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    How To Skim A Fiction Book For A College Course

    February 9, 2018 Amanda Cross 7 min read
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    I have talked at length on this blog about the act of skimming. When I was in graduate school I began to realize that I needed to get much better at reading because I thought that I was the only one who couldn’t read fast enough. What I soon realized was that my classmates weren’t reading either, they were skimming. When I realized this I had to get better at it and then I felt the need to share that with y’all in my posts Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101 and How To Effectively Skim An Academic Book.

    This week I wanted to focus on fiction and even nonfiction regular books. These books are way different to skim than an academic book so I wanted to cover that today.

    How To Skim A Fiction Book For A College Course | Skimming is an important skill to have in college, but how do you skim a fiction book? Today on the blog I am sharing my best tips for skimming fiction books so that you can read all the books that your heart desires in college.

    Get An Audiobook If You Have The Time

    Skimming is helpful, but there is nothing better than reading the actual book itself. If you have the time I would encourage you to check out a site like Audible to see if they have an audio version of the book you are looking for. Depending on the length of the book that you are trying to read, an audiobook isn't very long and if you are listening intently during the listening process, it will be just as effective as reading the actual book.

    I do love skimming, otherwise, I wouldn't have written so many posts about it, but I do think that you should read or listen to the book if you can!

    How To Skim A Fiction Book

    Now that we have talked about audiobooks, it's time to chat about what you came here for–skimming fiction books!

    1. Start With Your Purpose

    When I am getting ready to skim any book or article, the first thing I think about is my purpose. This may seem cheesy, but it is massively important to begin with your purpose. Why are you doing this? Why do you need to read or skim this book?

    Certain tasks will require different levels of skimming.

    For example, if you are skimming the book to write a paper on the book, your skimming doesn't have to be as thorough. It's nice to give the book a quick skim, but you will always have the book to look back on during the paper writing process.

    What is your writing prompt? This will heavily guide your skimming process because instead of focusing on everything under the sun, you can guide your skimming to match your writing prompt.

    On the other hand, if you are skimming the book for an in-class discussion or a test, you will have to have a drastically different grasp on the subject. You can flip through your book a bit during an in-class discussion, but professors seem to catch on if you are avoiding eye contact and looking into the book pretending to find the answer they are looking for. On a test, you won't have access to the book at all.

    Think about your purpose when you begin to skim read the book.

    2. Read Through The Synopsis & Table Of Contents

    The first reading that you should do is to look through the simplistic parts of the book–the table of contents and synopsis. Get a feel for the lay of the land of the book. This shouldn't take too much time to do and it will help you get a feel for what to expect from the book. Take a few minutes to get familiar with the book and then move on to the next step.

    3. Seek A Little Outside Help

    When it comes to books you want to read a few outside synopses or watch a couple of spoiler YouTube reviews. You don't want this to be your last stop, though, which is what sets my method apart from just using SparkNotes.

    Check out a couple of reviews of your book to get those main points. Once you have that under your belt you can start skimming.

    Kindle X-Ray & Popular Highlights

    The Kindle and the Kindle app allow you to have access to two important features that help with skimming: X-Ray and Popular Highlights. I am going to show you how you can use both of these features to help you skim.

    X-Ray essentially creates an index of sorts for you that helps you figure out where you need to focus your attention most. It does this by showcasing all the words or phrases in a book that are referenced the most. For example, here is an X-Ray from Mindy Kaling's book “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)”

    With this information, I can skim the story and now a little more about what to expect from my reading. I can skim easier once I know these main concepts and people that will need to be seen in my talks about the book. For example, it would probably be hard to review or write about this book without at least a bit of talk about Mindy Kaling's time on The Office.

    When a reader loves a quote in a book on Kindle, they highlight the passage from that book so they can return to it later. On many books, Amazon collects those popular highlights across books and you can see what other Kindle users are loving too. Here is an example of this technology with “Fangirl” by Rainbow Rowell (one of my favorite books, and my favorite Rainbow Rowell book.)

    Popular Highlights is just looking through what other people find interesting or funny, but it can lead you to some great discoveries in the book.

    4. Skim Through Some Of The Most Important Chapters

    Based on what you have learned through the table of contents and by seeking some outside help, skim through some of the most important chapters that you have found in the book.

    • Read the introduction and closing paragraphs of those chapters.
    • Look at any pictures (if there are any.)
    • Skim through any of the italicized or bolded text.
    • Try to learn as much about the characters in the book as you can.
    • Be able to understand and locate some of the main scenes, locations, and moods of the book.

    5. Take Notes On The Process

    When it comes to skimming a fiction book, I think that taking notes is key. Write down notes on all the major plot points so that you bring up things in your own words while you are discussing the book or writing the paper.

    For important points, get down page numbers and get down quotes from the book as well. You may need some important quotes to back up your arguments so getting particular quotes and page numbers down is key.

    Type out or handwrite your notes and study those before your next class or before you sit down to write your paper so they are fresh in your memory!

    Take Down A Few Examples Of The Most Important Concepts

    For example, if murder plays a huge role in your book–don't just get down an example of one murder, take note of a few different instances of that in the book. If something plays a huge role in the book you may have to share a few examples of that or prove that you know of a few examples of that.

    You would never have to know every single example because not even the most diligent student would be able to pick out every single example, but chances are you will have to know more than one of those examples.

    Sharing multiple examples in your notes will help you stay ahead of the curve. Why is your professor making you read this book? What is the theme of the book in their opinion? That may give you some clues on things to look for multiple times in that book. You may be looking for the times the main character defied authority, or the times the author used alliteration, or even the times the main character's mom went to jail, whatever those concepts are–take note!

    6. Make Sure You Get The Gist Of The Characters, Setting, And Plot

    When all is said and done, a book comes down to its characters, setting, and plot.

    Use the Kindle X-Ray to get a feel for all the most important characters in the book. Where did they start? Where did they finish?

    Having a clear understanding of the setting of the story is also important. Does your story take place in the English Countryside or on the battlefield during a war? If you don't know this basic detail, you didn't do a great job skimming.

    Last, but not least, what is the general plot? Having an understanding of this will help you with any general questions you get about the book.


    There you have it, folks, my guide to skimming fiction books. Skimming can help you out a ton in college classes when you have a huge amount of work to do. I hope that this guide has helped you figure out how to skim for your college courses. Don't forget to check out my other blog posts about skimming in case you need to skim academic books or articles Reading With Purpose: Article Skimming 101 and How To Effectively Skim An Academic Book.

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    About Amanda

    Hey Y’all!
    My name is Amanda Cross, and I am the blogger behind The Happy Arkansan. I am a blogger, freelance writer, and podcaster. When I am not creating content for any of my content online, I can usually be found baking, watching YouTube, or napping. I love helping millennials and young adults navigate the mess that is adult life. Keep reading for my thoughts and experiences.

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