How To Be a Better Reader

I find that when I talk to people across many fields and practices, many of us share the common history of being avid readers as children. We reminisce about the days of the Scholastic Book Fair, libraries becoming hang out spots, staying up and trying to read with our book lights under the covers.

As we’ve grown and become busy adults with jobs (yes, plural) we find that reading becomes a chore and not something we look forward to. Many of us achieved four year degrees where we read hundreds of pages every two days, and so the thought of sitting down to read for fun seems futile. Others may not be readers, because they can’t find a practice that suits their lives.

This year alone, there have been so many beautiful books released and you probably want to dig your teeth in too. I spend most of my days reading, writing, and stalking Instagram when I should be doing either of the two. Reading is not just listening or watching as words pass by us as if on a conveyor belt. Even when reading for pleasure, there are practices you can engage in that will make your reading experience memorable. I read in many different ways depending on the length of the book I’m reading, the genre, and the reason I’ve come to it. So I’m here to provide some types on how to be a better reader who gets more out of each book.

  1. Set the Mood

    There are certain environments that aren’t conducive to reading. For me, I can’t focus on particularly noisy and raucous bus ride, or if I’m in an uncomfortable sitting place. Often, I want to read but I’m tired, and so I slowly shift positions until I’m lying on my bed crushing my glasses. When you sit down to read, try sensory elements to keep you locked in like lighting a candle that isn’t nauseously sweet or herbaceous. I love scents that mix floral/fruity with woodsy such as lavender and sandalwood, etc.

    If you like sound during reading sessions, put on some ambient nature noises or a playlist of songs that don’t include lyrics. You can search them by instrument (piano, harp, violin) or genre. I created a playlist of songs that are jazzy, romantic, and soothing for when I’m reading and writing so I can get lost in my work instead of the world around me.

    If you’re a homebody like me, put on comfy clothes or get a big, fluffy blanket to wrap yourself in, make a cup of tea or a warm (light) cocktail and settle in.

  2. Bring Your Tools

    Even if you aren’t reading for work or school, taking “notes” on your book is still a fulfilling exercise to keep you engaged. If you are anti-dog ear, invest in some sticky tabs to mark pages you enjoyed and would like to revisit. This is also a great way to keep track of words and ideas you’ve learned while reading. If you have to stop and grab the dictionary when you encounter a word, stop and mark of the page so you can come back to it.

    Hand in hand with this is keeping a pen on your person at all times. Sometimes prose strikes you on a cellular level, you need to mull over and swim through sentences that tease and open you. When you come across lines that you find beautiful or poignant, underline, bracket, or even highlight it. if you don’t own the books you’re reading, use the sticky tabs, note the page and passage on a piece of paper or in a word document, or take a picture. This is not only great for remembering swaths of your book, but also will allow you to drop random quotes during dinner parties and impress everyone within ear shot.

  3. Discuss/Discourse

    I love hearing about the books my friends are reading. On the flip side, I also love droning on and on about the books I’m reading. If you have a willing friend (or a blog with a captive audience) talk about what you’ve read with someone else. Discuss the things you found alluring, displeasing, and challenging about the text. What’s working, what isn’t, what do you think is going to happen later on? Talking about literature is how many of the greatest works have maintained their relevance for years and years. A lively discussion will keep a book alive in your as well.

  4. Modulate

    Set goals for yourself. Especially when reading larger works, set a 30-50 page limit for each day that you plan to read. Sometimes I get a novel and read 200+ pages in one day and then spend the next two months trying to find time to finish the last 50 pages. Pacing yourself through a novel ensures that you’ll have something to look forward to, builds anticipation and excitement, and reduces the guilt of not reading as quickly as other people.

    Furthermore, when you are reading, modulate your reading speed. When a book is good, it’s easy to speed through the things we like and skim over the things we don’t. Slow down every few pages but especially over places that have confusing bits.

  5. Read About What You’re Reading

    Book reviews can be helpful resources for when you come across a new book. If you read before you start your book, look for reviews that don’t contain spoilers or read “praise” from other authors. Don’t just stop there, research the author and the history of their work. What themes appear in their writing, who do they read? Going into a book with this knowledge will give you something to grab on to and note when you find parallel themes.

  6. Listen to Your Body

    If you’re tired, have a headache, are hungry or agitated, don’t be afraid to set the book down. It’s not a failure to take care of yourself before indulging in the rich world of literature. Grab a nap and a glass of water, take some time off, and get back to it if you’re ready.

For more tips on reading, writing, and being a better lit nerd, subscribe to my newsletter on my editing website! There I give more in-depth and detailed advice on improving your writing and reading.

Thanks for listening and Happy Autumn