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How Do You Read? survey results

Updated: May 9, 2023

I met Christine a few months ago at an event and felt a kindred spark when she was happy to talk about books.

How do you decide whether to read a certain book?

Christine: I usually read the beginning, then a bit of the end, (except for suspense novels), then a bit in the middle."

Doesn't reading the end ruin the book?

C: "No, I like to understand the author's strategy for moving from beginning to end. Then if I like it, I read the rest. If I think it's rubbish, I don't bother with it."

Christine's read-the-end technique was new to me and made me curious to uncover other reading strategies. Here are the results of my How Do You Read? survey. Thanks to all the participants!

1. How do you decide to read a certain book?

Flora: I read a review that sounds attractive and immediately go online and put it on hold at the library. Then invariably the hold takes too long so I go to the library and grab random books from the "staff picks" shelf where I have nothing to go on except the title, cover page and maybe the back page comments. This is often a bad strategy.

Thomas: Sometimes my Mom gives me one to read. Sometimes I decide to read one for no explicable reason.

Hubert: I go by recommendation, or the title sounds good, or I know the author. It depends on my mood and how much time I have.

Martha: I typically will look for authors and titles under the topic I am currently reading. Like right now, I am into Nantucket beach reads - smut disguised as a happy summer tale.

Jess: I either go by recommendation, get one from the neighborhood lending library box, take one off our shelf at home, or ask my husband (ed. literature professor).

Bruce: I frequently get suggestions from other people, then read a review to see if I might be interested.

Susan: One of 3 ways - (1) sometimes I read a review in a newspaper or magazine and then go out to buy it or borrow it from the library (2) sometimes I read a book and then want to read others like it (by same author or similar authors which I investigate online) or (3) I like browsing in bookstores - I pick up a book and skim the first few pages to see if I’ll like it.

Amy: I often read books by authors that I already like, or get recommendations from my Kindle based on my past reading. I know what genres I enjoy, so I am more likely to try new authors in those genres. I read a lot of books for my job (ed. teacher), as well, and for those, I read a wider variety of genres because I need to.

2. How do you read the book?

Amy: I mostly read on my Kindle, which is my preference. I like the ease of holding it, controlling the font and size, and having the screen lit to make it easier to see. I also like that I have 500 books in my hand at any given time. My new Kindle also has a notebook feature, which allows me to write in documents that I can send to my computer or just store on the Kindle. Very handy.

My methods vary by genre and purpose. If I'm reading a nonfiction text as a resource for writing or speaking, for example, I read very slowly and take a lot of notes, both in the book (I can put virtual sticky notes in my kindle) and in a document. If I'm reading a hard copy, I use a pencil to mark directly in the book. If I feel the need to make a note that won't fit easily in the margin, I use sticky notes.

When reading for pleasure, I tend to read quickly, but I think I read every word. I am a fast reader.

I rarely read hard copies of books for pleasure unless given one by a friend (and even then I often end up getting it on my Kindle.)

Hubert: I mostly read hard copies. I usually read all the words, but if it gets annoying or boring and nothing is happening, I may skim ahead, then sometimes go back. It also depends on the book. For example, I don't see myself reading a whole book or even page of Proust, since you have to read each page three times due to the long sentences!

Flora: I generally read hard copies and I do a bit of skimming if it gets boring.

Martha: I read every word - I think.

Jess: I read every word except for those periods where I space out and decide not to go back - it was a boring part anyway. I think about marking parts I like so I can go back and find them, but am usually too lazy to do so.

Bruce: I am a slow reader and I tend to read every word so it takes me a long time to read a book.

Susan: It depends on the book. If it’s well written and I like it, I read every word and sometimes underline things. If it’s not then I’ll skim parts of it. I particularly hate long descriptive pages and want to get to the end of those.

Thomas: Sometimes I skim because I get ahead of myself and want to go faster. Other times I skim if the book is boring. But either way I often go back and reread the parts I skimmed because I feel guilty.

3. What do you do with the book afterwards?

Flora: I usually read a library copy first and then buy it if it's extraordinary but am only doing that a few times per year. If I loved it, I usually loan it to friends. I'm terrible at getting rid of books.

Thomas: I keep it on the bookshelf if I liked it and get rid of it if not (give away or sell if possible).

Hubert: If it's a subject which interests me I'll keep. I tend to give away political memoirs or other books my Dad gives me.

Martha: I read on my Kindle, and borrow library books on it. So I return them.

Jess: Usually I keep it or stick it back into the neighborhood lending library. But recently, I've started giving books I've read to one of the libraries.

Bruce: Almost all of the books I read are on my Kindle and I just leave them there after I have read them. If I read a non-Kindle book, I usually give it away.

Susan: Historically, I have kept the book on my bookshelf or in my cupboard upstairs. Now that I realise I am often unlikely to re-read, I sell more of them online.

Amy: If it is a reference book, I usually keep it. We have gotten rid of a lot of books at our house, leaving room on shelves for only the books we really use or love, so I have space in my office to store them in an organized way. If it is a hard copy of a book that I don't want to save I usually give it away. If it is a kids' book, I bring it to school. I also have bookshelves on my Kindle, so I organize the books there, too. If I don't love a book, I delete it. I most often borrow books through apps, so I return them, but sometimes I buy them, and when I do, they get put on shelves so I can find them again easily.

4. If you don't like a book, do you stop reading, or carry on to the bitter end?

Flora: Great question! I quit or skim but feel guilty about abandoning it!

Hubert: I stop reading.

Martha: I will stop it - life is too short to read a book you have no interest in.

Jess: Mostly finish it unless it is really bad. I also finish the food on my plate.

That said, often I don't finish a book, but not on purpose. I just lose it or leave it on the night table thinking I'll try it again soon. I guess it is a passive-agressive way to tell the book I don't think much of it.

Bruce: I carry on to the bitter end, although I don’t find many that I don’t like after I have read a review.

Susan: Stop reading - life is too short!

Amy: This one is hard for me as a reading teacher. But there is no reason to torture yourself by reading a book you hate or don't understand; it's a waste of time and energy, unless it is for a specific purpose, like an assignment. Then it's worth the effort. I try to teach my students that there are different ways to read, and when reading for pleasure rather than purpose, you always have the option to abandon books.

Thomas: I feel guilty about starting something and not finishing it. It's happened that when I don't want to finish a book I won't read anything else for six months because I feel like I should finish the other book first but don't want to.

5. Anything else?

Bruce: I generally don’t read fiction. Mostly history and biographies and other nonfiction.

Amy: I think it's interesting that my reading tastes have evolved over time. There was a time when I hated reading nonfiction, even about topics I enjoyed or was interested in. Now I enjoy it and spend a lot of time with it. I try to read different genres of fiction periodically, as well, since I know that my tastes change as my life does.

This was fun - I love the metacognition of reading!

Flora: I love these surveys!

Here's how one little kid reads:

added 9 May 2023 (thanks Becky)

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