Even with the advent of internet articles (like this one), Kindles, iPads, online magazines, and all sorts of multimedia, it’s still a good idea to read books. In fact, more books are being published today than ever before. And many of us find ourselves in contexts where reading widely is important.
So how do you read lots of books? Some people can just read super fast. Line by line, they plow through a 300-page book in a couple of hours. Good for them. We will classify them as super-savants and move on to discuss the rest of us mere mortals.
For several years I’ve used a method I call the “Reading Pyramid,” which provides five categories of reading. Perhaps it will be helpful for you. Here goes:
1. Gone in 60 Seconds
Want to boost your reading to 100,000 words per minute? Move from skimming to skipping. The most efficient way to read most books is to not read them. Truth is that with all the books we could read, being picky about the ones we do read is smart.
2. Judge a Book by Its Cover
Often familiarity with a book is all you need. Read the title and subtitle, the author’s bio, the inside flaps, and the back cover material. I’m surprised by how much I can learn about a book and from a book by simply reading the outside material. I find it helpful to read this material thoroughly (slowly) so I can choose to read more of the book or not. Either way, I win. If I choose not to read the book, I often know enough about it to discuss it or choose to read it later. If I choose to read the book soon, I have a good foundation for moving through the book more quickly.
3. Let Others Do the Heavy Lifting
Especially in the age of online resources, you can find summaries, reviews, and opinions that help you get the best-of-the-best from a book without ever cracking the cover or paying the cover price. Of course, you must be discerning when tapping into these resources (Does the reviewer have an agenda? Is the summary an attempt to sell the book? Does your colleague’s opinion hold weight given what you know about him or her?).
4. Skimming and Skipping
With a book in hand (perhaps in a bookstore, if you remember what those look like), you can get a lot from a book if you know how to skip and skim. Start with the cover material (see #2). Next, read the table of contents to get a feel for the content and the layout of the book. Then, hit the chapters that seem most interesting to you, noting any callouts, diagrams, boldface material, or chapter summaries. Not all books are designed for this kind of skimming, but more and more are. Take advantage of a well-designed book.
5. Do a Deep Dive
For those books you want to read thoroughly, you still have options beyond reading every single word on every page. Here are some criteria I use for how best to read those select books that make it to the top of the pyramid. You can think of this as pyramid at the top of the pyramid (notice I suggest reading every word of a book on the rarest of occasions)
- Pleasure or Treasure? If you’re reading a book of short stories, or that latest crime novel, or whatever your fun reading genre happens to be), then every word is the way to go. After all, why miss any of the fun? But if you are reading in order to gain new insights (treasure), reading every word might not be the best option. Instead, look for the most prized parts of the book and read only those.
- First and Last. Chapters. A simple practice for getting 75% of what an author is trying to share is to read the first and last chapters of the book. You could stop with just those two chapters, or you could use what you learn to target the rest of your reading.
- First and Last Paragraphs. Another helpful shortcut is to read only the first few paragraphs in a chapter as well as the final few paragraphs. Depending on how the book is written, this practice can be a real time-saver.
- Only the Best Chapters. For most non-fiction books, there are entire chapters that can (and should be skipped). Be discerning and read only those chapters that best fit your interests. For the other chapters, skip or skim.
- Read Every Word. Now we’ve reached that rare air where only the best, most worthy books bask in the glow generated by your full and unwavering attention. These are the books that are so important, so well-written, and so meaningful that they require and/or deserve that you devour every page, paragraph and period.
These are my suggestions for making the most of your reading. What best practices have you found helpful? Please share with the rest of us (we promise to read every word!).