A few good goals in reading books are (1) how can this book expand my horizons in certain areas? (2) how can I understand the author, such that I can articulate what he or she thinks about this subject? and (3) how can this book be a resource for me? Or, more succinctly stated, good goals for reading books are expanded horizons, understanding others, and accumulating (re)usable resources.
If these are some of my primary goals for reading, that shapes HOW I read books. For example, with some books, I can identify how this book can be a continuing resource for me without reading every word on every page. Or I can mine a particular chapter in a book to have my horizons expanded in that specific area, without having to read every other chapter. And then there are those books I spend LOTS of time in - reading and re-reading them, underlining and making notes in margins, and discussing with others.
I've created the acronym R.E.A.D. as a helpful way for me to consider HOW I want to work through a book, such that it meets one or more of these goals stated above. In case this is helpful for you as well, here's what R.E.A.D. stands for and how I try to use it. (As you read, keep in mind this acronym is a device used to aid reading well - don't look for overly technical precision or force some of the analogies too far!)
R - "rifle"
As a verb, rifle can carry the sense of "quickly search" or "plunder." I rifle through my wife's purse to try and find some Advil when I'm in a hurry and have a headache. In a similar way (and now applied to reading), I rifle through some books to quickly pull out the biggest ideas and the lowest hanging fruit. This helps give me an orientation to the book, such that I now know how the book can perhaps be recommended to others or if it warrants a deeper dive on my part.
Rifling through a book can be as straightforward as familiarizing yourself with the table of contents, scanning the introduction to see if the author provides an overview of the book (sometimes with an outline of the book's contents!), and then quickly breezing through the book identifying section headings and any easily-spotted big ideas.
E - "Eclectic"
While eclectic usually means something along the lines of "choosing from many sources," the emphasis here as it applies to my R.E.A.D. acronym is jumping around within the book, and "picking" and "choosing" select chapters or sections that are of most immediate need to us.
When I'm doing research, for example, there will be times I pull out a book that has a great chapter on the subject I'm digging into. Or if I need to increase my learning curve in a certain area, I'll mine individuals chapters in as many books as I can in that specific area - even if other parts of the books remain untouched at that time.
A - "Acquaintance"
An acquaintance is generally someone you know, but not someone you know well. This closely captures how I read some books. I enjoy them and benefit from them. I spend time in them, and pretty much read them cover-to-cover.
But since these books are acquaintances, I'm more likely to read them at times I know I may be interrupted. These are the books I bring along with me when I'm running around and perhaps have a few minutes to pause and get through a few pages. These are the books I may consider getting as e-books or audio-books (even though I don't do a lot of reading that way...) so they're highly accessible when I just have a small slice of time - either driving around town or waiting around at one of my boys' sports practices.
D - "Deep Dive"
The image here is one of scuba diving and sea exploration. The focus is on time, attention, and observation. This is the highest level, most attentive way that I approach books.
When I take a deep dive into a book, I do my best to always read it with a pen in hand - underlining things that stand out and major points throughout the book, writing down my own comments, questions, and dialogue with the author in the margins, etc. When I'm a reading a book that warrants a deep dive, I do my best to read it (mostly) at times when I know I'll be fairly uninterrupted. These are the sorts of books I may read more than once (either in its entirety or select pieces of it). And these are the sorts of books I'll sometimes read in groups with others.
In my own experience, I've found these categories aren't always 100% sealed off from each other. There will be times I'm "rifling" through a book and realize it's worth a deeper dive. Or there will be times I eclectically dive deeply into one or two chapters of a book, and then simply acquaint myself with the rest.
I've found by keeping this acronym in mind, I'm able to R.E.A.D. a lot more books. Do I dive deeply into all of them? No. But I'm able to R.E.AD. them in such a way that some good reading goals can be met: expanding horizons, understanding others, and accumulating (re)usable resources.
The bottom line? Keep R.E.A.D.-ing!
Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor. Learner. Contributor. Reader.