Become the Book

When we think of reading a book we usually think of it as a one-way street. You open it, read, read some more and then you close it assuming you finished it. But there are other ways of reading books. What if not all books don’t need to be read in the same way? Could we gain any kind of benefit from discovering our own reading strategy that fits with our way of learning and absorbing things?

One way of doing this is approaching a book like just a textbook and discovering the book as you go. Now, this is not the way of reading a book. It’s just an approach. A novel will be treated differently than an essay-like book.

First, you want to know even if you want to read the book. You might have read a book review or a friend might have recommended you one and that it’s all good. They all are valid reasons to read a book.

Try this. Open the book on any page or start from the fifth chapter or any chapter for that matter. Now you will get a sense of the book but not too deep. You won’t get the main idea of the book neither what came before but you will get a feel of how the author writes and elaborates on ideas. You will need some better understanding so will have to go back. After that, you can just go to another chapter and do the same thing, probably to a chapter that was referred to in the previous chapter. Then you can start from the beginning having a better sense of the book. Not a clear view but a fuzzy one. It is interesting but still confusing. Now you want to read the book and you know it.

You can drop the use of a bookmark. Just close the book and say ’ok I’m around page 100 somewhere..’ and figure out where you left off, reading again of skipping a paragraph or two. If you don’t understand something or forgot what you read, go back. Remember, this is a textbook. Jump around, reread, take notes, make notes by recreating what you just read, make outlines and summaries.

You want to become the book.

Better to stick to a chapter longer and make sure you understanding it than go through it fast just for the sake of finishing it.

Of course, you can do this with a front-to-back approach, starting from page one. Whatever works for you best. This is all for experimentation purposes so you can discover something new about yourself and how you approach things and books for that matter.

This reminds me — probably where I took the concept from — of how musicians approach learning a new piece of music or transcribing melodic lines. Some rely purely on their auditory senses while others on written form.

When reading a score many start from the end(last meter) gradually bringing themselves to the very beginning. This way they always know what is coming next since they are able to better memorize the piece (at least that is what is said to be true). Others start from the verse or the main melody leaving the introduction and ending last. Others listen to the piece in a recoding so they know it in their heads only after to sit and actually learn to play it — with some singing involved as well — or just by reading the score without touching their instrument but imagining all the ways they are going to play it and where their hands should go. Pretty much the same goes when someone tries to figure out a piece by ear.

The thing is that all musicians strive for a common objective. They all want to play music. They want to become the music. But the way they are doing so varies.

There is no wrong way of reading books. They are to be consumed in some way — any way really — and then be a part of us. Not all books are made for us and we shouldn’t feel guilty dropping a book if we no longer find it interesting or thinking we have to finish it.

Many times a book has only a few good parts in it.

Systematic experimentation and optimistic discovery should lead us, no matter how unorthodox our approach might seem.

In the end it’s all about becoming the book.