How to Skim a Book(Also known as “Notes from How to Read a Book.”)
If the book doesn’t seem worth reading, put it aside. If you want to read it more carefully, then continue on:
- Read the title page and preface, looking for the subject of the book and the author’s special angle on it.
- Read the table of contents for a general sense of the book’s structure.
- Scan the index and estimate the range of topics covered and the books and authors referred to. If some of the terms seem crucial, look up some of the places they are cited in the book. Those cites may include the book’s central premise or the key to understanding it.
- Read the blurb on the dust jacket or back cover (if it has one).
After the hour or less that this process takes, you should know whether or not the book in question is worth more of your time and attention.
- Look at the chapters that seem to be pivotal to the book’s argument. If there are summary statements in their opening or closing pages, read those carefully.
- Thumb through the book, reading a paragraph or two here and there, sometimes several pages in a row (but never more than that), following the basic argument of the book. Always read the last two to three pages of the book (not counting the epilogue), because usually the author will sum up what they think is new or important about their work in these pages.