Thursday, 19 January 2012

BTT: Skipping Ahead

Deb @ Booking Through Thursdays asks:

I saw this article the other day that asked,
Are you ashamed of skipping parts of books?
Which, naturally, made me want to ask all of YOU:

Do you skip ahead in a book?
Do you feel badly about it when you do?

I got curious and followed the link to the article by Robert McCrum in the Guardian. He discusses the viewpoint taken by Somerset Maugham 60 years ago in an essay, “The Art of Fiction”, where Maugham claims that skipping is perfectly fine because  "a sensible person does not read a novel as a task. He reads it as a diversion".

McCrum, as I understand it, argues with this, claiming that Maugham “comes from a another time” in which the artist was paid to satisfy the audience (which would make it okay to skip if one was not satisfied). He also says “Writers today are taught to write to make every word count” – and seems to imply that modern readers too take reading more seriously (so less inclined to think it okay to skip).

I have to say I’m not convinced that either the writers’ (or publishers’) or the average reader’s point of view has really changed all that much throughout the past 60 years.

If anything – thinking of all the film versions made from old classics – I would say that in our time we’re more inclined to “skip” than ever. (I was reminded of this just recently when reading Helen’s list of books she read in 2011. There were some titles I’ve seen as film but don’t think I ever read the book.)

When I find a book interesting and entertaining and easy to read, then it rarely occurs to me to skip ahead.

If on the other hand I’m finding a book uninteresting, difficult or seriously confusing, and if I am reading for entertainment rather than as a “task”… Then I definitely feel free to skip both back and forth as much as I like, and also to quit reading. I might also try to find a summary on the internet, if I think that may help bring clarity. The only time I would feel bad about skipping is if for some reason I was supposed to read the book straight through from beginning to end, as a “task”.

I also find it varies whether it’s of any use trying to “skip ahead” in a book. I’d say that depends a lot on the structure of it. In the book I’m reading just now, for example, it is the book that keeps skipping (back and forth in time) rather than I!

Writing this post, I am reminded that three years ago I set out (not for the first time) to get through Tolkien’s Silmarillion. I even wrote two blog posts about it while reading it, to help myself get on with it. My reading of that book might be described as a task, although set up by myself. However, I still have a bookmark about 3/4 into it; which would be how far I’d got around the time my mother died… I wonder if I’ll ever get round to pick up again from where I left off then, and actually finish it!

Some years ago I used to have a postcard on my notice board with a list of “reader’s rights”… hmm… {googling} … Ah yes:

The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac
link goes to an illustrated PDF poster):

  1. The right not to read.
  2. The right to skip.
  3. The right not to finish a book.
  4. The right to read it again.
  5. The right to read anything.
  6. The right to mistake a book for real life.
  7. The right to read anywhere.
  8. The right to dip in.
  9. The right to read out loud.
  10. The right to be quiet.


  1. i like and follow that list of Rights. i skip for two reasons, if the book is one i don't want to read and would like to know who did it, i will skip to the last few chapters. this is rare. the other thing i skip every time is graphic sex scenes, i just skip those few pages and go on to the real story. other than that i read it all or none.

  2. What an awesome post! The debate on how people as a whole feel about it really resonates with me, because I usually debate with myself about it - sometimes I want to do it, but I absolutely hate how I feel when I do do it - that I haven't properly 'completed' the book. I love that list of rights, too! Here's my BTT:

  3. I never skip! If a book is so poor that I would feel the need to skip I simply stop and chuck it out. There are too many good books waiting for my attention.
    I liked your Reader's Rights.

  4. If I find myself starting to skip while reading a book I realize that I'm not enjoying the book, I"m not enjoying the moment and I don't want to know what happens next, so I do what I would not do when I was younger, I quit reading the book.

  5. The one book I remember reading, that I had a tough time completing it, BTW, I did complete it. An old classic, that is always highly recommended, why? I don't know why, I personally hated it. I decided I must have missed something while reading it, so watched the movie, which, I also found I hated as well. I guess not all of us can be pleased....

  6. Sorry, a senior moment... I forgot to name the book.....

    It was "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  7. I enjoyed your thoughts on this Monica. I'm not a skipper either. If I don't like it then, like SS/CJ, I stop. However the issue of whether every word actually counts and should be read is, if I understand skipping correctly, a different matter. I plod in my reading. I have never been able to muster the art of speed reading although I once had 'lessons' which involved running a finger down the centre of a page and taking in the general sense on each side. I wonedr where that comes in the discussion.

  8. I love the Rights Of the Reader, and it's something I need to remember. I used to NEVER skip a word, as I am a bit obsessive. But I need to lighten up, no one is keeping score!!! By the way, about your comment on my camel post. You are right, those food bowls are hard plastic. And they chew them up and swallow them! They seem to like them the way we like chewing gum!

  9. Enjoyed reading your post very much.

  10. After reading some of your comments, it strikes me that I forgot to bring in the aspect of "skimming" or speed reading. I agree with GB there is a certain difference between that and skipping certain parts of a book altogether. I think I practise skimming most if I'm just looking for certain information, or trying to get a general idea what a text is about, or searching for a certain passage I've already read. But Sandra's comment reminded me that I also do it to get quickly through unpleasant details (like violence or forensics) or special terminology that I don't know enough about to make much sense of it anyway (e.g. all the different ropes and sails aboard a ship).

    I probably practise more speed reading/ skimming in Swedish than I do in English. Not sure though - I've never really thought about it until now!

    What I *have* thought about though, is that one can't "skim" when listening to audio books! One may drop concentration for a while and one can "skip" by fast-forwarding... but that's not really the same thing!

  11. I very much like the list of reader rights. They made me smile.

    I rarely skip ahead as for me it spoils the book....unless the book really wasn't that good a read after all.

  12. Ah!! I love your post!! I love your pictures!! I'm a new fan.

    I read the article - I agreed with Maugham and skimmed thru the rest, chuckling at what I assumed was the INTENT of modern authors, to make every word count.

    Too funny about Silmarillion - me, too! Years is a long time to pick up again after.

    My BTT is here:

    I jumped immediately to skimming b/c literally "skipping" would leave gaping holes that would be difficult to reconcile.

  13. I vote with Maughm. Now that I am out of school, I read a book for pleasure only. that is true even if it is also for knowledge. My activity, my choice about how to do it. While I might take several years to get through one of the more fact-filled of my several books going at one time, I get to decide if I want to keep going.

  14. That was then for Maugham. Today's reading culture is even evolving to what could be after post-modern. Rights of the Reader! :) Here's mine-

  15. I do sometimes skip ahead in books. However, now I've got a Kindle, I don't - I think it has something to do with the fact that I'm too tempted to turn physical pages but not the electronic ones.


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