each page of the book. Notice I didn’t add the word “thoroughly” here. This is where you walk through the book, paying special attention to chapter headings, bold print, quotes, italicized words, boxes, graphs, the authors you noted from the index, and any other pertinent info.
This process should take roughly an hour. From there, you can choose to dive more deeply into certain chapters.
What do you think? Could this help your learning?
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About Kevin East
Kevin East is the Executive Director of Family Matters. He and his wife Stephanie have five unbelievable kids, two of which they most recently adopted. If Kevin isn't busy with work or family, you'll probably find him in the woods near his house with a power tool. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect with him on Twitter at @kevinteast.
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