Reading the tape basically requires live experience, like driving a car or flying a helicopter, but you are quite right in thinking in terms of a primer book.
If you PM me I'll be happy to send you details of two books which imho start to give you some idea, though I must emphasise they are not "how to" books as such, but will help your general understanding.
I'm not going to post the names here as I am fed up with the abusive PMs/emails I get from the trade2wingers every time I post.
Nice selection a320; I especially like the Humphrey Neill one although most of it will be lost on newbies.
It's a bit like the Jiler book - at first sight you would dismiss Neill's tome as an old-fashioned book written in 1931 (with additions in 1959 and 1970) which must therefore make it fairly irrelevant to today's markets. But it's got some very good gems in it which are just as applicable to today's markets as in the 1930s.
Yes I have read the book, and yes I do recommend it. Here is a copy of review I did on the book on another trading BB site.
"I have read a great many trading books and this has got to be in the top 5, I think it could well become a classic.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part is mainly concerned with the development and psychology of a new trader. Now although there are other books which are entirely devoted to trader psychology, "Trading In The Zone" by Mark Douglas springs to mind. The authors have covered this very important topic in a very easy to understand manner.
The second part delves into the art of tape reading, numerous set ups are explained, and stops and exit strategies are presented.
The final section describes in detail 33 different trades, each with the appropriate chart. These trades help to reinforce the material presented in part 2 of the book.
I think this book is not really suitable for the absolute beginner, but once one has got some basic TA down, then this would be an excellent next choice."
I forgot to add, the title of the book has caused some confusion to several traders. Many people assume from the title that the book will be about reading T & S and level 2. The authors however were talking about tape reading as it was meant originally. There is a thread over on elitetrader about tape reading, and half way through the thread the title of this book is discussed in some length between several traders and the authors of the book, for anyone interested here is the link.
1) Where is the vehicle (stock, future,etc) trading? Stop thinking bid/ask and think wholesale/retail. Read the tape with that in mind, you'll get the picture.
2) How much is trading there? (volume). I keep track of the trade size. In this case, "size does matter", how the size is used does not matter. "Big size" trades (10K shares min) at the inside are marketable prints are an indication of emotions. Sizeable sharks bleed like the rest of us, use your nose to sniff for their blood and protect your *ss from their teeth.
3) How fast is it trading there? Watch the tape as price action penetrates a major support/resistance level. You can almost here the cries and laughs or pain and ecstasy.
Academic definition= mass x velocity
IMCO, Trading definition= volume x sense of urgency.
This is going to take a lot of study and then reading the live data to get a feel of what is actually happening.
At the moment, I am looking at one minute charts and study how volume bars are formed. I think adding a few more layers to this by understanding what is happening to the prints should give me more of an edge.