The importance of reading strategically

One of the greatest frustrations many students have is the overwhelming feeling that they have more to read than could possibly be digested in a single, human lifespan. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it feels like that at times. How do you work your way through that stack of books, articles, and handouts while retaining some small shred of sanity?

Fred Sanders was recently interviewed about his reading habits, and in his response he offered some good advice for dealing with this very challenge – read strategically.

The most important advice I can give about reading is to make decisions in advance about what you want from the book you’re about to read. You’ve got to stay in charge, and not just let yourself accidentally fall into the reading experience. Before you really engage the book, decide if it’s the kind of book you need to read slowly, repeatedly, taking notes, and pondering. Or is it the kind of book that covers familiar territory and will only offer a few new details? Is it a book you want to immerse yourself in and get lost in, or the kind you want to dip into for bits of information? Or is it a book that you need to figure out so you can put it on your shelf and know how to use it for reference later on? Some books contain analysis and perspectives that are brand new for you, and require slow assimilation. But others just confirm, deepen, or extend things you already know. And it’s fine to read for fun and entertainment, or even to read haphazardly. But you need to have made a decision that you’re going to do so. There are some books that I’m done with in 90 minutes, because I already knew what was in them before I picked them up, and I got everything I needed from them in a short encounter. I’m not an especially fast reader, but I do read strategically.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on February 9, 2011, in Misc and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I had to read Fred Sanders’ response a few times, just to make sure I understood everything he said! 😉

    That’s good advice, though, as I figure out how to synthesize the information in books I have to read for class, books that I read for study, and books that I read for fun. It is difficult to manage without a plan going into each book, though I realized just now that half my battle is not finishing one book before starting another.

    Thanks for the post, Marc.

    • Ah, but did you decide beforehand how you were going to read this post strategically?

      I’ve noticed that when I fail to finish a book, it’s for one of two reasons. Either the book wasn’t any good and didn’t need to be finished, or I approached it in the wrong way. If you try to read a book carefully when you really only need to read through it quickly, you wont’ finish. (At least, I won’t.) I think you intuitively start to realize that you’re spending more time on it than it’s worth and you’ll give up.

      Or, may the internet has just given us all short attention spans.

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