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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Word by Word

I would like to talk about something that very few people talk about: skimming. Do you skim when you read? And if so, when? When you’re bored, when the section doesn’t interest you, when you just want to know what happened? And for how long? Just a few sentences, paragraphs, whole chapters? And do ever get anxious that you missed the one important detail that will explain everything in the end? Do you skim fiction and not non-fiction, or the other way around? Does everyone do it but no one admits it? Or are there purists out there? I remember when I found out my best friend in the third grade read the last paragraph of each book she read before she started it; I was shocked. Aren’t there laws against such things?

40 Responses

  1. In non-fiction, I’ll skim when searching for something, as in doing research, but in fiction, it’s very rare and usually only when I don’t like a pov character and want to get back to the one I like. Or if there’s a big slog of history (as in fantasy world-building) and I know this author tends to go on like that for no good reason.

    Of course, if a book is just so boring that I find myself skimming through the first few chapters for something to happen, I’ll just stop reading the book.

    But I usually I re-read sections more than skim.

  2. My wife can read a novel in a matter of hours. When finished, she can’t remember the characters, the plot, who wrote it, or the title for that matter. It’s really pisses me off. Some poor bastard spent a year of his or her life getting each sentence just right, elaborating on a sense of place, developing important plot points, and she just skims it for the thrill, with no appreciation of what went into the book.

    I on the other hand will reread a beautifically written sentence half dozen times just to enjoy the lovely word crafting.

  3. There ought to be a law, that’s for true.

    I skim the two pages provided for me when I turn the page. I can’t help it, my eyes just want to know. But I always go back and read every sentence.

    However, I don’t even read the back blurb of a book much anymore, because I can’t trust the blurb writers to entice me without giving away a crucial plot point.

  4. I don’t think I’ve read any book, even my very favorites, without at least some skimming. I think it’s why I read/write YA the most, because it’s faster paced and holds my interest more. I often skip things that don’t feel important to me. And I too, always read the ending before I start.

    I have the attention span of a gnat.

    On the plus side, if you ever need anyone to read a novel and tell you the bits where it drags, I am a walking boredom barometer.

    • All you really need is methylphenidate or prescription amphetamine. Or stronger coffee. Then get back to us. Unless of course you read only for pleasure and your attention problem affects nobody but yourself. Then rock on.

  5. Skimming. Very rarely. I just finished reading Shadow Country and I took in every word, read many of them over and over, read them aloud, savored the words.

    I’ve read a lot of heavy books lately and decided on Saturday that I needed a break, just a quick dip into something light. So I checked out a book from the library by one of the “best novelists of our time,” a popular writer of whatever we call fiction written mostly for women. It was shit. The opening hooked me — sort of — enough that I was mildly interested in the outcome but there was no way I could make myself actually read that book. I mean, literally, I just couldn’t. So I skimmed it. And figured out along the way that not only was the writing itself without elegance or even wit, but the story was manipulative and a cliche. So, in such a case, I’ll either toss it over or skim it very very lightly.

    Shadow Country, now that is another universe altogether. And I hate swamps.

    • Now this person’s talking my language. Congtaulations on being a diligent and responsible and serious reader.

  6. I think there are two different kinds of skimming: skimming where you are aware of it and skimming where you don’t notice you are skimming.
    If I notice that I am skimming a lot it tends to make me want to stop reading the book. Sometimes. I think I skim a lot in books without even noticing it. I think this implies the book works, i.e. I am so sunk in it I don’t notice I’m skimming.
    I recently read J.M Coetzee’s Life & Times of Michael K. A wonderful book, but relentless. I skimmed a bit towards the end without really thinking I was, but never thought to stop reading the book (I wanted to find out how it panned out for him).

  7. Life is too short not to skim. I skim industry blogs (never this one!) that go on and on in a self-indulgent way before the author says anything substantive. I’ll read the first sentence of a paragraph until I come across something useful/interesting. In fiction, I’ll skim if there’s a huge chunk of descriptive narrative that makes my eyes water or my mind wander. I hope it doesn’t contain that vital key to the entire story and then I’ll have to go back to try to find it. Recently I skimmed pages of unattributed dialogue between multiple characters in a novel the New York Times called one of 2009’s best.

  8. I skim sex scenes. Love romance novels, skip over the sex scenes.

    I also skimmed a lot of the landscape descriptions in Tolkien. Yeesh.

  9. I skim when I’m bored but not quite bored enough to stop reading.

  10. *Blinks* (after a prolonged pause, finally remembers to close mouth). Why? would anyone dream of reading the end first. If I’m anxious to know how a book ends, I won’t stop reading until I get there. I can’t imagine skimming a book. If there are too many boring or so-so places in the book that don’t hold my attention, obviously the book isn’t for me.

    So I guess I’m one of the few remaining purest out there. I actually read to read. (Hugs)Indigo

  11. I skim fiction when I feel like I know exactly where the scene is going so it’s boring–esp if it feels like “padding,” ie describing something in excruciating detail, a tangent or subplot not related to the main plot, a long battle or fight scene, or something like that. I skim whole chapters or sections in nonfiction if they’re boring–but sometimes I’ll go back and read them later.

  12. Yes, I will skim. But only if the pacing has slowed to the point that my interest is waning. And then I might even check the ending to see if perseverance will be worth it. (Most times it is.)

  13. I admit it, I will skim. But only if the pacing has slowed. At this point I might even check the ending to see if perseverance is worth it. (Most times it is.)

  14. Never skim. Read the whole darn thing from word one. I particularly enjoy reading the writing of those authors I admire and to study their technique and/or revel in their mastery. So skimming isn’t an option for me. Only on news stories might I consider skimming mainly because in that case I just want the facts, ma’am. And a newspaper story is usually written with the most important facts up front and then elaborates further on.

  15. I definitely skim when I’m reading. I can’t seem to help myself, at least with fiction. (For some reason, with Non-fiction I’m more likely to read every word.)

    Of course, this tendency comes back to bite me whenever I need to WRITE, say, a description of a landscape or whatever. Since I tend (inadvertently) not to read them, I have trouble writing them … which should be a lesson to me. But then, when I’m reading fiction, I’m usually doing it for pleasure, not for research!

  16. I skim when I’m not enjoying a book and don’t want to finish reading it, but I want to know how it ends.

    And I skim to find hot sex scenes. Skip the romance, gimme some nookie.

  17. If I start skimming a novel I’m probably going to put it down. With non-fiction, it just depends on the type of book. But generally, I don’t like skim. I have a friend who reads books backwards. I mean, every book she reads, that’s just how she does, page by page or chapter by chapter, just depends on the book. I know someone who has a tendency to fast forward thru a bunch of a movie to see what happens at the end.

  18. I skim when the author is getting repetitive. For example, In Stephen King’s The Shining he keeps bringing up this wasps nest which was found near the mansion and everytime he brings it up you KNOW he’s compairing it to the mansion, but it got to the point where it was happening every couple of chapters and i’d be like I GET IT!! ENOUGH WITH THE WASPS NEST! YOU PROVED YOUR POINT ALREADY! and I’d skim past it. lol. That was really frustrating.

    Also if something really exciting is happening and you don’t know who’s going to be at the door or something like that, I don’t like to skim and I don’t mean to skim but when i turn the page or get to that point in a page where the tension is building, the sentence where the answer is always jumps right out at me and I then know the ending. But I always then continue to read the page up to the sentence with the answer even though i’ve already read it.

  19. I skim for the same reason I swallow soup without chewing–nothing to sink you teeth into.

  20. excuse me….that would be—nothing to sink your teeth into.

  21. Okay, okay, I’m a skimmer! There, I admitted it!

    I sometimes, well, maybe a bit more than ‘some’, skim through descriptive passages and normally in the later part of a book than in the beginning. Then, there are times, where I read every single word. I guess it all depends on the intesity of the story.

    Oh, and I’ve had to go back and read skimmed sections when suddenly something didn’t make sense.

    I guess skimming is one of those double edged swords. No matter what you do, you get blood everywhere!


  22. I skim until something makes me want to slow down.

    I agree with the person who said life is too short to not skim. Also, I was an English major and grad student, which is guaranteed to make you a champion skimmer.

    I spent my childhood and adolescence reading every single word of every book that I picked up–not that that gives me a pass now, but I know what it’s like. As a writer, unfortunately now I feel reading fiction is usually a busman’s holiday. There’s so, so, so much out there that is not really going to nourish me in any way, as a writer or a reader. But when I find the books that make me sit up and pay attention? Then I read those over and over, bury myself in them, treasure every word.

  23. I find myself skimming when I lose interest. When that happens I go back and work to identify why that happens. A writer’s always working.

  24. I totally skim! Usually when the story drags, there is too much description, etc. Usually not more than a couple paragraphs at a time though.

  25. It depends on the book. Some books are skimmers, others you want to savor. When I am looking for a particular piece of information in a nonfiction book I might skim. Sometimes I skim a few pages to see if I like the flow of a book before I purchase it. For me, as I read a good book it is almost like a friend and I mourn the final pages of some novels.

  26. Alright, I can’t believe I’m about to admit this in public, but I sometimes read the last paragraph before I’m up to it. In fact, sometimes I just flip through the book and read random passages here and there and then watch as they all connect up as I read.

    I think I just like making everything into a puzzle. Either that or I’m clinically insane.

  27. I read so fast it may count as skimming. I often miss things and have to backtrack to pick up the thread, sometimes reading dozens of pages (even backwards) to find where I dropped it. If I like a book a lot, I’ll read it twenty or more times, but not from start to finish. After the first read through, I’ll jump around and read the parts that grabbed me more than others, in no particular order. The writing has to be pretty dense (in a good way) or extremely beautiful for me to take it one word at a time.

  28. I hate seeing sections of italics. Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – breezed right over all the letters written by the mom in italics. Same goes for A.S. Byatt’s Possession, skimmed the fictitious poetry in italics.
    Don’t get me started on Ulysses.

    • I’m pretty sure I hate you. Not because of your comments re Ulysses (I’ve never tried to read it.). Nor for your comment about the A.S. Byatt book (again, never read it). But the thin to begin with Haddon book? Is it too forward for me to say you’re a heartless bastard?

      • What? Haddon should know that a reader was bored with the stuff in italics. Maybe he’ll try harder next time. There are so few perfect novels. His was almost perfect but then he slacked at the end. The letters from the mom felt like filler. I’m not heartless. My heart is huge and when it stops beating because the material feels made-up or it feels like filler then I know I’ve hit a patch of writing that could be better.

      • Ok Ok. You sound legit. I’ll go back and read the damn thing (for the 3rd time). And I take back the heartless bastard thing. Did you read Paul Ford’s “Gary Benchley, Rock Star”? (No, I’m not Paul Ford).

  29. Why skim a novel? If you’re reading it for a class or a book club, maybe. But I’d set a novel aside before I skimmed it.

  30. I skimmed all these comments. Oops!

  31. I don’t usually skim novels unless they are really old and wordy. BUT I skim blogs all the time 🙂

  32. When I was in school and books were assignments, I always skimmed. But any book I’m motivated to buy or borrow I’m also motivated to read. I rarely skim otherwise.

    Well, except Hemingway. There’s some definite skimming going on there. And maybe with Dickens, too.

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