How to Read a Book in One Hour

I’m a slow reader, by nature. I like to absorb every word and thought, as much as possible. I appreciate the ways things are written: the language, the pacing, the artistic imagery. I prefer to be thorough, when I read a new book. I’m also something of a rule-follower — and this also comes into play with my slow reading. If I’m going to say that I’ve “read a book,” I feel like I need to have read the book. In its entirety. Cover to cover. Because that’s how books work, right?!?

Well, the trick is that a lot of books don’t actually work that way! Especially in today’s publishing industry, relatively-large books are often designed to convey relatively-small ideas. Form is not as important as function, except perhaps when it comes to page count — helping consumers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. “True literature” is not dead, of course, but it’s just one “genre” among many other types of books that tend to serve more mercenary purposes. This may sound like a cynical take on today’s book scene, but for me it’s more practicality than cynicism. I’ve simply realized that I need new rules to interact with the new (non-literary) books being put out.

That’s why I was especially interested to hear Mike Smith talk about how to read a book in one hour. He shared these “rules” at a conference for the Collegiate Church Network (really, as an aside), about a year ago, and they’ve stuck with me ever since:

  1. Read the Introduction.
  2. Read the Conclusion.
  3. Read the Table of Contents.
  4. Read the most interesting chapter.
  5. Read the first sentence of each paragraph.
  6. Never use a highlighter.
  7. Write your own summary of the book on the inside front cover.

When you’ve got a lot of material to absorb in a short amount of time — particularly when the material is more conceptual and didactic — these steps can be extremely helpful. I don’t use these steps when reading histories or biographies. I don’t follow these directives when I want to soak in a good novel or collection of short stories, over vacation. But for business and ministry reading, I’m incredibly thankful to know how to read a book in one hour.

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