How to understand a book?
While reading a book, you might suddenly find that you don’t understand what is going on. It can be frustrating and you might put the book down and never reopen it. Resist the urge, because it’s important to deal with difficult parts of a book right away. You can also try to understand what you read better by changing the way you read.
- A book that might interest you
- A quiet place
- A pen or pencil
Manage difficult passages
Read on to see if you understand
It’s easy to dwell on the difficult parts of a book. Read the paragraphs that are immediately before or after the passage that you do not understand. If you still feel confused, read some of the following pages .
- Sometimes, by putting difficult passages in a larger context, you will immediately understand what is going on.
Read the confusing part again
Read the passage at least twice, maybe even three or four times. Each time, focus on the sentences you do not understand. You may find that better concentration clears up your confusion .
Divide the part into sections
Identify the start, middle, and end of the passage. Ask yourself what is the general purpose of the passage and each of its sections. Write it down on a page of your notebook.
- You may be stuck on the description of the Battle of Waterloo in a history book. Draw a frieze with the beginning, the decisive moments of the battle, and the end. Next to the frieze, notice how each phase of the battle tipped in favor of one side or the other.
Check for examples
It can be easy to get confused when the books cover complex terms or ideas. Fortunately, many authors will quickly cite examples to better show you what they are talking about. If you don’t see the example right away, keep reading, as there might be one after a few pages.
Look for the things that you don’t understand
You might feel confused because there is a word or reference that you do not understand. Use a dictionary, the Internet, or the library to research. This might help you quickly understand what you have just read.
- When doing research online, be sure to visit recognized sites. Try for example sites in .org or .gov first. Observe articles that contain spelling or grammatical errors.
- Keep a dictionary on hand while you read. There will always be a word or two that you don’t understand!
Finish the book and get back to the hard part
Don’t let confusing passages prevent you from completing the book. Try to guess what is going on in the passage and keep reading. You can only really understand a book if you read it from start to finish!
- Note the number of pages with passages that you do not immediately understand. Once you’ve finished reading it, you can come back to it and wonder if it’s any clearer now.
Ask for help when you have finished the book
If you’re having trouble understanding difficult parts of a book, ask a friend. It could be someone you know who has read the book before, a teacher, or a family member. If the two of you are confused, you might come to understand this by working together and discussing the book.
Prepare for success while reading
Find a good place to read
Avoid distractions to help you stay focused on the book. Choose a location away from the television. Put your phone on silent and put it away from you. Sit near a lamp or a window to avoid straining your eyes while reading.
Get in the right frame of mind
Sometimes it can be difficult to immerse yourself in a book even if you’ve found a comfortable place with a good source of light and no distractions. If you don’t have to finish it before a deadline, consider closing it for now and coming back to it later. Try to choose a quieter time to continue reading.
- For example, you might find that you can concentrate better in the morning, after exercising, or when you’ve finished all of your tasks for the day.
Prefer paper books to e-readers
Your brain absorbs the story flow and information better when you read a paper book. This happens because you can observe the thickness of the book and use your body to interact with the object (eg turning the pages) as you read.
- If you prefer e-readers, that’s okay! However, if you have a hard time understanding the books, try reading a hard copy and notice changes in your understanding.
Read slowly, but steadily
Take the time to understand what you are reading. Try to set aside 20 to 60 minutes a day for reading. Do not spend too many days without reading, as you might forget what you have read.
- It may be helpful to reread the last page, last paragraph, or last chapter before starting to read again. Think of it as a recap of the action, like there are recaps from previous episodes when you watch a TV series.
Make sure you know what happened before continuing
When you come to the end of a chapter or section of a book, stop and ask yourself if you have understood the main themes and events. If you remember it and got it right, read on. However, if not, you can refresh your memory by going back to previous pages, sections, or chapters.
Take notes as you read
Keep a notebook handy as you read. Use different sheets of paper to keep track of the main characters or key terms, main plot events, general questions, and things that confuse you. You can come back to your notes later to remember what happened in the book.
- This is all the more useful for school texts. However, if you read a book for fun, stopping too often may make your reading less enjoyable.
Join a book club for group discussions
A discussion around a book is a great way to understand it. Others might notice things you missed and vice versa. Chat with friends or go to a library to join or organize a club.
- You can also find book clubs and discussion forums online.
Deepen your understanding of the book
Find information about the writing period
You might understand the book better as you read if you understand why it was written. Search the Internet for major events that have taken place in the world at the time of writing the book. Write them down so that you can create a reference sheet later.
- You could also think about the author of the book. You may have read a novel written by someone who was put in jail because of their opinions deemed dangerous by their government. Ask yourself what could be considered dangerous in the book you are reading.
- This also applies to manuals! For example, a history textbook written in 1950 might care about the Cold War.
- You can also read articles about the time or situation in the book to help you understand it better. For example, you might consider reading more about the condition of women at the start of the 20th century if you read a realistic fiction novel about a woman in France in 1920.
Think about the purpose of the book
Pay attention to important lessons, depending on the overall purpose of the book. A romantic novel educates its readers about love and relationships and that’s what you should be looking for as you read. On the other hand, a science textbook is designed to teach a particular subject, usually with keywords, examples, and short stories now and then.
Write a summary or review of the book
Even if you are not reading the book for an assignment, you should consider writing something about your reading after you are finished. Write a summary or longer text to make your point about the meaning and quality of the book.
Some books take longer to read than others. It is often a matter of personal preferences that has nothing to do with the quality of the book. Find out why you don’t like the book. If there are too many descriptions and you prefer the dialogue and characters, feel free to skip the passages that you find less interesting. You can always read them again later.
If you learn best by listening, consider finding an audio version of the book you’re reading.
Everyone has the right to their preferences. Don’t force yourself to read an entire book just because someone else liked it.