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  • How to Read a Book–For Seminary Students

    Brandi Arndt

    I have a backwards way of reading certain books that has proven very useful over time, and I’d like to share it with you. The following tutorial targets mainly academic literature, but I suppose some of the same methods can be applied to other genres as well. For our purposes here, I will keep the scope focused and narrow, leaving further utilization of this method to your discretion.

    Did you know there is a way to understand a book almost in its entirety prior to actually reading it? Fancy that! As I’m writing this, I have become aware of a certain irony in the inception of my methodology: this approach was borne out of my somewhat precarious balance between procrastination and impatience coupled with a desire for future usability and present efficiency. The real question in my mind was: What is the most expedient yet effective way to intake this information? I wanted a way to read a book that provided immediate gratification as well as guaranteed future retention. And I needed it yesterday.

    I have shared this methodology in various settings with a positive reception, so my desire in sharing it with you now is that it would likewise prove useful to you. So, in the true spirit of this methodology: take what works for you, and throw out what doesn’t!

    Before You Read the Book:

    1. Research the author
      1. Where did he/she go to school?
      2. Where has he/she worked? Currently working?
      3. Theological books: What churches has he/she attended? Currently attend?
      4. What other books has he/she written?
      5. Has his/her work sparked an online discussion/debate, further study, or other spin-off materials?
    2. Read the synopsis (located on the back cover or inside flap)
    3. Read the intro and conclusion
      1. The intro will tell you what the author hopes you will receive from the book, and an outline is often included that will serve as a roadmap of the body of the book
      2. The conclusion will summarize the book from the author’s perspective and will serve to keep you grounded — provide a foundation — for which you will constantly reference as you read the main body of the book.
      3. The outline (if provided) and conclusion will keep you centered around the main point of the book and hopefully keep you from getting “stuck in the weeds” of a certain minor point in the main body. They could also help you see how a minor point fits into the main argument of the book.

    **At this point, you already know what the book is about. You should already be able to take a good stab at crafting the thesis statement in your own words.**

    And NOW to Actually Reading the Book:

    1. Read with a pen.
      1. Write down your thoughts as they occur to you in the margins.
      2. Underline key sentences/ideas
      3. Number key points (if they build upon each other to reach a main point)
    2. *Summarize each chapter in one sentence*
      1. This is HUGE!! I can’t overstate this small but essential step.
      2. After you complete each chapter, take 3-5 MINUTES to summarize the main point of the chapter and write it at the top of the first page of the chapter.
      3. If you are diligent to do this, you will reap many benefits:
        1. You will see how the author develops his point throughout the book.
        2. You will be able to not only intake information but digest it and apply it appropriately in ways that benefit your life and situation.
        3. In discussions with others you will be able to summarize chapters succinctly.
        4. In writing papers about the book, you already have the summary section written (with minor edits)
        5. Years from now, when you can’t remember what the book is about, you can take 15 mins and get a clear (in your own words) refresher of the book.