Skipping Words

To read is not a virtue; but to read well is an art, and an art that only the born reader can acquire.


I read in many different ways. Some books I read slowly and carefully, wanting to grasp every word and wallow in the atmosphere. Some passages I read over and over again, wanting the sensation to last, taking small breaks to reflect. With some books, like Harry Potter, I do everything to make them last longer. Some books I pace through, my eyes not able to read fast enough for my bookish hunger. That’s how I felt about Hater and The Hunger Games.

Then there are books where I skim pages. Where there are parts I don’t care about (as in Possession), or, like The Goldfinch, where I’m interested in the story, but can’t stand the writing. Or where I’m just bored but too stubborn to put the book away. I’ve always felt shameful when I did this. Like I was a bad reader. But reading something thoroughly that I don’t care about is just so exhausting. It can totally ruin my reading-mood. I’ve had book crisis because of this, where I started thinking Why do I even read, will I ever enjoy it again?

A few years back, I read an essay by Edith Wharton called “The voice of Reading” where she differs between the ‘born reader’ and the ‘mechanical reader’ – and lashes out at the latter:

… it is one of his rules never to skip a word (…) This inexorable principle is doubtless based on the fact that the mechanical reader is incapable of discerning intuitively whether a book is worth reading or not.

Not that Wharton’s words are law, but I felt so relieved having one of my favorite authors tell me it’s OK the skip some passages or skim through entire pages. All readers are different after all, so perhaps it doesn’t make sense that we all read the exact same amount of words. Maybe we should be able to judge for ourselves what makes sense for us to read and what doesn’t?

What about you, do you read every single word of a book? Do you feel you cheat if you skip some passages? And do you think it’s OK to review a book if you’ve skimmed some of the pages, or does that disqualify you as a reviewer?

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6 thoughts on “Skipping Words

  1. I gave up on trying to read the whole book even though I don’t really like it. For example, The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco. I loved the movie so much so I wanted to read the book, but it is just impossible to do. Rather then to lose time on something I don’t really enjoy and spoil reading to myself for gods know how long, I will rather put the book aside.
    Sometimes, I skip paragraph or few sentences but I feel very guilty about that. Like I missed something very important so I try not to do that.

    Readind – more complicated than it looks like, right? 🙂

  2. I feel like you do – I often find myself reading almost too quickly to properly grasp every single word, and then when I realise, I do usually feel a bit bad. But the reason is simply that the story is usually so good that I want to find out what happens next. So, if anything, I feel bad about having not appreciated the author’s words properly when I do in fact enjoy their story.

    I’ve had a really hard time previously about setting aside books that I didn’t enjoy, but now the world is so full of books that I want to read and so I simply cannot justify to myself to spend “unwanted” time on a book. In addition, and more importantly, I’ve come to learn over the years that I’m very much a mood reader and that some books that I couldn’t get past the first 10 pages of 3 years ago, I now fly through and absolutely adore… So, if it’s not for me now, it might be later, which makes me feel a lot less “guilty” about setting it aside 🙂

  3. I actually have the same thing – sometimes it’s really just about the timing not about the book.What doesn’t seems to be awesome in 2010, can be really great in 2014! 🙂
    But I think that is the beauty of it – you change the opinion as you go through your life.

  4. Yes, especially if you like a book, but there are parts that you don’t care about – that’s tricky!

  5. I feel the same way. Some books are not for me while others are not for me right now – but they may be in 10 years, or even next week! It depends on what I’m in the mood for. I never feel bad about giving up on a book, though. That just means I get to read another one 😀

  6. Exactly! Or your mood may change – you may have the patience it acquires after a week.

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