There are of course articles online and even whole books written about the subject of “how to read a book.” But I’m wondering how professional historians and philosophers read books that they intend to either inform their classes or to use for a book/article. So my question is not geared as much toward short works like a letter, but more toward longer works – either primary or secondary. Do you simply make marks in the margins? Or do you write out your thoughts and important quotes in a separate document? For a book review, do you write down summaries of the chapters as you read? … Thanks
I read slowly and retain what I read. I scribble in the margins, but more because I imagine myself arguing with the author than to aid myself in recollecting. If I’m using a book in a project of my own, I likely only read the pertinent sections.
It helps to distinguish between primary texts and secondary literature.
Primary texts I read with a pencil in my hand. I can’t really study a text unless I hold it physically and write on it.
I believe that secondary texts are, unless exceptional, to be consulted rather than read. I use the index (also table of contents, introduction) to find where the author discusses matters that concern me, read those, and return the book to the shelf. Some (few) secondary texts require more extensive reading but I believe that many of us are in the grip of a naive belief that we are somehow obliged to read all of a book once we start! Once you learn to consult books, libraries become an ally in the search for knowledge and not an intimidating enemy!
The 80-20 rule tends to apply to books as much as to anything else. The more you know and the more extensive your experience, the more you can focus on the 20% contribution of any given book.