Lost article on nonlinear reading techniques
July 10, 2011 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Seeking an article or blog post I read once about, er, nonlinear reading technique.

The author describes their method of reading books nonlinearly, by directed skimming (rather than cover-to-cover). Read preface, conclusion, table of contents; dip into specific chapters skimming for key paragraphs; and so on.

There was specific mention of trolling the index looking for words with a high number of page references. (I mention this only because I haven't seen this particular technique mentioned in any of the many webpages I've been able to find which describe similar methods, so it might help to identify the particular one I'm after.)

I think the author was a (present or former) graduate student in the humanities, and used this method in part to keep up with their reading load. They claimed that such techniques made it possible to understand a book in detail without having to read more than a relatively small fraction of it in detail. (I forget what fraction the author claimed, if indeed they did claim a specific fraction.)

One commenter wrote that the method was against everything they stood for in reading (or similar words), and another wrote that it was completely in accord with everything they stood for in reading. And, for the prize: I thought these comments were on Metafilter, but I can't find them.
posted by stebulus to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
This is a favorite technique of humanities grad students. I remember I had a seminar with the great Russian historian W. Bruce Lincoln. He passed out the reading list, which involved reading "relevant portions of" at least 7 books a week. After the seminar, I turned to a second-year student and asked him how this could be read. With an intense look on his face he said "you've got to gut books. You just have to gut books."

"Gutting" turned out to be reading the intro, the conclusion, reading key chapters, and then skimming the intros and conclusions of the other chapters. I got it down pretty fast.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:50 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did it come out of a post on the blue? Perhaps this comment or some other part of the same thread.
posted by sardonyx at 5:28 PM on July 10, 2011

Response by poster: sardonyx: I thought it came from a post on the blue, but can't locate any such post. It's not in the thread you link to, nor is it linked to in a comment there.
posted by stebulus at 8:39 PM on July 10, 2011

Best answer: Found it: How to read a (good) book in an hour, on Savage Minds.

(Somehow trying to furnish examples in a response to your answer, Ironmouth, got me the right search terms to find this AskMe question from 2007, which linked to this 2005 comment by LarryC as an example of such strategies under the name "How to Read a Book in One Hour", and that phrase made Google give up the Savage Minds post. So, um, thanks!)
posted by stebulus at 9:11 PM on July 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Even though I wasn't any help, I'm glad you found it.
posted by sardonyx at 10:04 PM on July 10, 2011

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