1. Judge the book by its cover
And its back cover. And its dust jacket, if it has one. This won’t tell you what the book is, but it will tell you what the book is trying to be. Dust jackets are invaluable, because typically someone put a lot of thought into distilling the book’s many complex themes into one or two key points or images. This becomes your GPS for the whole experience.
2. Don’t start reading before you look over the table of contents
This too is part of your reading GPS, to help you figure out where the writer is trying to go. Understanding the table of contents helps you be a confident back-seat driver along the way. Also, you’ll want to know if there are chapter summaries that say briefly what the writer should have been saying briefly in the first place.
3. Read the first 20 pages. And the last 10
And most of the chapter summaries. Skip most of the rest, unless you’re genuinely hooked. Here’s the dirty truth: If you read a typical nonfiction bestseller, all the best stuff is there in the first 15 to 25 pages. Everything else is elaboration and case studies and trivia. This applies to books by Tom Friedman, Malcolm Glad well, Steven Pinker and pretty much the whole herd of great experts.
Most authors instinctively follow the pattern that speechwriters follow: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them. Tell ‘em. Then tell ‘em what you’ve told ‘em.” In other words, they’ve built your lack of an attention span into their product. So don’t waste your time on points that are repeated or drilled down farther than needed.
The fact is that most books today are lumbering, overlong communications forms that have outlived their usefulness; but no one realizes this, so authors and publishers continue to pad a good 30-page idea with several hundred more pages, with notes and charts and so forth.
Breezing through the last 10 pages is important, because you’ll get yet another attempt by the author to make sure you get the basic point.
4. Find two reviews of the book online
See if the reviewers came to the same conclusions you did. And see where there may be different assessments of the book’s content and worth. Now you’ll be prepared to actually argue about the book in public, because you can sniff, “Well, Johnson, the Economist would certainly take issue with your interpretation of Pinker’s theory.” If Johnson responds, “But you’re completely neglecting the points that Pinker spelled out in painstaking detail in chapter 8,” then just say, “Hmm, I suppose I’ll have to look at that section again.” Then don’t.
5. Build up your skimming muscles along the way
This is essential to keeping your head above the information water line. I see two types of people: One gets an article sent to her and quickly reads and reacts. The other says, “I’ll read this tonight, when I have some time,” and never does.
The second person never built up her skimming skills. It’s like downhill skiing or motorcycling—you don’t just suddenly become smooth at it. You work on it gradually, until it becomes second nature.
Image Source – Google Image