“The learned life then is, for some, a duty.” -C.S. Lewis
We are going to make. America. read again. Believe me, it’s gonna be tremendous, you know it, I know it, we all know. By the time you’re done with this post you’re going to be so sick of reading. And now you may spend your time watching “Netflix, Netflix, Netflix” but it could be YouTube. Very unfair to your mind. We are going to read again. You want reading tips? I got tips, I got all the best tips, believe me.
But wait, why should we read? And even if you convince me, where would we start?
Over the past several years I’ve begun reading, like actually reading. I used to love the idea of being a reader and learning things for myself but I never actually did it. There was always something in the way, something to do, some TV show to watch, some people to hang out with, some emergency to get in the way. In the summer of 2013 all that changed, God got a hold of my life in a major way and I decided it’s time for me to know what I believe and why I believe it. I decided to finally start reading. I’ve learned a lot of helpful tips along the way that I want to share with you. Why read? Because it’s great to learn cuz knowledge is power.
Reading can be used for just about anything you can think of. If you want to escape to a different world you can pick up a book. A different time period? Just grab a history book or a historical fiction novel. Do you wanna learn to think? Grab a logic textbook. Do you want to school your nerdy Econ major roommate? Pick up Wealth of the Nations by Adam Smith. Maybe revenge is your jam, Count of Monte Cristo is one of the best revenge stories ever told. Old school swashbuckling isn’t your thing? Then pick up The Stars My Destination and read the same story set in a futuristic space travel fantasy. There’s a book for everything. YouTube is wonderful and unbelievably informative, but watching TV or YouTube is a passive act, it’s happening to you. It doesn’t engage your mind in the same way a book can. The act of reading does more than just inform, it changes you, you are happening to the book. Reading forces you to think more, to imagine more, and to feel more. How often has a movie been better than the book? There’s a reason for that but you’ll only find out if you start reading for yourself.
Know why you’re reading
The first step to reading is to know why you’re reading. What’s your purpose? What’s the end goal? Answering the purpose question will dictate how you read. Are you reading in order to say you’ve read this or that book? Then you will probably skim more. Are you looking for specific quotes? Then you will need to highlight and underline. Are you reading for understanding? You will need to read more slowly and mull over the author’s specific arguments. Are you reading for sheer enjoyment? Then you will be more relaxed and passive in your reading. You must determine why you want to read any given book before you begin.
Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, in their classic work, How to Read a Book, break reading down into 4 levels. The first level is “Elementary reading”. This is the skill of looking at the black marks on your page or screen and making sense of them. If you are reading this post right now then you’ve already mastered level 1! Level 2 is called “Inspectional reading”. In this level, the reader is interested in examining the surface of the book, skimming, scanning, or pre-reading. This type of reading is most often utilized under time constraints. Level 3 is called “Analytic reading”. This is the sweet spot. Analytic reading is about taking your time and really chewing on the book to make it your own. The goal in analytic reading is to understand. As the silkworm chews on the leaves of a tree and makes those leaves part of itself, so the bookworm consumes book after book making them part of him or herself. Finally, the 4th level of reading, as described by Adler and Van Doren, is called “Syntopical reading”. This level can be understood as comparative reading; when you analytically read several books of the same genre or covering the same topic and you compare them to one another.
Now that we’ve looked at a couple reasons why we should read and we’ve briefly discussed levels of reading, let’s get to some practical steps.
“I’m not a good reader”
The number one excuse I hear from people who want to read but don’t, is that they “just aren’t good readers”. This excuse is a pretty silly one. Of course you’re not a skilled reader, you never read. That’s like saying “I’m not great at running marathons” when you’ve never trained for a marathon. Duh. Reading is a skill. Are some people naturally more inclined and able to read? Of course. But that’s how every activity is. When I first started reading on my own, I would fall asleep after a couple pages. I’m not exaggerating at all, I would wake up at my desk drooling on my book. But as I continued on, my fuzzy brain woke more and more from it’s slumber and I would make it ten pages before passing out, then 20, then 50, then 100. Stop using the excuse that you’re “just not a good reader”. Just like anything else, reading get’s easier as you work at it.
“I don’t have time”
The second most frequently used excuse is that “I just don’t have time to read”. Well, this excuse is much more respectable than the last one we dealt with. I will grant that some of you have tremendously busy lives and barely have enough time to feed yourselves. But how many of us have watched The Office all the way through more than once? How many hours a week do you spend watching old Friends reruns or Seinfeld episodes that you’ve seen 20 times already. If you’re honest with yourself, you know you can make some time to read. As my pops always says, “you make time for what you love”. As you begin making time for reading, your love will grow stronger and you will find extra hours in the day.
Bring a book with you everywhere. If you’re a kindle person then bring your kindle with you or download the app for your phone. I’m more of a physical book guy, so I bring a bag of books with me. You’d be surprised how often you have downtime to read during the day. I’m not saying you should be antisocial but when you’re waiting for that lunch appointment to show up you can dive into a book and get a few more pages in instead of checking Facebook for the 23rd time.
You gotta make goals or you’ll never read. This is where all that motivational crap you listen to comes in handy. “Ok, so there was this old guru, right? He started drowning this dude, right? And just before the guy’s life left his body, this old coot yelled in the guy’s oxygen depraved ear, ‘You gotta wanna read as bad as you wanna breathe'”. Now that’s a pretty good summation of Eric Thomas, you know it’s true. No, of course you don’t have to make everything a matter of life and death, relax ET! But yes, you do need goals and motivation. Here are some things I do to keep motivated:
Make a weekly, monthly, yearly page number goal. If you read just 35 pages a day you’ll end up reading 12,775 pages in a year! That’s totally attainable, but even a more modest number like 15 pages a day will give you 5,475 pages a year! If the average book is 250 pages then you’ll end up reading about 22 books in a year! That’s huge. Keeping a reading log can help you attain your goals as well as help you keep track of the books you’ve read.
Set a timer. Sometimes if I have a lot going on I’ll set a timer for the time I’m allowing myself to read. I may only have a half hour to read so I turn the volume off on my phone and set a timer so I can really focus on reading. This will also help you gauge how fast you can read.
Write in your books. Underline, highlight, mark ’em up! Writing in my books helps me understand the author and it helps me find specific quotes when I need them. I can jump back into a book from 3 years ago and continue the conversation where I left off because of how I’ve marked it up.
Pull the string. I find good books by reading good books. When I read a book that I really enjoy I’ll look at the books the author cites. If they cite another author in a favorable way then I’ll look at the references and check out that specific book. If you look it up on amazon you can find lots of reviews by other authors and there are thousands of reviews by random people as well. Just keep pulling that string and you’ll expose yourself to more wisdom.
Tell someone what you’re reading. This is the best way for me to metabolize what I’m reading. If I have to explain what I’m reading to someone then I have to know what I just read. I have this in mind now while I’m reading. I often think “could I write a blog post about what I just read” and if not, then I’ll go back and read it again. Now there are things I read that are way above my head that I most definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a critical analysis of but if I read it I should at least be able to give you the authors main points.
Read multiple books at a time. I get lots of push back from this technique. “But don’t you get confused?” Nope. Part of this comes with changing up the genre. I’ve never confused Lord of the Rings with Sherlock Holmes or Immanuel Kant with a Batman graphic novel. You don’t give yourself enough credit, we are able to compartmentalize a lot more than you think. When I’m trying to reach my daily reading goal, I’ve found it harder to read all the pages from just one book. If I read a chapter from 4 different books I’m able to avoid boredom as well as advance in each of those books. I consider my reading plan to be like a war. I advance in 15-25 books at a time and when I get close to completing one particular book I’ll focus my attention on that book and demolish it then go back to marching through the others.
Reading has become one of my great joys. Though I used to hate it, I’ve come to see it’s splendors and I’ve experienced the growth that comes from immersing myself in a good book. I’m afraid we are amusing ourselves to death today, we need to pick up more books and begin musing again. No, it’s not easy, but most worthwhile endeavors are difficult.
If you want to know what to read then check out my other blog site What Then Shall I Read