Reading Strategy

I know what I want to say, but I’m not sure I should say it. Particularly not in the present company.

You see it’s to do with books. I am not a widely read person, but I do enjoy a good book – does anyone enjoy a bad book?

I read my chosen book through at normal reading speed from the first page to the last. I do this just for pleasure, without engaging any conscious thought. I am simply enjoying that which the author has presented for my perusal.

Then I read it again. Slowly, taking my time to notice how it is put together and plotted, how the characters are presented, how the whole stage of the story is given substance. In short what makes the story real.

Having done that I will foray into it once more, cherry-picking the best bits, noting the language and how each incident is woven into the plot as a whole.

I enjoy this three-fold approach. I find it fulfilling, and I feel I get the maximum out of the book by the time it eventually returns to the library.

It’s a bit like having a very large bowl of strawberries and cream. I pitch in without delay; I’m hungry, and I like strawberries and cream.

Having taken the edge off my hunger I then begin to appreciate the feast in front of me.

And lastly, because I am now very nearly full, I seek out the best and juiciest strawberries and marry them with the creamiest of the cream, and savour them to the full.

Now that I have you in a relaxed frame of mind I will drop the bombshell that I was so worried about at the beginning. It concerns my method of selecting a book to read and enjoy.

Stand by!

I read the first page. If I like it then I read the last page. If I like both those pages then I read all the pages in between.

There! I’ve told you! But it works for me!

A cat reading a book.
Cat reading a book photo by BibBornem, (cc) via Wikimedia Commons


  1. If choosing a library book – and we have an English-language library here – I look at the title, the cover and the blurb on the back.

    A work that has won the Booker or other supposedly prestigious prize I won’t touch with a bargepole.

    When I begin to read, it’s the first five or so pages that need to catch my attention. If they do, I read on. But I’ve learned through reading books for our book club that it can take longer, so I’ve become a bit more flexible on that over time.

    Like Jos, I read for enjoyment. My normal pace is probably others’ speed-reading, but that’s me. Occasionally, I go back a few pages because I’ve missed a vital word or fact, but not often. Rarely do I read a book twice unless it’s particularly enjoyable.

    My overall judgement of a work is based on a mix of the plot, how well it’s written, the use of language and vocabulary and the number and development of the characters. So many books contain an excess of characters, such that you’re forever trying to remember who Aidan or Sophie is and when they last appeared.

    But an afternoon with a good book and a glass or two of French red is blissful relaxation.

  2. How interesting to hear about your reading regimes. Ideally, I too would love to read a really good book three times, but that has, up till now, never happened. So good for you, Jos! However, I would NEVER read the last page before time!
    I think of myself as a slow reader. I often go back and reread a page to make sure I’ve got it. Which I’m doing a lot at the moment, for I’m reading Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. Written in the very early 20th century, it’s full of extensive character descriptions, something I’d associate more with the 19th century when people had whole evenings to read without being tempted (obviously) by Netflix or Amazon Prime. I fear, if I had been his editor, I would have sliced out a lot of that. I do get impatient for him to get on with the story, but that’s probably my 21st-century predilection to watch too many movies.

  3. I enjoyed this too, Jos. It’s always interesting to learn how other people do something differently from the way you do it.
    Finding books, I rely on a combo of recommendations from friends and bookshops/librarians, reviews I come across, authors I’ve enjoyed, and serendipity. Choosing which I’m actually going to try to read depends on the title, cover art and blurb and, yes, the first few pages. And I won’t say it never happens, but I rarely look at the end before I start reading.
    I try to give all my books a good hour of attention when I start. If I can get into the story and through the first, say, 40 pages, then I’ll likely stick it out to the end, even if it turns out I don’t much like it. But I won’t feel bad about tossing a book aside if it hasn’t worked for me in that first hour. Life is short and there are many better books waiting.
    I can certainly come back for a re-read – though not immediately after the first read through. (Except for poetry or essays.)
    After a long, sad, depressive period when I couldn’t read anything for pleasure – and barely anything even for work – I’ve been getting back to reading again these last 10 years or so. When I was young I could happily read for hours at a stretch and polish off book after book. Nowadays I reckon I’m doing well if I read 50 titles in a year. I usually have two books on the go at the same time, sometimes more.
    I do find myself looking sceptically at very thick books nowadays. Victorian novels. I read Moby Dick once, and Middlemarch, but I doubt I’d pick them up again. Though you never know.
    It takes me 7-8 days on average to read a book, but every time I pick up a book in Swedish (which I try to do at least once a quarter), I know that is going to take at least 12 days to get through – I just read so much more slowly in a foreign language.

  4. I read as if my life depended on it when I was a child. My mother had been the librarian in charge of the very extensive children’s library in a large London suburb & my father became chief librarian there.
    By the time I was 8 or so I had read everything in the children’s library & was let loose on the adult library. There was a family rule that if you started a book, you finished it. “There must have been a reason to publish it” I was told. I think that holds less true now, when people can self publish or pay a vanity publisher, or sometimes I think I know why the book has been published but it’s not for a reason I applaud.
    However the first time I didn’t finish a book was during my college English course, when I three VIrginia Woolf’s “The Waves” down after page 6 (it began at page 4). I got top marks for my essay on it, by reading all the various criticisms, but I’ve never read further.
    I think there have been a couple of books since then which I couldn’t stomach (a poorly-written bodice ripper was one).
    I select books from the library by getting them to look down my 3 or 4 A4 page list, made from Society of Author mentions, TV’s “Between the Covers” & authors previously liked. I also sometimes just pick up a book from the shelves on spec- I discover some gems that way. There’s just so much choice!
    I’ve just embarked on Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales – only the introduction he’s written to date, but it includes some wonderful advice on writing folk tales, and their differences from modern short stories.
    I think Jos’ method of reading three times is wonderful. I may try it, but I’ll have to stop getting four books out at a time!

  5. “when I threw VIrginia Woolf’s “The Waves”” – apologies – I was called for lunch before I got a chance to reread what I’d written.

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