I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book. – Groucho Marx
Take a moment and think back to the last book you read. What was the story about? Who were the characters? Did the book make you think or feel differently?
Now think about the last time you used Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. How was that experience? What kind of an impression did it make on you?
I asked myself these same questions and didn’t care much for my answers. Although reading was the more memorable of the two experiences, I couldn’t deny that I spent as much or more time every day surfing around Web 2.0 than between the covers of a good book.
Not that our new technologies are a bad thing. Some of them are really cool! But it seems like the balance between our wired, plugged-in life and the quiet, contemplative experience reading affords is out of whack. It was in my own life, at any rate, so I brainstormed some tips for becoming a better reader and wanted to share them here.
13 Tips for Becoming a Better Reader
Just start. Most of us aren’t reading enough, but what if you’re not reading at all? Not a problem. Just start. Go slow. Ease yourself into it. You could re-read an old favorite, hit up The New York Times Best Sellers list for a suggestion, or finally get around to War and Peace. (Or not.) The first step is always the hardest. Once you’ve taken it, things only get easier.
Make it a habit. Now that you’ve started reading, how to stick with it? Make it a habit. Carve out a niche of time – it might only be fifteen minutes a day, that’s okay – where you can get alone with a book. If it helps to have a certain time or place dedicated to reading, go for it. But do it everyday. Make becoming a better reader a priority.
Quality counts. There’s nothing wrong with the Twilight series, Star Wars novels, or Nicholas Sparks – in moderation. A hamburger and an ice cold beer might just be the tastiest meal on the planet, but I’d be in serious trouble if I indulged in it every day. A steady diet of “Walmart fiction” won’t aid you in becoming a better reader.
Read widely. I love literature. For a while it was all I read. Boy was I missing out! Reading is like having a passport and an unlimited amount of frequent flier miles – you can travel wherever your fancy takes you. If you regularly read novels, consider devoting a month to non-fiction… or epic poetry, or Shakespeare, or graphic novels. Get out of your comfort zone. Explore. See how many stamps you can get on that metaphorical passport!
Read well. How often do we read a book the same way we watch television? Eyes open, brain turned off, a glazed and comatose expression on our face. I think reading should be like a full contact sport. Wrestle with those words and ideas! Underline interesting or challenging passages, write notes in the margin, keep a commonplace book, or join a reading group. Be an active reader. The best books beg for our engagement and give as much as we are willing to take from them.
Eliminate distractions. Television, the internet, family, Angry Birds. Lots of things are vying for your attention. But if you’re serious about becoming a better reader try reading in a distraction-free environment. Turn off the TV, get away from the computer, put the kids to bed, and seek a little privacy from the spouse. Not an easy thing to do, but it’s worth it.
Make it a family affair. On the other hand, there are few things more pleasurable than reading together as a family. If you have kids, read to them. If you’re in a relationship, take turns reading to each other. If you’re feeling really ambitious, orchestrate a reading group with your family. At the very least it will give you something other than politics and religion to argue about at Thanksgiving.
Set goals. I try to read about fifty books a year. I don’t always make it, but this goal helps to keep reading at the forefront of my mind. Goals can be a great motivator, but be careful! It is all too easy to go from reading for reading’s sake, to reading for the sake of achieving some arbitrary goal. It is cliched but true: Reading should be a journey, not a destination.
Keep a list. Keeping a list goes hand-in-hand with setting goals, and the same caveat applies. A list can be a great way to chart the different places you’ve visited on your reading journey, but be mindful not to let it become an end unto itself.
Make books a permanent accessory. The day you leave home without a book (or your Kindle), is the day you’ll find yourself somewhere – a waiting room, an auto repair shop, or shopping with the missus – with nothing but free time on your hands. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Visit the library. If you are lucky enough to live near a decent library, take advantage of it! The library is a low-cost, risk-free way of introducing yourself to new and compelling authors. Plus, most libraries offer all sorts of cool (and often free!) resources and activities for kids, families, and readers of all ages and interests. The library is one of the best places to get started in your quest for becoming a better reader.
Visit an independent bookseller. Big chain bookstores are fine, but in terms of charm and reading culture you can’t beat an independent bookseller. From knowledgeable (and sometimes endearingly pretentious) staff, to poetry readings and guest authors, this is where books and reading feel most vital. Granted, if you’re an American who happens to live somewhere besides the Pacific Northwest or Brooklyn it might be a challenge to actually find an independent bookseller in your neighborhood, but most major metropolitan areas should host at least a store or two.
Share. Just discovered an author who rocks your world? Tell someone about it! Just finished a book that made a deep, meaningful impression on you? Share it with someone! Passion is infectious. If you are passionate about becoming a better reader, share that passion with the people around you.