Sir, do you read books through?
Samuel Johnson devoted his life to books, learning and words; it is therefore hardly likely that he intended the above remark to encourage mere dabbling in his own books or anyone else's. Quite the reverse: his incredulous question was inspired by the knowledge that if a book is at all worth while, it will both need and stimulate several visits.
It needs to be stressed at once that he was talking-as am I-about 'serious' reading rather than 'casual' reading for pleasure. To start at point A and go through to point Z is a perfectly viable way to read a good thriller or a holiday novel; one could argue that such works can only be read that way, partly because one rarely feels the need or desire to return to them. But the reading you do as part of your course is intensive and central-it is material mat you have deeply to absorb, and learn. In those circumstances to rely solely on that 'A to Z' method is rarely effective, chiefly because:
If a course book is worth reading, it's worth reading twice; moreover, if you want to get something substantial out of it, it must be read at least twice, and probably a lot more.
Your criterion is mastery, or at the very least intelligent digestion of a book's contents, in terms of both its main arguments and its details. That cannot be achieved at one go-not even in the case of brilliant students reading something they're instinctively and pleasurably drawn to. Indeed, this guiding principle has, I believe, the status of fact:
On any first reading, your chances of digesting more than 40% are slim, regardless of the amount of time you spend on it.
I shall return to that observation shortly. First, however, we need to be clear exactly what is meant here by 'read'. So let us begin by considering a few popular misconceptions about reading, especially those that have a bearing on 'slow readers'.