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:
- Research the author
- Where did he/she go to school?
- Where has he/she worked? Currently working?
- Theological books: What churches has he/she attended? Currently attend?
- What other books has he/she written?
- Has his/her work sparked an online discussion/debate, further study, or other spin-off materials?
- Read the synopsis (located on the back cover or inside flap)
- Read the intro and conclusion
- 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
- 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.
- 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:
- Read with a pen.
- Write down your thoughts as they occur to you in the margins.
- Underline key sentences/ideas
- Number key points (if they build upon each other to reach a main point)
- *Summarize each chapter in one sentence*
- This is HUGE!! I can’t overstate this small but essential step.
- 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.
- If you are diligent to do this, you will reap many benefits:
- You will see how the author develops his point throughout the book.
- You will be able to not only intake information but digest it and apply it appropriately in ways that benefit your life and situation.
- In discussions with others you will be able to summarize chapters succinctly.
- In writing papers about the book, you already have the summary section written (with minor edits)
- 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.