How to Understand the Book You Are Reading

Have you ever read a paragraph in a book, only to then realize you haven't taken in a word of it? It's a common problem but a solvable one. Time to start gearing up your powers of concentration!


  1. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 1
    Select a book you really want to read. Half the battle is won if you are reading something that draws you and excites your interest.
  2. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 2
    Read the first chapter slowly. Don't rush. If there's a paragraph or sentence you enjoy, read it over. Take your time.
  3. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 3
    Make a comparison. Compare your understanding of the first chapter to a summary or analysis online. Continue to do that with the other chapters if you feel like you need to.
  4. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 4
    Use small notes to help you. After you get into the book a couple chapters, write down the names and characteristics of the main characters. If you really get to know the characters, you will be able to relate to them and feel for them. Use a notebook.
  5. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 5
    Continue reading. Take it at a pace that suits you and take breaks when you begin to feel restless.
  6. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 6
    Review your feelings. When you reach the end of a chapter and of the end of the book itself, think for a minute about how the book made you feel. Sad? Happy? Confused and befuddled or excited and inspired? Depressed? Upset? Think about it, and use as many adjectives as you can. In doing this, you are deepening your impressions of the book and triggering your learning skills to help you to digest the various meanings in the book.
  7. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 7
    Make a plot map. Summarize the main points of each chapter in a few lines. This will help you see the full plot.
  8. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 8
    Use audio back-up to assist you. If you can, listen to the story on tape. This is always entertaining and if you are someone who enjoys listening, this will probably help you to better decipher and retain the meaning. Apply the theme or the crucial part of the book in your life. You can also apply the story in essays that you write.
  9. Image titled Understand the Book You Are Reading Step 9
    Try starting in the middle of the book and go back if you come across a plot detail that you can't understand. For example, the first chapter of The Hobbit is extremely boring. From chapter 2 on, the book is extremely interesting, involving, among other things, dragons, giant spiders, elves, and a ring of power that makes the wearer invisible. If you start at the first chapter, though, you may have a hard time getting beyond it.


  • Read in a quiet, calming environment, unless you have finely honed concentration skills. If you read in the class room or at the bus stop, chances are you won't take in any of it.
  • Read slowly so you can enjoy the story.
  • If a paragraph is hard to understand, then read it as many times as you like to get the main idea of the paragraph.
  • Some books take a bit longer to get into than others. This is often a matter of personal preference as opposed to whether or not a book is "good" or "bad." Look into the reasons why you don't like it. If it's laden with description and you prefer bits of dialogue and character, feel free to skip large chunks of these dull passages. You can always re-read it later.
  • If you wish to dig for the deeper, symbolic meaning, try taking a course on literature, or reading the book How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster.
  • A good rule of thumb is: If you have finished approximately 10% of the book that you didn't quite enjoy, put it aside and find something else you will like to read. However, if it's for a class assignment, sadly you will have to read a bit more than 10%!
  • Read somewhere where there are no distractions.
  • You should have a good reason for reading the book. Focus on or pay close attention to the details of the book.
  • If you don't understand the story just go back and read it as many times as you want!


  • Your tastes are your own. Don't read a book all the way through just because someone else liked it. Remember the 10% rule and you'll do fine.

Things You'll Need

  • A book that you think you may be interested in
  • A place where you can get peace and quiet
  • Paper
  • Pencil or pen
  • Most importantly a receptive mind

Article Info

Categories: Reading and Comprehension Skills | Studying Literature