Is Skimming Really Reading?

I read books in two ways. The first is what I usually think of as thoughtful reading. Where you take your time, read a paragraph thoroughly, and then muse about what you just read. The second is what I usually refer to as ‘skim’ reading.

The best way I can describe skim reading is that you take in the story as quickly as possible while skipping over any description your mind deems to be inconsequential.

I do this quite often, especially with the average book I give little value to. Yes, there are authors like Shakespeare and Dostoevsky that need a bit of thoughtful reading, but your average modern thriller and fantasy can be skim read without losing any of the plot.

But here’s the problem I have with skim reading: you’re picking up just the parts of the writing you want to. You’re not reading the full book. It’s like picking up a detailed summery of the book and then claiming you’ve read the entire thing. Without thoughtful reading, can you really claim to be reading a book at all?

When I contemplated this thought, an objection came instantly to my mind. “But a lot of books aren’t worth taking the time to do a thoughtful read. A lot of books probably don’t even deserve the skim read. If you try giving some of them a thoughtful read, you’ll literally hate yourself by the end.”

And, of course, this is true. Some books aren’t worth giving a thorough read. But if that is the case, are they worth giving any read at all?

So often I tell myself I have to reach a quota. I have to read two books a week or 100 books a year. This means that often times quantity is better than quality. Some books I know do not warrant a thoughtful read, and instead simply call for a skim read.

But if that book really only deserves a skim read, why should I waste my time reading it at all?

I have a great belief in books. They open our minds to new ideas and teach us about places and people who we don’t know about. In books you can be an ancient Spartan warrior or an alien from outer-space. But the whole point is to enjoy the work by actually reading it.

But when you skim read something, is that still actually reading it? You’re reading parts, sure, but not the whole thing.

Usually, these types of posts I write with a solution already in mind, but in this case I’m still rather on the fence.

On one hand, I’m sick of skim reading so often, as I find it inhibits my own writing ability because I’m not examining a writer’s full craft. On the other hand, I don’t want to take my time examining a highly flawed craft.

I’m curious, what are your thoughts? Do you skim read or think read (or a mix)? What are your views on both? This post is definitely just filled with my own musings, but it’s been something I’ve been thinking about as both a reader and a writer for a while. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

26 thoughts on “Is Skimming Really Reading?

  1. I skim too! And mostly descriptions of places or boring inconsequential banter .I think we are more inclined to do thoughtful reading once we get caught in the plot of the story rather than just the build up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I tend to read word by word. Somehow I don’t like the feeling of skimming. Maybe it’s due to the fear of missing out?…

    But I agree with you. Not everything in a certain book is worth reading and so is each book. Skimming is just selective reading. And from my point of view it’s base on :

    the quality of the book.

    The reader : your reading expection, what you focus on, what you’re interested in or value, your standard of what is worth deeply reading, your judgement and opinion about what you are reading, etc.

    And of course, the time you have to read.

    It’s impossible to be a ‘think’ reader all the time. Skimming some books is like having a break, like eating snacks or watching some soap operas. I don’t want to spend much time but I really want to know what’s going on in this book, so I pick up some impressive parts I think.

    According to the 20/80 principle, only about 20% of the books that you’ve read will help improve your writing skill. And they’re the great books you actually love and appreaciate, right? So don’t worry!

    It’s a great question that makes me think. I think it has much to do with what we want and why we read. I hope my ramble won’t bother you. Have a Great day! ( for me , it’s time for bed😊)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You described it so much more perfectly than I ever could! I loved reading your ramble. And I agree entirely with the idea that skimming is like taking a break from in-depth reading, and if done for the right reasons can still be good. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend to be a very slow reader, so even if I can skim read, it’s a bit of a struggle. The most I have ever done when it comes to skimming is for reading essential works in college and graduate school. Hell, even my advisors told me at the start “you can’t hope to read everything. You just have to pick and choose which are the most important readings.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s what I did in college. It’s impossible to read every book, especially when you have multiple textbooks per semester. I’m beginning to think, though, that it’s better to be a slow reader and analyze a book than be a fast reader and forget most of what you read.


  4. Interesting post! I usually don’t skim but I have decided that I do not have to finish every book that I start. If I am not enjoying or learning something, I will let myself put the book down unless it is for a class. So, I may start some that I don’t get to the end of. I try not to set a goal for how many books to read in a year. I read loads and don’t want it to feel like a job. Others thoughts? Do you make goals for how many books you will read?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree! I used to think I needed to finish every book I started, and now I don’t bother. I tend to not make small goals (like reading three books a week), but I do have my yearly Goodreads’ goal. Though I set it purposefully low so I don’t feel that pressure. I agree with you completely that reading shouldn’t feel like a job!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I rarely do skim reading. If I don’t want to read the book anymore, I will just dnf it.
    I’ve been reading The Name of the Rose since 3 weeks ago. It is really a hard book for me and sometimes Iam so confused about some parts. But I know it is a great book, so I want to read every detail. So yeah, Iam still reading it eventhough I don’t grasp some parts of the book.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Some books definitely take me longer than others, I agree! I started The Name of the Rose and I quickly put it aside. I’ll read it some time, but it’s so dense you definitely need to take your time with it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!


  6. Well, I normally start off by reading a book, but if I lose interest, I start skimming, but I don’t think I miss anything, though. I’ve learned to accept that not all books can be thoughtful reading.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Lots of great questions in this post! I’m a ‘think’ reader. I love to absorb each word and phrase, which is probably why I have a difficult time with audiobooks. The only time I skim through is if I’ve read enough of a book to know I don’t like it, but don’t want to add it to my DNF (did not finish) pile. Skimming through to the end gives me enough to write a balanced review, without wasting too much time.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A thought-provoking post. I engage in thoughtful reading most of the time but that is because I pick up books which I know I will more or less admire or have to understand thoroughly.
      In other cases, it may depend on a book and, also, on the defintion of skim-reading. Most writing out there I hope warrants a thoughtful read, but, if, as you suggest, there is some bad writing or book, I don’t think it is unwise to skim-read, at least some chapters or passages. There are worse things than skim-reading out there, such as scan-reading or only-final-chapter-reading πŸ™‚

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I never thought of that. I’ve never scan-read anything, and I try to avoid skipping to the end too. Like you, I try to pick books that deserve a thoughtful read, and I try to only skim it if that book is not very good. That’s a good way to look at it.

        Liked by 3 people

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