Day: October 29, 2009

how to become a more efficient reader

Ahh… Yes. The bottom line. (Watch the stats go through the roof on this one. No-one wants to know how to become a moral moral reader and only a few think it’d be worthwhile becoming less anxious. But more efficient? Bring it on!)


This time it was a Political Science lecturer who inducted me into the deep mystery of efficient reading. And here it is — just between you and me: the best place to begin reading is … at the end.

If what you’re reading is written well (and having just put together a sustained 15000 word argument, that’s a big ‘if’), then you should be able to rip out the guts of it by reading the conclusion — and then working backward, picking up the first sentence in each paragraph. It’s all about finding the main thread of through the text and pulling.

I guarantee this strategy will make you a much more efficient reader.

But isn’t this pure pragmatism? Aren’t I betraying my own principles by suggesting that you read like this?

Well, I guess maybe I am. Although, I’m not sure that this approach necessarily rules out the strategies for respecting the text’s otherness that I’ve already suggested. For example, I can imagine hitting some puzzling or unexpected turn in an argument as I’m reading this way, stopping to take some time over it, but not getting so hung up on figuring out this detail that I start anxiously trying to wring out every last drop of meaning.

You see, the intuition underwriting this reading strategy is the (charitable) assumption that the text has a logic and coherence and is more or less effective at sustaining its argument from beginning to end. And this need not compete with the intuitions underlying the other strategies. They can coexist — even if they demand some effort to hold them in the appropriate tension…