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Acquiring enough discipline to read a book properly

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

We all know that you can't read most physics textbooks like a novel and expect to master their material, and that you have to study them and have paper and pencil nearby to go through the things that the author leaves out and to do exercises. But I found that it is very difficult to have enough discipline to go through a book meticulously, and I frequently quit reading halfway through a book because I don't have enough stamina and I get tired and fatigued. I have a long reading list for the next summer, but last summer I also had a long reading list but couldn't read two thirds of the books I would have liked to read.

Have any of you experienced problems with disciplining yourself when trying to carefully read a book? Do you have any recommendations for me? I don't have a problem with wasting time, it's just that when I set aside 5 hours to read a book and sit at my desk I find it difficult to continue reading after some time. Even after I take a break , I find myself being lazy and skipping pages because they are too technical and I don't want to slow down my progress.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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If your goal is to "not slow down my progress" and "have a long reading list for the next summer", and it takes a year to go through a textbook in college, could your goals possibly be unrealistic?
 
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  • #3
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I find myself being lazy and skipping pages because they are too technical and I don't want to slow down my progress.
I feel compelled to ask, "too technical" for what?

  • Too technical for your current knowledge level? Well isn't that why you are studying the book?
  • Way too technical for your current knowledge level? Then it might help to first do some more fundamental study to bring you up to an appropriate level.
  • Too technical for the objectives of the course the textbook relates to? If the material is not relevant to the course (and not all material in a text will be relevant to a course) then just be sure your assessment is accurate and stop feeling guilty at skipping those (currently irrelevant) pages.
  • Too technical for you, ever? If you are afraid of ever grasping the material then perhaps you need to talk to a tutor, mentor, or equivalent about your concerns.
I also note that you may have confused objectives. The goal should not be to work your way through the reading material, which is what you appear to be trying to do. Your goal should be to acquire the understanding and knowledge for which the reading material was selected.
 
  • #4
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I also had a long reading list but couldn't read two thirds of the books I would have liked to read.
If your goal is to "not slow down my progress" and "have a long reading list for the next summer", and it takes a year to go through a textbook in college, could your goals possibly be unrealistic.
"Wanted to", or "Needed to"?
One must read those parts which are required; but also should choose other material which one believes would be beneficial.
 
  • #5
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Have any of you experienced problems with disciplining yourself when trying to carefully read a book? Do you have any recommendations for me? I don't have a problem with wasting time, it's just that when I set aside 5 hours to read a book and sit at my desk I find it difficult to continue reading after some time.
Yes, but the problem was when reading Biology textbooks; not when reading Mathematics, Physics, or Chemistry textbooks (for regular course study purposes). The subject matters are different, and this has an effect on the books written for learning purposes. Myself, the attempt to find or understand some useful structure was very difficult when reading about the not-so-physical sciences - even worse or about as bad, when reading about any social sciences.
 
  • #6
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Not know for sure, but this might help you:
Try to identify the purpose or objective for each textbook SECTION, or each textbook PARAGRAPH. Use the headings for this as you review the passages.

That is just a thought I have at this moment. What exactly does the author want you to understand? After a couple more re-reads, did this work?
 
  • #7
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"Wanted to", or "Needed to"?
One must read those parts which are required; but also should choose other material which one believes would be beneficial.
I am self studying things that I am not taking courses on, so I don't need to read but I want to.
 
  • #8
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I feel compelled to ask, "too technical" for what?

  • Too technical for your current knowledge level? Well isn't that why you are studying the book?
  • Way too technical for your current knowledge level? Then it might help to first do some more fundamental study to bring you up to an appropriate level.
  • Too technical for the objectives of the course the textbook relates to? If the material is not relevant to the course (and not all material in a text will be relevant to a course) then just be sure your assessment is accurate and stop feeling guilty at skipping those (currently irrelevant) pages.
  • Too technical for you, ever? If you are afraid of ever grasping the material then perhaps you need to talk to a tutor, mentor, or equivalent about your concerns.
I also note that you may have confused objectives. The goal should not be to work your way through the reading material, which is what you appear to be trying to do. Your goal should be to acquire the understanding and knowledge for which the reading material was selected.
My definition of a section/chapter that is "too technical" is anything that takes much longer to work through than normal, compared to the rest of the book. For example, a derivation that has many steps and spans many pages. I have not had any problem with courses I took. The courses at my college are in my opinion dumbed down and not challenging (too easy). I am upset that I am not getting a strong physics education from my courses so I want to teach myself.

As for your second point, that I should not work my way through the reading material, I want to ask you: how does anyone gain a deep understanding of anything? I want to know the point in time when a person who studies physics becomes very good and understands things deeply. If we lay out the life of a physicist, and look at the stages of his life: high school, college, grad school, job, when and what does he do to acquire the kind of understanding that allows him to concisely state at the most fundamental level what characterizes a certain theory, and then construct the entire theory and in general have such an iron grip and mastery over a certain theory. For example, look at Weinberg's quantum field theory books. Even though I read only a few chapters, I can tell that his books are a treasure trove of insight, completely different from other qft books that are focused on calculation.
 
  • #9
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Not know for sure, but this might help you:
Try to identify the purpose or objective for each textbook SECTION, or each textbook PARAGRAPH. Use the headings for this as you review the passages.

That is just a thought I have at this moment. What exactly does the author want you to understand? After a couple more re-reads, did this work?
Thanks a lot for that. I actually wanted that kind of response, something that would change my state of mind and allow me to approach the book differently. I guess I got mired down in details too often. I will make sure I keep the big picture in my mind all the time and to give less importance to details, at least in a first reading.
 
  • #10
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Possible trouble, with my not having a way to determine it, is you may be trying to read too much material. You might be trying to read material which is overly advanced for you right now. Could you tell us how far you have progressed in your current SCHOOL program ( not your self-assigned readings )?
 
  • #11
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Possible trouble, with my not having a way to determine it, is you may be trying to read too much material. You might be trying to read material which is overly advanced for you right now. Could you tell us how far you have progressed in your current SCHOOL program ( not your self-assigned readings )?
I am done with the lower level introductory courses. There are four core upper level courses on mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics. I am taking the mechanics course, and have not taken any of the 3 other core courses.
 

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