DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

To Skim or Not to Skim

Written by: on October 4, 2017


The book, How to Read a Book by Adler and Doren, was especially helpful to me since it has been over twenty years since I have been in a formal learning or school environment. Refreshers on how to get what you need from a book in a short amount of time will come in extremely handy as I get into the piles of reading I will be doing for my dissertation.  Some of the key elements I will take away from this book are:  determining what level of reading I will engage in, how to effectively inspect a book through the skill of skimming, and how to become a demanding reader.


The following definition of the art of reading caught my attention… “The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery: keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection” (p. 14). I love how they relate reading to the art of discovery, which includes the skill of analysis and reflection. I feel like I am much stronger in the analysis department, but not as much in reflection. My experience tells me that I am much more prone to recall and apply what I have read if I take the time to reflect on what I have read. This is where the application of the material I am uploading to my brain comes in and I take more ownership of the information instead of just turning the pages. This seems to fall under the category of analytical reading, according to the authors.  They say, “Analytical reading is thorough reading, complete reading, or good reading— the best reading you can do. If inspectional reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given a limited time, then analytical reading is the best and most complete reading that is possible given unlimited time” (p. 19).


As I said before, since I, as well as everyone else, will have enormous amounts of reading to get through in the process of my research, the 6 suggestions in the Inspectional Reading section regarding skimming or pre-reading a book will be most helpful (p. 32). The times when I have skimmed books in the past have usually been because I was not very interested in the topic, or I did not give myself adequate time to read the book. I tended to feel like I was not an adequate student of the material, instead of being confident in the deliberate process of inspecting a book or article to get what I needed from it.  After reading this book, I feel more equipped and validated to use the skill of inspectional skimming instead of wasting valuable time and energy reading more of the book than is necessary. Even though I have skimmed books in the past, I did not have a particular strategy to systematically get what I need from a given book. Having their six suggestions now gives me a basic framework to inspect any book that I may want to glean from.


The other aspect I appreciated in the section on inspectional reading was their giving permission for “superficial reading”. They say, “In tackling a difficult book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away” (p. 36). I feel like this takes the pressure off of me as the reader to understand or comprehend everything, and gives me permission to not take every book so seriously and not be critical of myself for not understand the concepts readily. I think I have gotten bogged down with the parts I did not understand and did not glean what I could have more efficiently. I tend to be a slower reader already so this tip will help me move along through the difficult parts of a book without wasting too much time trying to make sense of everything. They said it best with, “Our point is really very simple. Many books are hardly worth even skimming; some should be read quickly; and a few should be read at a rate, usually quite slow, that allows for complete comprehension” (p. 39).


I must confess, reading can be one of the best ways to put me to sleep. I’m not sure what it is, but I can start reading feeling fully awake and before long the book has fallen to the ground and I am sawing logs. Not sure if I have a reading disorder, but it sure is frustrating when I am wanting to get something out of what I am reading. This caused me to be convicted by the statement, “If your aim in reading is to profit from it— to grow somehow in mind or spirit— you have to keep awake. That means reading as actively as possible. It means making an effort— an effort for which you expect to be repaid” (p. 45). I think learning how to become a more active reader will help cure me of this “disorder”. I love the concept of demanding to be repaid for the effort I put into reading a book. I have not approached reading in this manner and I believe this perspective will help keep me engaged so I can get what is due me. This will appeal to the thrifty part of my personality because I hate wasting time or money and not getting what I paid for.


Even though some of the concepts were rather elementary, overall, I would say this book helped empower me to be a more skilled and efficient reader. I look forward to putting some of these tips into practice and hopefully stay awake in the process.

About the Author


Jake Dean-Hill

Currently a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice. Ordained minister with 10 years of prior full-time church ministry experience and currently volunteering with a local church plant. Also working with companies as a Corporate Leadership Coach.

7 responses to “To Skim or Not to Skim”

  1. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Jake- Hope you and Jenn are doing well! Thank you for your post. I found it practically helpful and I resonated with the aspects of the book that resonated with you. For instance, I feel like I get to approach a book like a detective now. And to be equipped with the tools to do inspectional skimming well in order to save time. These were probably the most valuable things for me. And by the way, I can relate to the frustration of needing to get through many books and feeling like I read too slow. I think this book and Jason’s instruction and permission will be helpful for us.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jake,

    I, too, was thankful for the book’s instruction on skimming and superficial reading. In answer to your title, I think we both would agree, by all means, SKIM!

    I feel your trauma of falling asleep while reading. Especially after dinner. Sometimes I have to stand up while reading so I don’t start snoring…

    You and your bride are of the highest quality!


  3. I agree with your observations, Jake. I, too, appreciate how Adler endorses the idea of superficial or inspectional reading to gain an overall awareness of the text. There is a discipline in this stage of reading a book which I don’t think I have ever applied before: the act of picking up a book, inspecting its table of contents, discovering the way the chapters are laid out, discerning the argument of the author, uncovering the flow of the book. All of these acts are intentionally done before diving in.

    My approach in the past has usually been to drill down immediately; I’ll take these tips to heart over this course and inspect before getting into it.

  4. mm M Webb says:

    I remember that feeling where you said in your post, “My experience tells me that I am much more prone to recall and apply what I have read if I take the time to reflect on what I have read.”

    When I was serving in Zambia with a mission aviation organization I was trying to read, study, and write a paper for MA Christian Leadership class. I got stuck in the analysis phase, but could not unplug enough to relate and reflect. My wife said, go outside and walk up and down the grass runway and think about how flying connects to your class.

    So, by stepping away from the book, intentionally integrating new stimuli, and relating flying to servant leadership themes, I had my “ah hah” reflective moment and connected with the author and the narrative in a way that I will never forget.

    Lesson learned, connect in real and tangible ways. I think we all connected in Cape Town with the Apartheid, District 6, rough waves, prisoner guides, displaced Muslim, steep cable car, two oceans, and much more. We all connected, not only to the LGP8 material, but to each other.

    Thanks for sharing you insightful post and analysis.

    Stand firm,

    M Webb

  5. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Jake! Great post! I am so guilty of using the “read if it helps you fall asleep” method with clients! The author put me in check to think about the when, where, and how I read. It seems that we all have a role in improving our reading skills – it’s never too late! No worries – I don’t think there’s a falling asleep reading disorder! :).

    I’m glad you made it home safely. Can’t wait to catch up with you and Jenn and hear about your visit with Dawson and your adventures in Zimbabwe! Can you guys come for dinner? Happy Sabbath!

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