How Should I Read a Book?

Can you determine what an academic book is about in five minutes? At a workshop this week we gave it our best, taking this quiz after “reading a book” for 5 minutes. Some say that seminary education is a three year course in learning how to read. We agree, in part, at the Pitts Theology Library, and during a Wednesday Workshop this week we took some time to focus on this essential task of reading. The stated agenda was to learn how to read, but much of the conversation was about learning how not to read. That is, we discussed strategies for consuming the argument of books quickly, without starting at page 1 and reading to the end. We learned how to read catalog records and shelf browse (even virtually), research an author’s other publications, find book reviews, and read from the outside in, studying the guideposts around the book (titles, tables of contents, indices) as a guide to the content within. We also discussed strategies of critical reading for content, including taking positions of “creative agreement” and “creative disagreement” so as to ensure our biases about the book, subject matter, or author don’t hinder us from critical engagement. In the end, we all took away strategies to help us read, though it might be more accurate to put “read” in quotation marks. Want to learn what we did? Check out the slides from the workshop here.

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