OK, so as a newb who's gone through the experience of reading through this entire thread I thought I'd toss my 2 pennies in for the next newb who is told, "read the thread" and explain how I did it.
My first post was a couple hundred pages into the thread and like a good boy I did the leg work. It doesn't mean I didn't ask a dumb question or two or make a dumb buy or three but I know I left a lot more behind than I would have otherwise if I hadn't done the reading. A couple of times I didn't get a chance to check in to keep up and I fell behind (yep, this place moves fast). Here's how I minimized the time.
1. Change your settings to view 100 posts per page. 500-odd pages looks a lot less daunting than thousands of pages and the browsing is quicker.
2. Keep an eye on who the heavy hitters are - those that have a bunch of posts in the thread (Dig has a list up somewhere back <--- there), the ones who are quoted often, and the ones who quote others often.
3. Look for the quotes. There's a reason - one way or another - why something is being quoted. Figure out why.
4. Look for the smileys. They don't tell the whole story but they can be the note left in the margin from the previous owner of the book.
5. You don't have to read every last word in the thread. There's some bickering and arguing and debating sprinkled throughout. Learn to scan over them.
Hope that helps someone. Oh, and don't be afraid to make a mistake or two. Everyone has and everyone will. Your money doesn't always have to be +EV as long as you learn from it.