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Strategies to read (and excerpt) an entire book II: Non-edited volumes (single/multiple authors)

While edited volumes present a relatively easy choice for a reader (”oh, I’ll just read the chapters that I like/need/want”), non-edited volumes (authored books, be it single-author or coauthored) are a much more different challenge. Skipping chapters may result in missing key parts of the manuscript and overall argument. Luckily, this isn’t always the case, and there are some strategies one can use to strategically read an entire book, and make time to come back and read the parts that we were unable to at that particular juncture (more importantly, if we are under time constraints).

I will use the example of Diane Coffey and Dean Spears’ recent book “Where India Goes” (I will also be posting my reading notes soon). I read this book recently, and live-tweeted my reading of the book (you can read the entire thread by clicking on the time stamp of the tweet, and a new window will open. Scroll down to the end).

As I was reading the book, I tweeted photographs of a few pages, key excerpts, and my thinking around what Coffey and Spears were saying. I do this because I then use my live-tweets of my reading process to complement my synthetic notes.

My strategy is similar to when I read edited volumes: introduction (generally, theoretical chapters, methodology chapters), conclusion, and key chapters.

In the Coffey and Spears case, even though I actually read the entire book, I first did Chapters 1 through 4, 8 and 9. I was lucky because Coffey and Spears’ writing style is extraordinarily fluid, so it was easy for me to digest those chapters quite quickly.

Obviously I aim to read the entire book, but if I don’t have the time, I focus on the key chapters. As I mentioned in my tweet, Coffey and Spears make it super easy to find the key chapters because they use a model that allows synthetic reading: they outline the problem, go deeply into each of the factors that impact how the problem is analyzed, and then offer solutions/in-depth analysis. Hence why it was so relatively easy to read the most important parts of the book without having to read from beginning to end.

Generally speaking, I read books from what I find should be the core chapters to the not-so-terribly-relevant ones (case studies, etc.) This might be a useful method for students who are preparing their comprehensive exams, or undergrads/grads who have to read full books.

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