Monday, February 26, 2007

Skimming Books is Just As Good?

I disagree. But perhaps that is because I cannot skim. That isn't to say that I am incapable of mastering the skill, but I just find it difficult. I feel I owe it to the writer and to myself to read every word. I do occasionally skim through work-related books though (there are so many good ones that I could never get through them all).

A friend of mine [thanks Elizabeth!] sent this NYT article to me. The author, a literature professor, argues that reading an entire book isn't necessary. Skimming it, reading reviews, or scanning the index provides enough information to discuss the book. He even says:
“To be able to talk with finesse about something one does not know is worth more than the universe of books,” he writes.
I've tried several times to read Moby Dick but I never get past "Call me Ishmael".

Perhaps that is enough?


Elizabeth said...

I've skimmed some books because I felt I was obligated to read them and yet couldn't bring myself to pore over every word. The Fellowship of the Ring definitely comes to mind as a prime example. Sure, maybe I didn't do Tolkien justice, but at least now I can come closer to explaining WHY I loathed that book with every fibre of my being. (Too much singing, lousy dialogue, just about the stupidest characters I've ever come across, and absolutely no common sense at all.)

From a political/social standpoint, I think the author has a point. If a book has a contemporary social significance, you might not need to actually read it. I'll admit to skimming vast portions of Obama's Dreams from My Father, and yet I still got the basic gist of what he had to say, enough to intelligently converse about it. It's not as good as reading the entire work, but it's better than nothing.

Although I do strongly disagree with that quote you excerpted. That's just about the dumbest thing I've ever read.

walt crawford said...

Wow. I did read the NYT article before commenting, and...

You can reword the prof's comment as "Faking it is worth more than literature."

And from a prof who seems to be proud of lecturing about books he hasn't read, I guess that's appropriate.

I'd hate to be taking a course from a poseur like that. After all, what if he started pontificating about a book I'd read? It's not good for your grade point to say "Sir, you don't know what you're talking about."