Friday, January 20, 2012

Skim Reading: The art of knowing little of what you speak

An interesting phenomena keeps presenting itself.  It's the fact that a lot of people simply skim read a book and come to a determination of the entire book.  The deeper problem is that some book "reviewers" do the same thing.  If you are going to review a book, please actually read it.  That seems fair enough. 

I think that skim reading is fine if we're just looking at the author's writing style and poking around for tidbits.  But skim reading, by its very nature, means that we haven't actually read the book.  The only thing that can come of that is a weakly informed opinion, and quite likely a misunderstanding of the book and the author's actual position (as opposed to what we're asserting through our personal filters).  While skim reading may give us a personal sense of whether or not we like what we're finding, it really doesn't provide enough objective findings to merit evaluating it for others.

On Internet forums, many people argue that skim reading works very well and they appear to rely upon it for discernment, education, and direction.. But in reality, skim reading misses more than it catches, That's simple logic.  By analogy, skim reading is like passing by a restaurant, looking in the window, catching the aroma of what's cooking in the moment, and then going off to write a review about the restaurant.  We haven't actually had the full experience, and so our opinion is not truly an informed one.  But we tell friends whether not they should go there. Why do we offer our limited experience of something as an indicator for others to avoid the full experience that we ourselves haven't had?

There is much more to a book than a few pages or passages here and there.  A book is the presentation of something holistic.  I know that a lot of people don't read the Preface or Introduction in a book.  That's unfortunate because they provide the reader with an understanding of what the author is presenting, why, and how it is that the author came to believe in the material.  These are important things to know and to understand.  It can provide us with new perspectives, which in turn allow us to grow and expand.  Without understanding the author's preface, we can bring preconceived notions to the material that really get in the way of comprehending what we're reading.  Without reading the introduction, we miss the experience and insights that are foundational to understanding the material in the book.  Therefore our reactions to the material we skim read are more about the prevailing limitations of our personal experiences to date than they are about what the author is saying.  We end up robbing ourselves of that breakthrough moment of - Oh, I never looked at it that way before.

If you skim read this blog, please go back and read it through.  :-) 


  1. I learned from you the benefits and importance of reading a book not once but three times to truly get an understanding of what the material contains. That lesson has served me well over the past couple of years. Great blog! Faith

  2. Always read everything before doing a review, whether it's a book, cd, dvd or anything else for that matter. All inserts, ingredients, appendices, table of contents, gotta read it all!

  3. Fantastic blog, Raven! I'm a big fan of actually reading something rather than just flipping through and picking out parts you like. Although I'll be honest, when picking a book, I often do the 'bibliomancy' trick at the store, to see if whatever's on the page in front of me is interesting or important enough to buy the book for.

    I've never been wrong about that. Oddly, a large number of your books came home with me that way. *winks*

  4. True... you can't pretend you've read the book if you didn't read the entire book! Even with the news, studies show people think they have the gist after the first few sentences or after reading the headline. Lazy readers.

  5. I recently took Anthropology of Religion course (PHD or Masters Level)... we were TOLD that in order to get through the course that we would have to skim. There was a huge amount of reading required in a very short time.

    So some of this tendency to skim may be academic (taught) and, while it worked for a class where everyone skimmed and the Professor had read all the books and we had 2.5 hours each week to discuss our skimming: in my opinion it is NOT the way that one really should read a book, nor is it the way to have your own opinions instead of the opinions of others.

    One other thing... I have a B.S. in Science and an significant number of Masters Hours in Science and this skim reading is NOT the way that Science is taught.

    1. Wow, Nola, thanks for the info. this a sign of the continuing decline of our culture? ;-)

      I think that skim reading has its place, but in my opinion that place isn't in the reviewing of a book or in preparing a dissertation. But, getting through some homework, yeah, ok. :-)