As an English Literature major in college, I had to read 4 to 5 books per class. This meant that within a 10 week quarter, I would have read over 20 novels. It was a lot of work, but here’s a technique I used to help me analyze the books quickly:
1. Read the Plot Overview First
You can find plot summaries of most books online. I recommend checking out sparknotes.com, cliffnotes.com, or wikibooks.org. Plot summaries can give you a general understanding of the plot before opening the book. It will spoil the ending for you, but it will help you focus on the major plotline while reading.
2. Read the Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Sparknotes.com offers a Themes, Motifs and Symbols section for every book within its database. This will give you a snapshot of the major themes to watch for. If you know the themes and symbols ahead of time, you can start highlighting any reference in the book that relates to that theme.
3. Underline, Highlight and Write Notes
After you know the plot and major themes, you’re ready to start dissecting your book. As you study, start underlining the key passages that relate to the major plots and themes within the novel. Then make sure to catalog all your notations on a separate piece of paper. Write down page numbers and a brief comment of why that page or section is important to the main theme or plot you’re studying. This will be extremely helpful when you start writing a report or essay about the book.
4. Read Journal Article Abstracts
If you have time, it also helps to search for journal articles about the book you’re reading. I don’t mean start reading through dense journal articles. That takes too much time. I just mean that you should skim journal article abstracts so that you know what scholars are thinking about the book you’ve just read. Simply visit Google Scholar and type in the name of your book. Read the article abstract to give you ideas of what to write about.
Lastly, if you really don’t have time to read the book at all, then start reading through chapter summaries from sparknotes.com or cliffnotes.com. It’s not the best choice, but it will give you some preparation prior to a test or writing an essay.