I rarely read a nonfiction work cover-to-cover without stopping. That’s not to say I don’t read the entire book. I normally will. But my journey isn’t a straightforward one.
My route to writing this article is illustrative.
While trying to wrap my head around structuralism and deconstruction, I read the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Jaques Derrida.
Throughout my reading, I held dozens of conversations with my coworkers, asking questions about what I’d read, sharing quotes, asking for insights on different ideas.
I finally read the entirety of Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read to better understand the parallels between hypertext and Bayard’s assertion that understanding the links between books is more important than reading the actual books.
After failing to make much headway with Brooke's many references to early literary criticism analyses of hypertext theory generally, and George Landow specifically, I read Landow’s Hypertext 3.0, one of the watershed works in the discipline.
I learned these methods from older scholars who learned from older scholars who learned from still older scholars. It’s a tradition of lean-forward reading that dates back pretty much to the founding of universities. Here's Brooke:
As academic writers, it is almost second nature to us to weave together various and disparate texts and then contribute our own particular approach or perspective, resulting in the kind of "cognitive fabric" that we publish as an article in our disciplinary journals.
When we do research, we jump between texts. We place new ideas in context. We dig into remarks made in passing. We reread texts we’ve mostly forgotten or read important pieces we’d been meaning to get to.
No calm, sedate, systematic review of a single text. It's scholarship as activity. Read a section from one book, scramble to find the underlined passage in a different text, scribble some note cards, jam something new into an outline, scribble in the margins. On a good day, maybe even write down a few sentences on your Mac.
But that's not how I read nonfiction. I flip ahead to sections that interest me. I go back when I realize I didn't fully understand an earlier concept that I need now. Often I open a second or third book to cross-reference what I'm seeing.