You have a lot of freedom in reading a book. I’m unable, for some reason, to read books from beginning to end. I have to go to what interests me most in the book. And if I like that, I start going backwards and forwards. And it starts to become a really complicated endeavor of just reading the parts of the books once and not sort of overlapping. I don’t know why I have to sort of re-edit the books myself. I don’t know why I can’t read a prologue and read a first chapter. I mean, if I really love a book I’ll get to them too. For some reason, I usually find them deadly dull, the prologues.
Samuel Johnson also read as Stillman does—“A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?”
Certainly a great many nonfiction works might well be treated as reference books—to dip into for an idea or anecdote and read only as much as one pleases. Relatively few authors are subtle enough to require a sequential reading. Think of popular music: how many albums really reward listening from start to finish? Those that do are outstanding; with most, it’s safe to skip to the best tracks. Even reasonably good nonfiction likewise tends to involve a lot of padding: superfluous detail, scene-setting formalities, diversions from the main narrative. (It’s one reason I think many books would be better as essays, and why introductions can be so enjoyable—a good essayist writing an introduction to someone else’s work can pare it down to the essence.)
There’s some irony in that Stillman’s medium of choice for his own work is conventionally thought to be unsuitable for browsing or skimming—although YouTube may be changing that. (And really, catching bits and pieces of a film on TV is much the same—the best way to watch many a movie.) Trailers may or may not hit the mark: they can be like perfunctory author prologues to written works, and not only programmatic but too direct as well.
Whether that applies to the tasters Stillman’s films, you be the judge.