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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Deep Reading Part 2 - Techniques of Deep Reading

This post is part two of the series, Get More from your Book - Secrets to Deep Reading. In this post, I describe some basic techniques for deep reading. These techniques will help you get more out of the books you read, including themes and ideas you may have missed otherwise.

The techniques:

Pay Attention, Read for Detail

If you skim, you will miss details. If you watch TV while you're reading, you will miss details. Details are the building blocks for foreshadowing, and evidence for hidden plot elements and ideas. If you miss the details, it will be much harder to discover these extras that the author has hidden for you. It's like rushing past all of the Easter Eggs hidden in Aunt Jeannie's yard just to get to Easter Dinner. Sure, all that food is wonderful, but why not pick up some extra Easter candy on your way?

The second part of this technique is to mentally note odd or deliberate details, or details that are not necessary. If a detail stands out, there's probably a reason for it. If a character makes an odd, seemingly throwaway comment, there's probably a reason for it. File them away in the back of your head, because one might be the thread that helps you unravel the hidden puzzle of the story.

Think about the Story

While you are on the bus or standing in line at the grocery store, think about the story you have read. Play around with the clues and strange outliers, and try to puzzle out what they could mean. Try to think about themes, motivations, similarities, and inconsistencies. If there are any unsolved little mysteries, try to puzzle out their answers.

For instance, say that you know that a character is an orphan. Perhaps the author provided clues to the identities of the character's parents. Or if the character met a mysterious stranger on the road late one night, maybe a throwaway comment by another character near the beginning of the book can shed some light on that encounter.

In Part Three, I will go into further detail about what you should look for when you are standing around, thinking.

Talk about the Story

This is the single most important tool for getting more out of your book. Talk to others who have read the book. Point out the clues and the weird things you have noticed, and any questions or theories you have. Others will have noticed clues that you have missed, and vice versa. You may also be able to support or discount theories that others have developed with the clues you have noticed. By working together, you pool your knowledge, and get new perspectives. And besides, it's fun to chat about a good book!

When I was in high school, I would often discuss stories with my cousins Chad and Todd. The books we read were not very sophisticated, and included such series as the Death Gate Cycle, the Dragonlance books, the Wheel of Time, and the Dark Elf books (this is what happens when you find new fantasy at hobby shops and KMart). Since we were often in the middle of a series, waiting for the next book to come out, we would discuss our theories about what was going to happen in the future books. This was a type of what I'm talking about. However, there was less to discover through a deep reading in these books than in some others.


When you know the end, and you have advance knowledge about details later in the book, your mind is primed to catch details in the beginning that the author dropped for you. You may have picked up on some of these things on the first read through, but chances are good that you still missed some. Foreshadowing will become obvious, and you will come to better understand the characters, their knowledge, and their motivations.

Coming Up!

In part three of this series, I will discuss some specific details, patterns, and clues you should watch for.

Part 3: Details, Patterns, Tropes
Part 4: Community Spirit


chrisd said...

These are things that I do naturally, but not every book that I've read deserves that attention, imho.

These are things to think about, though. You do get so much more from a book when you give a book deep reading.

Joel said...

You're right - not every book deserves this attention. And thankfully, usually it's not too hard to tell which ones deserve the extra attention, and which don't.

It's good that you do these things already. I find that I don't reread often enough, but I do talk to people about what I read and regularly visit and contribute to a mailing list that discusses sci-fi and fantasy books.