How to Read a Book (in Case You Didn’t Know)

By Sabrina O’Brien

People often find that I am the most unconventional of English majors. No, I don’t write a lot; no I don’t read novels in a day; no I don’t like Hemingway (which is a comment that has earned me many looks from my fellow students); if you want a story about the American dream, I’m not going to tell you to read The Great Gatsby when it is obvious to me that Snow Falling on Cedars is a more well executed novel.

So, it is understandable that I read my books in a peculiar way as well. In fact, some would be apt to say that my way of reading books is both savage and uncouth. Some of you may be reading this post and crossing yourselves, praying to God that I get some professional help.

For me, the best part of a book isn’t the ending, it’s how you get to the ending. Before I buy a book I read the first few pages. That’s right, before I even leave the store. I won’t purchase a book until I have established that the style is to my liking. Each author has their own flair when it comes to writing. For example, you can identify my writing by my annoying use of semi colons, long sentences, and (if it’s an essay) all of my final paragraphs start with the word “overall.”

I find that some authors write in a way that is pleasant for me to read (Khaled Hosseini), others write in a way that makes me pay attention to every word (George R. R. Martin), and some write in a way that evokes imagery or emotion (David Guterson). At the same time, I have found many writers whose prose are like nails on a chalkboard to me. The inner editor in me wants to smack those authors, recall all of their books, and go through five more editing processes to fix them all.

(Creative Commons/ Google Images)

To go back to the original subject, I will read the first few pages of a book to gauge whether or not I like the way the author writes. Then—this is the part that some people may find shocking—I turn over the book and read the last page. Some last pages have just one sentence, some only a paragraph, and some have a nearly completed page. I will read whatever is there.

Why do I do this?

If I find that I already like the characters that were presented to me in the beginning of a story, and I like the author’s style and the premise of the novel…I want to know how it ends. But, as I said in the beginning, reading for me isn’t about the ending. Instead, it is all about how the story achieves that conclusion.

I once read the last page of this novel in which the character is about to be shot in the head while staring at a billboard of Big Brother. I am, of course, referring to the book 1984. In the beginning, Winston is writing “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” across a page in his diary. If this is someone who has previously hated his surroundings, how does the book achieve an ending where this character claims to love his reality …as he’s BEING SHOT by some official in his government? 1984 made me want to figure out how Winston got from Point A to Point Z… and all 24 of the other letter in-between.

Currently, I’m reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and I chose not to read the final page before I started the book. Do you know how long it has taken me to get halfway through that tiny, 190-page book? Three months!

Now, my boredom is not due to the fact that the book is bad novel. I am thoroughly fascinated by The Picture of Dorian Gray’s characters and plotline. However, without knowing the ending of the book my reading lacks purpose. For me, I need to know how the story ends so that I can get the most out of the experience.

By knowing a small thing about an ending, maybe a description or a final conversation on that last page, I know what to look for and pay attention to in a novel. I know which characters have the most significance. I know when the twist happens, and I can appreciate the artistry of it.

I don’t think anyone will ever really understand how this process works for me until they try it. I honestly encourage you to try it with the next book you pick up and see if it motivates you to get through the book any faster.

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