It took me years to learn how to skim a book. As a boy I slowly read each page. Not only would I read a book more than once, I would read a page and then go back and read it again. The Count of Monte Christo was an early favorite.

Today I say with pride that I read books only once. Second readings have gone the way of the bicycle and possibly for a similar reason. Not peer pressure as it was with the bike, but certainly peer competition. I wanted to read more and faster than anyone else. It made perfect sense to me that in order to maximize my knowledge it necessitated multiple books. Reading one book, however thorough, was like wearing blinders to other possibilities of learning.

Francine Prose shocked me out of my perfection. On page 19 of her book Reading Like a Writer, she emphatically says, “Skimming just won’t suffice if we hope to extract one fraction of what a writer’s words can teach us about how to use language.”

Gulp. Of course I want to know. I am a writer. Francine goes on to use the opening lines of Katherine Mansfield short story, “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”

The week after was one of the busiest weeks of their lives. Even when they went to bed, it was only their bodies that lay down and rested; their minds went on, thinking things out, talking things over, wondering, deciding, trying to remember where….

Francine points out that in the first sentence “there is no object for the temporal proposition.” She then goes on to explain Katherine’s intentionality of omitting  this for the success of the story. Francine makes the point that skimming would not pick up on this.

I would love to write like Katherine. To a lesser extent, I would like to read like Francine, but only if it could be done by skimming to which she strongly suggests it cannot. I haven’t yet read the rest of the Mansfield story. I downloaded it for free from one of several websites that offered it.


10 thoughts on “Skimming

  1. Carole Webber November 14, 2013 / 10:15 am

    I do not have a problem with skimming. In fact, I was taught how to do it in high school, looking at the top left of the page and eyeing the page on a slant to the bottom right. ( we called it scanning then) It was acceptable to do it,. If you have a lot of books to read and a time frame , it is just fine.
    I do it all the time.

    • fictionfitz November 14, 2013 / 10:16 am

      I am glad I am part of such outstanding company.

  2. New Hampshire Garden Solutions November 14, 2013 / 6:11 pm

    I always felt like I was cheating myself if I skimmed, so I usually read every word. I also have a hard time not finishing a book, but there have been some that were so bad I had to quit early.

    • fictionfitz November 14, 2013 / 7:20 pm

      That’s a good way to think about it, cheating. I had to make it equal to cleaning up my plate. This way I stopped thinking about it in that way, and I lost weight too. :>)

  3. jhvn November 14, 2013 / 9:16 pm

    In geezerhood my brain slows down, and time speeds up. I have to make more decisions on how to use what fleeting time I have. Instead of skimmin, I sample and often skip and/or don’t finish a book or article.

  4. Jerry B. November 15, 2013 / 3:25 pm

    I have never been able to “skim” a book. I get pulled into the fictional story or need to absorb every bit of information of a non-fiction book. However, I do not believe I actually read the books to get every aspect of a novel or author’s intent. As I have been working on my own writing, I have found that I will go back halfway through a chapter and look beyond the story into the style of the author.

    Thank you for the recommendation on Francine Prose’s book. I will add that to my growing list of books to read. Great and informative article today leaving with many new things to think about on how I actually read and the purpose for which I read.


    • fictionfitz November 15, 2013 / 4:37 pm

      Thanks Jerry, I will be quoting and thinking about Prose’s book often.

      • Jerry B. November 15, 2013 / 4:57 pm

        Looking forward to reading more.

  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist November 16, 2013 / 8:51 am

    I don’t skim either, unless I am bored or tired. I will skip parts if they don’t hold me. I have a friend that skims and it is obvious that she does not absorb the detail that reading achieves

    • fictionfitz November 16, 2013 / 9:28 am

      I think it is why I read popular fiction fifty percent of the time, I can skim.

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