If you’re like me, you’ve got a stack of books just waiting to be read. And there’s nothing more satisfying than that last page. You close it up and put it back on your bookshelf. But what happens then? Did you really understand what you read? And how can you use what you learned? For many of us, getting from the first page to the last page is all that matters. But people who are lifelong learners take a different approach. They read books differently than the rest of us, and it shows! Here are 5 tips for getting the most out of your reading.
1. What’s the Big Idea?
When you start reading a book, keep one thing in mind: What’s the main idea? What’s the author trying to say or prove or explain? If you read close enough you’ll know because they’ll tell you. Sometimes it’s as easy as finding a sentence that says “This book is meant to” or “I hope to prove that.” But sometimes that main idea is a little harder to find. It hides behind a story or in the middle of a paragraph about the author’s research.
Once you find that main idea, underline it or – better yet – writer it down in a journal. In fact, having a reading journal is a great way to keep track of what you’re reading and what the author is saying.
2. Where Are We Going?
Read the table of contents. No, seriously. Read it. The table of contents is the map for the book. It shows you how the author plans on telling their story, what route they will take, and what topics they will discuss. Also, it lets you know how many pages it’s going to take to get there. Knowing all of this will help you plan out how, when, and where you will read the book. Tackle it all in one sitting? Go ahead. Need some more time? Fine, just choose which chapters you’ll read and when.
3. Don’t Skip the Introduction!
This is the author’s first chance to talk to you. If they’ve done their work right, then they’ve put their best foot forward and the introduction will be clear, concise, and fun to read. I know, I know…that’s not always the case. But don’t give in to the temptation to skip the introduction.
A good introduction gives you a taste of the author’s writing style, too. In fact, when you’re at a book store trying to find your next book, read through the introduction. If you like what you see, then it’s a good bet you’ll love the rest. (Also, many times Amazon and other booksellers will have the introduction available for preview on their website).
4. Don’t Believe Everything You Read
Even if you know the author, even if you’ve read some of their work before and liked it, even if they belong to some familiar circles, it’s so important that you don’t take everything they say at face value. I’ve seen books printed by prestigious academic presses that have typos in them. If they can’t use the right form of “there” in a book, couldn’t there be other errors too?
Every author has a bias that they bring to their book. Even if it’s a history book, they still have to make a decision about what information to include and what to leave out. In fact, every reader brings a certain bias to their reading, too. What do you know about the subject that either agrees or disagrees with the author? Use these biases when you read to either support or refute the author’s work.
5. Are We There Yet?
You know that main idea you underlined? That part of the book where the author tells you what route he’s taking you to the goal? Well, did you make it? In other words, did the author tell you what they told you they would tell you? And better yet, do you believe them? Or are there other conclusions you can make from the evidence they presented?
Here’s where keeping a reading journal really helps out. As you read, go back and check if the author is being consistent. Make sure their arguments are actually valid. You may even need to read the – GASP! – footnotes. But if you really want to get the most out of a book, you have to read it with a critical mind.
Well, there you go. Whether it’s a religious book, devotional book, history book, or a cookbook, I hope you feel more confident reading that tome from cover to cover and getting the most out of it.
What great book are you reading right now? What book do you want to go back and re-read with these tips in mind?