How to Read a Difficult Book

Tips to Get Through Any Novel

Effective Reading strategies for textbooks
Getty Images | xubing ruo

Even if you have lots of experience in reading books, you will still come across a novel that's difficult to get through. You may find yourself reading slowly because of the subject matter, the language, word usage, or the convoluted plot and character elements. When you are just attempting to get through the book, it may not really matter to you why the book is difficult, you just want to get to the end, so you can move on to your next reading pick. But there are ways to make even the hardest book less of a trial to get through. 

Tips to Get Through Hard to Read Books

  1. Find your perfect reading spot — a place where you can be comfortable and read. Figure out what conditions you need to be able to concentrate, study, and read most effectively. It may be easier for you to read at a desk, at a table in a quiet library, outside or in one of those cushy chairs at Starbucks. Some readers can't concentrate when there's any noise around them, while others can read anywhere. Reproduce those ideal conditions — particularly when you're reading a difficult book.
  2. Keep a dictionary with you as you read. Look up any words you don't understand. Also, jot down literary references that are escaping you. Are comparisons being made that are escaping your understanding? Look those references up! You may want to avoid using your smartphone for this task to avoid tempting distractions. 
  3. Look at how the book is organized by reading through the table of contents and reading the introduction. This may help give you a sense of what material is coming as you read. 
  4. Try to avoid skimming as much as possible. If a book is dense or dry it can be tempting to try to get through it as quickly as possible, but skimming can cause you to miss key points that would add to your comprehension. 
  5. If you own the book you are reading, you may want to highlight passages that seem important. Otherwise, you can take careful notes, keeping track of quotes, characters, or passages that you might want to return to later. Some readers find that by using flags or page markers, they can more easily find those sections that are essential to an understanding of the book. Keeping notes is a way to help ensure that you really think about what you're reading. 
  6. Don't become bleary-eyed. In other words, if the book seems too overwhelming, stop reading for a bit. Take this time to organize your ideas about the book. Write down any questions you have. If the concepts are still too difficult to grasp try talking about it with a friend to flush out what you are thinking (and feeling) about the work.
  7. Don't stop reading for too long. It can be tempting to put off finishing the book when the book seems too difficult but don't give in to that temptation. If you put off continuing your reading for too long you may forget what you've read. Key elements of the plot or characterization may get lost over time so it's best to try to keep reading at your usual pace.
  8. Get help! If you're still having a difficult time with the book, a tutor might be able to answer your questions. If you're reading for a class, consider talking with your teacher about your confusion. Ask him/her specific questions about the book. 
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Lombardi, Esther. "How to Read a Difficult Book." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lombardi, Esther. (2023, April 5). How to Read a Difficult Book. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "How to Read a Difficult Book." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).