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Apr 3, 2011

Three Kinds of Reading

I posted my JBR List two posts back. It was incomplete; none of the nonficiton I read was on there. I've been thinking about how I read, and I have admit, I don't read every book the same way.

1) Fast reading.
This is also called "speed reading," like the reading you learn in "speed reading" classes. I did not learn to read this way from a class. It was my natural way of reading, and later I learned that other people did not read the same way. Basically, I skim along the sentences very fast, taking in the information visually, not by subvocalizing the words. This means I can read a novel in a few hours, but it has its downside too. I am terrible at proofreading, because my eyes simply skip along the text, and if there are missing or misspelled words, my brain simply fills them in correctly. I often don't consciously experience the words qua logos but as images, like a movie playing in my mind.

2) Data mining.
This is a technique for reading non-fiction that I learned in grad school, also reffered to as "gutting" a book. I look for the thesis, the topic sentence, the supporting arguments, and skip the decorative prose. Basically, I strip the book down to its bones, its outline. I can gut a book in about twenty minutes.

Out of curiosity, I've tried this technique on fiction, to see if it is as useful. If one is reading solely for entertainment, perhaps not; it destroys one's sense of full immersion in the story, the "movie in the mind." For a writer, however, I strongly recommend trying it. Not all the time, or you will lose your enjoyment in reading, which is deadly, though probably also a stage every writer goes through at one point. But it can also greatly enhance you love of literature to step back and x-ray the bones of the story, the armature that supports the prose.

3) Close reading.
There may be other understandings of the term "close reading," but I use it to mean when I read very slowly, sometimes subvocalizing, but definitely seeing the words for themselves, how they fit together, how they roll off the tongue, how they link up and lean forward. In non-fiction, I do this with difficult texts. I must read all Philosophy this way, or I lose track of what the author is arguing. (Sometimes I do anyway.)

For instance, a book that you would have seen on my JBR List, if I had included nonfiction, was I is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See The World. Therein, you will find this paragraph:
Understanding a metaphor (like reading a book about that process, in fact) is a seemingly random walk through a deep, dark forest of associations. The path is full of unexpected twists and turns, veering wildly off into the underbrush one minute and abrubtly disapearing down a rabbit hole the next. Signposts are like weather vanes. You can't see the wood for the trees. Then, suddenly, somehow, you step into the clearing. A metaphor is both detour and destination, a digression that gets to the point.
This is a pop philosophy book, it's not too hard to understand, but still I read it slowly, or at least not quickly, in order to savor paragraphs like this. In this one paragraph the author is self-referential on multiple levels. He directly reminds the reader that this is a book about understanding metaphor, then uses an extended metaphor to describe that process of understanding. He reminds the reader of a metaphorical cliche and at the same time expands the cliche into something new and original. He also manages to slip in a literary hat tip to Alice in Wonderland.

Obviously, close reading can be used for fiction too.

Addendum: A sign of the times on a closing Boarders.


Michelle D. Argyle said...

Ah, this is awesome. I think it's important to realize we have different reading modes. With fiction I always go into close reading mode. That's why I read slowly. For blog posts, it's usually fast reading mode unless it's something I know needs very close attention. I like taking notes as I read sometimes, too. I did that a lot in college, and it helped me get a lot more out of the text.

Gabriella said...

I took speed reading in high school about 100 years ago. It has really helped, especially at work when reading long boring blah blah blah stuff.
Otherwise I find I just take my time when it comes to reading something I'm interested in.

Bonnie @ A Backwards Story said...

I also skim-read at times! One of my co-workers always tells me she doesn't know how I do it! It seems to happen most often with the "lighter" novels---or when stuff gets really good and I need to keep reading nownowNOW. This is one reason I often need to re-read before the next in the series comes out. I don't always remember the particulars, only the essence (but this is also because my memory is horrible...).

Then again, there are also a lot of times where I just savor the book and read every word. (And I still only have the essence by the end b/c my memory still sucks, lol!)

Kristina said...

I have gotten more into speed reading, since I have so many books I want to read. But I do a combination of speed and slow reading, depending on what what part the book is at.