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How To Read a Difficult Book

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Even if you have lots of experience in reading books, you will still come across books that are just difficult to get through. You may find the reading slow because of the subject matter, the language, word usage, or the convoluted plot and character elements. When you are just attempting to get through the book, it may not really matter to you why the book is difficult. You just want to finish the work, so you can move on to your next reading pick. Here are some tips...
Difficulty: Hard
Time Required: Varies

Here's How:

  1. Find your reading spot--a place where you can be comfortable and read. Under what conditions are you able to concentrate, study, and read most effectively? It may be easier for you to read at a desk, at a table in a quiet library, on the grass, by the lake, or in one of those cushy chairs at Starbucks. Some readers can't concentrate when there's any noise around them, while others can read anywhere. Reproduce those ideal conditions--particularly when you're reading a difficult book.

  2. Keep a dictionary with you as you read the book. Look up any words you don't understand. Also, jot down literary references that are escaping you. Are comparisons being made that are escaping your understanding? Look those references up!

  3. Look at how the book is organized by reading through the table of contents and reading the introduction (which may give you some idea of what the book is about, and why it is important).

  4. Don't let the book discourage you. Read the entire book, so you'll get a sense of what the book is about: who the characters are, what is happening, what some of the themes or contexts may be, etc. This technique is sometimes called "skimming," but make sure you read as much as possible. The idea of to get a sense of what the book is about and what the author is trying to accomplish with the work; so when you go back and re-read the material, it won't be as difficult.

  5. If you own the book you are reading, you may want to highlight passages that seem important. Otherwise, you can take careful notes--keeping track of quotes, characters, or passages (with page numbers). Some readers find that by using flags or page markers, they can more easily find those sections that are essential to an understanding of the book. Or, you may mark sections that you don't understand, so you can come back for a closer read later.

  6. Don't become bleary-eyed. In other words, if the book seems too overwhelming, stop reading for a bit. Take this time to organize your ideas about the book. Write down the questions that you have so far--about characters, the plot, the author, the setting, ideas, etc. If the concepts are still too difficult to grasp, sketch out your ideas--with images or colors. Or, try talking about it with a friend--to flush out what you are thinking (and feeling) about the work.

  7. Don't stop reading for too long. It can be tempting to put off finishing the book when the book seems too difficult, but don't give in to that temptation. If you put off continuing your reading, you'll forget what you've accomplished thus far. You may forget about important elements of the plot or characterization. The gist of the book may begin to slip away as well. So, just keep on reading!

  8. After you've read through the book once, re-read the book. Fill in the gaps that you missed the first time. As you read and re-read passages of the novel, try reciting the book out loud. Some readers can more easily grasp difficult language and/or concepts when they hear the words while reading. Read those difficult passages that you skipped over the first time. Start making connections between the book you're reading and other works you've read.

  9. Get help! If you're still having a difficult time with the book, a tutor might be able to answer your questions. Also, consider talking with your teacher about your confusion. Ask him/her specific questions about the book.

What You Need

  • Difficult book
  • Time
  • Patience
  • Dictionary
  • Pen
  • Paper
  • Highlighter
  • Page Makers/Flags
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