5 min read

How to Read a Book

Method 1 of 3: Starting with the Basic Steps

1 Choose a book. If you're reading for your own enjoyment, you will probably want to pick a general interest fiction or nonfiction book. There are literally millions of such books, so finding one that's right for you can be challenging. A good place to start is by thinking about what you like, and also about what you don't like. Keep in mind how many different types of books are out there. There are dystopian books like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. There are realistic fiction books such as Perfect by Natasha Friend. There are fantasy books like The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer. There are historical fiction books like Dragonwings by Laurence. Yep, and so many others.

  • Knowing your personal taste can really help you find a book you'll find enjoyable. Just because someone else says a book is good doesn't mean you'll necessarily enjoy it. Some people enjoy fantasy novels, other people hate them. Think about what kind of an experience you want to have while reading. Do you want a rousing adventure tale? A cerebral exploration of ideas? An emotional journey through the lives of believable characters? How long of a book do you want to read? How challenging do you want it to be? Are there certain perspectives you want your book to embrace or avoid? Answering these questions will narrow down the field of possible books.
  • Nonfiction books can be a little easier to narrow down than fiction ones. Most popular nonfiction books are histories or biographies of famous people. Is there a famous person you'd like to know more about? Do you want to know more about a country, a landmark, a war, a historical event? Do you want to know more about oceans, or dinosaurs, or pirates, or stage magic? Pretty much anything you can think of has had a nonfiction book written about it.
    • Just because you find a nonfiction book about something that interests you doesn't necessarily mean you'll like the book. Some books are well written and interesting, others are poorly written and boring. If you find a nonfiction book about something you like, read the first couple of pages first to see if you like the writer's style. If you find the book difficult or boring on the first page, it probably won't get any better as you read through.
  • Go to the library. Your local library is a good place to browse books, since if you see one that interests you, you won't even have to pay anything to read it. Tell the librarian what you're interested in, and ask him or her to point you to one or two areas of the library where you might find interesting books related to your interests.
  • Don't judge the book by its cover. The title and cover illustrations may seem boring or not your taste, but inside the book could be a whole world of pleasure and enjoyment that you will be enthralled by. This, however, is not always the case, so make sure you pick wisely! Also, look at the thickness of the book. If a quick read is what you're looking for, a big, heavy book wouldn't be suitable, and vice versa. Lastly, if you are buying the book for someone other than yourself, think about their age and interests, if you are purchasing for a child, young adult books such as Fifty Shades of Grey may not be the ideal choice.
  • Ask those around you. Good friends and close relatives may be able to recommend books to you based on what they enjoyed and thought you would also enjoy. But be careful because some people like to read long stories while others don't. If you love science for example, search for science books.
  • Check online. The Internet is filled with book lovers who are more than happy to share their opinions about various titles. Find a community that discusses books and search for the subjects you like, or just visit online retail sites and browse user reviews of books that look good. Either way is a great method for getting a quick idea of the most popular and best-liked titles in any category of book.
  • Make it a group event. Book clubs and readings are both fun ways to expose yourself to new books.
    • Many clubs are focused around a particular genre of book, such as science fiction or romance, but some are more general.
    • Fiction readings happen regularly at many independent bookstores.
    • Nonfiction writers can sometimes be found giving readings or even free guest lectures at nearby colleges. Go and listen to see if their book sounds like something you would like to read, and learn a little about something that interests you at the same time. Some books starts with brief explanation so don't get bored after the first few pages; remember every story has a lesson.

2 Acquire the book you want to read. There are a few different ways to accomplish this:

  • Check out the book from the library. The upside of this approach is that it's free and easy. If you don't have a library membership, just walk into the library and ask for one.
    • Many library systems allow you to electronically reserve a copy of a book you want in advance, and then notify you when the book is available so you can come check it out.
    • Be aware that if you're trying to read a very popular book, you may end up weeks or months down the waiting list for a copy.
  • Buy the book. Visit a bookstore or newsstand and purchase your own copy to keep for as long as you like. The advantage of this method is that with a little work, you can usually find even the hottest books and read them right away; the downside is that you have to pay money to buy the book.
    • Since you're paying, be sure to pick up the book and read a few pages of it in the store first, so you can tell if you'll enjoy the author's writing style when you crack it open at home.
  • Borrow the book. Friends and relatives who recommend a book to you will often have their own copy and be glad to led it to you for as long as it takes you to finish.
    • Be sure to take good care of books you have been loaned, and read them in a timely fashion so you don't forget about them and leave them gathering dust on a shelf for the next year.
  • Electronically purchase the book. With the advent of portable e-readers and smartphones over the last several years, electronically published editions of print books are becoming more and more common. It also means that the book can be taken with you anywhere where your phone/kindle/tablet/iPod is.
    • The cost of purchasing a virtual book is often slightly less than the cost of purchasing a physical copy, so if you have a reader already, you might save a little cash. Don't buy huge books if you know you won't finish it. good types of apps for these are the Kindle apps or if you have a new version of an iProduct, iBooks.
    • Like a paper-and-ink book, an electronic book is yours to keep once you've paid for it. The only downside to this is that, unlike paper books, you cannot pawn them off because the book is installed in your device.
    • Remember that electronic editions are more difficult than regular books to bring with you on long vacations or camping trips.

3 Read your book. Find a comfortable place to sit, make sure there's plenty of light, and open the front cover. Start at the beginning, which is usually the first chapter unless there's some front material, and read each page in order until the book is finished. If there is any end material, wait until you have finished the rest of the book before reading it.

  • Decide whether or not to read the front material. Front material is the writing at the front of the book that isn't the first chapter of the book. It comes in four basic flavors, and each type serves a different purpose. You can decide on your own whether or not you want to read any given section of front material. The four types of front material are:
    • Acknowledgments: A brief section that lists people who helped the author in some way during the writing process. You can read acknowledgments if you like, but most people don't bother. Acknowledgments also commonly appear at the very end of the book.
    • Foreword: The foreword is written by a different author than the person who wrote the book, so it is usually only seen in later editions of a book that has made some sort of impact in the past, such as an award-winning novel or an important scientific work. The foreword talks a bit about what to expect from the book, and why it is worth reading.
    • Preface: The preface is written by the author of the book. It is usually (but not always) shorter than the foreword, and is basically an essay that explains how and why the book was written. If you're interested in the author's personal life or creative process, the preface can give you some valuable insight.
    • Introduction: The introduction is the place where the author speaks directly to the reader and introduces the book, reviewing what its intent is and building excitement in the reader about getting to read it. Introductions are more often found in nonfiction books than fiction books. If you would rather not know a few things in the book before, reading the writers prelude after would be a good idea.
  • Decide whether or not you want to read the end material. End material is other writing, typically by different authors, that appear after the main book has ended.
    • End material is typically comprised of essays or editorials on the book itself, and is not commonly seen outside of academic “study editions” of certain very famous books, such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
    • As with most front material, all end material is totally optional.
    • If you greatly enjoyed a book, end material can give you a chance to revisit parts of it; if you didn't understand the importance of a book, it can provide important historical and cultural context. Otherwise, most people ignore it.

4 Pace yourself. Reading a really good book is an absorbing experience that makes time fly by. Have a bookmark ready, and be sure that you don't spend too long reading in one sitting. (Set a timer on your phone or watch if you have to.) This will allow you to enjoy the book longer, and prevent you from missing deadlines or shirking other responsibilities because you were lost in your book. 

Method 2 of 3:Reading a Book of Essays or Poems

1 Skim the table of contents and index. Most books that are comprised of many smaller pieces have a clear table of contents to facilitate quickly jumping to a particular piece. Some also have an index at the end, which will list keywords and other important terms along with page numbers where each one appears.

  • An effective way to jump into a book of poems or essays is to pick one that sounds interesting and flip to it, rather than starting at the very beginning. You can read this item first and decide how you feel about it, then adjust your browsing method accordingly to find more of what you like and save the boring or less-impressive stuff for last.

2 Mix it up. Aside from book-length poems (like William Carlos Williams' Paterson, or Homer's Iliad), most collections of shorter writing can be read in any order you like. Skim and flip through the book, stopping whenever something catches your interest.

  • Make the experience your own. Approach it according to your personal whims instead of just trying to read straight through it. You will be surprised and delighted at every turn, instead of feeling like you have to slog through things that don't interest you and wait for the good part to come later.
  • Keep your eyes open. As you become more attuned to the tone of the book, items that seemed dull before will start to get interesting, so you'll always have something more to read.

3 Read interactively. Inhabit the writing inside the book and make it a part of your own life by emphasizing your favorite parts. You will enjoy it much more than if you try to dryly deconstruct it or push through it in a linear fashion.[3]

  • Keep track of what you read. Write down page numbers or author names for items you particularly enjoy so that you can revisit them easily in the future.
  • Use a pencil. If you own the book, consider lightly marking it with a pencil wherever you see a line or a word that grabs your attention

Method 3 of 3:Reading a Textbook

1 Take notes. It is possible to read a textbook for fun, but the practice is not very common. Most people read a textbook because they need to get information, and textbooks are an excellent source of concentrated, clearly-organized information on many topics. To get the most from reading your textbook, have a notepad open beside you while you read.

  • Set a pattern. Read one paragraph at a time, then stop and make a note about what that paragraph said. Try to put it into one or two quick phrases or sentences.
  • Review your results. At the end of your session, you'll have a personal copy of all the information you need. Read over it to ensure that everything makes sense to you.

2 Read by chapter. In most cases, it isn't necessary to read a textbook straight through from start to finish, but it isn't very useful to jump from section to section, either. Instead, every time you have to read even part of a chapter, if you haven't done so already, plan to read that entire chapter.

  • Understand more of what you read. Reading the whole chapter in order once will put all the information you need into a solid context, making it easier to understand and easier to remember.
  • Take a victory lap. There's no need to read back through the whole chapter once you've done it the first time. You can cherry-pick from the chapter as needed afterward.

3 Keep up. If you're reading a textbook, it's probably for a class you're trying to pass. Textbooks are dense, slow reads, so the best way to tackle them is to start early and try to make steady progress every time you open one up.

  • Make it a date. Schedule regular space at least a few days a week to read your textbook, and it'll go by much more easily than if you tried to cram it all in right before each test.


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