September 6, 2008 at 12:03 am | Posted in Book Blather | 4 Comments

Skimming is one of those factors of reading that seems to divide readers into two clearly defined camps.  There are those who skim and those who don’t.  Challenging as it may be to believe, considering the quantity I go through, I am of the latter camp.  In fact, I’m quite firm about it.

The first time I ever heard of the concept of skimming, I was in the fifth grade.  I remember it quite clearly because it hit me with the full force of heresy.  My teacher, Mrs. Smith, would read to us immediately after lunch recess, a chapter a day.  One day she mentioned that she “skimmed the boring parts.”  Several people in class agreed that they did too.   What was this?  You mean, people supposedly read a book, but they just picked and chose what parts to read?  How did they know they weren’t missing something important?

(The other interesting thing about Mrs. Smith was that she rewarded us for each book report we completed by buying us our choice of a candy bar or a can of soda.  For a poor kid on food stamps who loved reading anyway, this was a Dream Come True).

I looked on this skimming thing with moral fervor.  Why, if skimming was okay, I could pick up every book in the library, blast through it in three or four minutes, and then claim to have read everything!  It hardly seemed fair.  So I read, relentlessly, every page of every book, including the acknowledgements, the prologues, the forewords, the introductions, the afterwords, and, for many years, every line of the notes!  In junior high, after reading How to Read a Book, I swear to you that I even read the tables of contents and the indices.  I frog-marched myself through every word of all the foreign phrases and poetry, too.

These days I don’t bother with the notes at all, unless there’s something particular I want to research in further detail.  I also skip the table of contents and the index.  I usually don’t bother with the acknowledgements anymore, either, unless it’s a memoir where celebrities might be mentioned.  (I did find, though, that my old habit of at least turning every page led to a discovery – in 20th Century Ghosts, there is a bonus two-page short story hidden in the acknowledgements in the back of the book).  But, I do read everything else.

In retrospect, I may have been a bit silly about my insistence on reading literally everything.  But I still do read every word of the main text of every book I read.

How about you?  Do you skim?  If so, what are you likely to whiz through?


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  1. I would say I don’t skim, except that would be a lie, because I skimmed great chunks of In the Woods. However, normally I don’t skim. Or if I do I don’t say that I’ve read it.

    I remember the last class meeting of the one and only grad class I took. I had spent every spare minute of my life poring over books for this class. And the professor states some bullshit about how the proper way to read as a grad student is too skim. And all along I thought the point of school was to learn.

  2. When I find myself loosing enough attention in a book that I begin to skim, that means it’s probably time to quit. On to another book!

  3. I guess skimming is probably more common when reading nonfiction or doing research.

    Skim “In the Woods”? What were you skimming, if I may ask?

  4. If I’m reading something that’s VERY heavy on description, I’m likely to skim. Otherwise, I’m against it.

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