How to Read and Digest a Book.
February 25, 2005 6:35 PM   Subscribe

How to Read and Digest a Book.
posted by stbalbach (22 comments total)
I can't read! These instructions on how to read are useless! Oh cruel irony! Why have I spent years learning the combination of keystrokes to type this sentence when I could have been going to school!
posted by Stan Chin at 6:44 PM on February 25, 2005

Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book in 1940, this strikes me as sort of similar.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:55 PM on February 25, 2005

This is another little read on how to read non-fiction. I've read it and against his strict warnings, I keep trying to read books from front to back and kick myself everytime.
posted by stratastar at 6:58 PM on February 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dammit, I was expecting to see recipes!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:32 PM on February 25, 2005

This is really funny to me... I might as well study "Strategies for Effective Bon-bon Consumption", "Shoulder Placement During Fellatio", or "Southpark: When to Laugh".

I don't want to seem like I'm putting down the whole thing, though. It might be very helpful to some... but I follow almost none of these guidelines. In fact, if I adhered to this: "When selecting a book its important to remember that the impact that a book has on your life is greatly affected by the season of your life, and where you are in your personal journey.Its necessary to choose the books you read wisely, you want to ensure, as far as possible, that the book you read is worth the investment of your time and energy", I would have missed out on many wondrous tomes in my reading history.

To be fair, though, if what's being talked about here is really "business books" as opposed to simply non-fiction/educational, then, yeah — I guess I can understand the desire to waste as little time as possible nosing around the stacks.
posted by taz at 7:46 PM on February 25, 2005

It's a cookbook!
posted by sellout at 7:52 PM on February 25, 2005

One tip I have is to read as quickly as you can while still getting full comprehension. Don't go any slower than you need to. The faster you read, the higher the mental bandwidth you utilize, and the more it feels like experience. Especially useful with fiction, but even with non-fiction, the right reading speed feels more like having knowledge poured into your head than seeing words. I fall out of this completely if I have to go too slow or, of course, if I'm skimming (something that often happens if I'm tired or late for an appointment or whatever, making me think I have a deadline). There is definitely a sweet spot and it's faster than most people think. If you can't go fast enough to get this experience, I bet you probably don't like reading very much.
posted by kindall at 8:02 PM on February 25, 2005

"The only difference between who you are today and the person you will be in five years will come from the books you read and the people you associate with"

Try meditation.
posted by reflection at 8:13 PM on February 25, 2005

I figured out at some point that I read faster (maybe 30%) while plagued by earworms. The point is that I don't waste time subvocalizing what I'm reading. Every now and then I catch myself reading slowly, annoyingly, and notice that it's because of this useless habit -- what should words have to do with sounds? -- and get an earworm going to distract that silly part of the brain.
posted by Aknaton at 8:29 PM on February 25, 2005

I find a dash of Tabasco, small pieces, and proper mastcation help.

Berek proposes Metafilter institute a policy of severe flogging, derision, and finger wagging for those who link to PDF files without a warning tag.

stratastar hides under table, succesfully escapes flogging, but breaks into tears at site of the wagging finger.

posted by berek at 8:46 PM on February 25, 2005

Next week: flow charts on effective lovemaking.
posted by ori at 9:22 PM on February 25, 2005

Hey, this guy is using the same Blogger template as Phillipe. Huuugs!
posted by sklero at 12:48 AM on February 26, 2005

Hey, "Southpark: When to Laugh" was a great book!

One tip I have is to read as quickly as you can while still getting full comprehension. Don't go any slower than you need to... If you can't go fast enough to get this experience, I bet you probably don't like reading very much.

I simply don't understand this attitude, or "what should words have to do with sounds?" either. Unless you're just reading to absorb information, why not enjoy the full experience? It's like gobbling your food without tasting it so you can get on with your life. Any writer worth a damn put a lot of effort into those sentences, getting them to sound right, snappy or leisurely, meaty or frothy, carefully building effects over paragraphs and pages. Why miss out on all that?
posted by languagehat at 5:39 AM on February 26, 2005

what taz and ori say, but with more more despair, a hopeless, sinking feeling in the stomach, and a bitter taste on the tongue.

i should stop eating hard to digest books, i guess.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:22 AM on February 26, 2005

i think the "read as fast as you can" instruction is a confused way os saying "lose youself in the text". maybe it's just me, but when you're really enveloped by what you're reading it does feel as if you're somehow flying through the words... i also agree that it's good to enjoy the way the words roll together. personally, i can't do both at once, but think they're probably related - it's by getting the words to work well that an author provides access to the trance like state. so you need to do both.

it's a bit like looking at a beautiful piece of furniture (or other object) - there's both the sensual kick from the sheer wonderfulness of it, and then there's the peering at how the joints are made, admiring the craftsmanship. they're complementary pleasures.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:27 AM on February 26, 2005

I'm betting this guy read "Who Moved the Cheese" without being told he had to by his boss.
posted by kozad at 7:03 AM on February 26, 2005

why not enjoy the full experience?

I didn't take the comment that way--I took it more as a recommendation to try and get into a kind of "flow state". I've definitely found that when I can really remove distractions and get into a groove, not only do I pay much more attention to the details of what I'm reading and have better retention, but those are also the times that, after the fact, I realize that I've read at a very fast pace.

The two definitely can go hand-in-hand, when conditions are optimal--it's only when you've got to deal with internal or external distractions, I find, that I have to choose "speed" vs. "attention to detail".
posted by LairBob at 7:09 AM on February 26, 2005

This reminds me of those synopses of business books on TV for executives who don't have the time to read the latest management book, the kinds that reduce everything into 5 talking points. The irony being there's very little to a lot of the crap being published today.

Here's literary theory in 1 page, though I hasn't been researched or thought about, or even proof read. But you can read it really fast.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:52 AM on February 26, 2005

I read a novel recently for the express purpose of sharing the experience with my lover, who had already read it. I marked up my copy -- first with Post-its, and later finally just with pencil right in the margins. We didn't get around to reviewing my marked-up text for months, though, and by the time we did, we'd fought a lot and were considering breaking up. So my various scribbled observations -- such as "This guy is like you, only not as sexy" -- had an extremely bittersweet quality. Didn't bring us closer, just made me wonder, "What was I thinking?"

I'm not sure if the moral of this story is, analyze fiction -- in written notes -- as you go, or save that for non-fiction.

Also, how does this apply to books you read for a book group?

Anyway, now I'm wondering whether to go back through the novel and remove all the stickies, erase all the pencil marks, etc. Or should I leave them there to be shared with some (potential) future lover?

Incidentally, the book was "Women in Love," by D.H. Lawrence.
posted by Tashi at 10:07 AM on February 26, 2005

Um, is it just me, or does anyone else conside people who mark up books to be evil doodyheads?
posted by berek at 12:53 PM on February 26, 2005

berek : While I am not with you on this one, I know several people who are... including my husband. Which explains why it is necessary that we have two copies of several of our mutual favorite books - my copy, which is full of notes and such and generally written upon with impunity, and his, which remains pristine.

Personally, I enjoy books with personal notes added in, it gives the feeling of something that has been truly read and enjoyed. I know it drives some people nuts, but different strokes and all that. (Also, I only mark my own books. I'm not an ass.)

Although, I must say, I think that the suggestions by this guy are going too far for fiction/non-required reading. These would have been great things to do for some of the heavier reading courses I took in college, but reading for pleasure? I certainly don't think consider any activity that requires a color-coded system and Post-It notes to be pleasurable.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:10 PM on February 26, 2005

Well, there is a term for the marks in book margins - marginalia. There is actually considerable interest in the marginalia in books once owned by famous people. There have been books written on the topic and even Poe had something to say about it.
posted by gudrun at 3:28 PM on February 26, 2005

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