How To Skim a Book (without wasting your time)

I read a lot. Duh.

I talk about reading a lot. Double duh.

But if you’ve ever glanced at my reading list you’ll notice that once in a while I skim a book instead of reading the entire thing. Skimming, bless its ‘lil heart, never gets mentioned, so I thought I’d shed some light on how I do it.

By the way, I only skim non-fiction books, but I think that goes without saying. If you’re super fancy and have a technique for skimming (and still enjoying) fiction, I’m all ears! Perhaps it could keep me from losing so much sleep the next time a Hunger Games-esque type trilogy is published.

Why I choose to skim a book versus sit down and read the entire thing cover to cover is usually a matter of interest. If the book was sent to me as a gift or for promotional purposes, meaning I didn’t specifically purchase it because of a strong interest in reading it, or if it spent more than a few months sitting on my to-read shelf, it’s probably destined to be skimmed. This destiny doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the knowledge and experience the book contains any less, simply that I’m not quite willing to dedicate several hours to reading all about it. Sad but true.

How I skim a book is simple. I read anything prior to Chapter 1 in its entirety; the table of contents, forward, prologue, introduction, dedication, whatever. The pre-Chapter 1 stuff sets the stage for the main themes and concepts of the book, and you get a feel for the author’s intentions in writing it.

From there, I spend several minutes on each chapter reading the title, the first couple paragraphs, all sub-titles, and any summary points or bullets that might be present. If I get to the end of the chapter and realize that I’m not fully confident on the main lessons it presented, I go back and read more detail.

After all the chapters are worked through, I treat the end of the book the same as the beginning and read every afterword, acknowledgement, update, appendix, or summary. They often reiterate the central points of the book, and wrap everything up in a nice, neat little package.

Start to finish, skimming a non-fiction book usually takes me about an hour. I find that if it takes much less than that, I didn’t really comprehend anything and might as well have just flipped the pages and fanned my face with ’em.

Skimming obviously doesn’t provide the education that reading the entire book provides, but if done well, I have found that the value in spending that hour skimming falls much closer to reading every page of the book than letting it sit on the shelf unopened forever.

And there you have it! Skimming books. A wonderful alternative to still get something useful out of those books on your shelf that you just can’t bring yourself to pick up and read. Or, a sneaky way of being productive while sipping a mocha at your local bookstore without having to visit the register.

Either way, I hope you find it useful.

Happy page-turning,