On being a good reader

Sometimes I like to just surf the blogosphere to see what sort of gems I might find. Recently, I came upon an excellent list of ways to become a better reader. Maybe you can check off every element of this list, maybe you need a refresher, or maybe we can work together to add to it! A big thanks to Kristin @ An Eye Toward Canaan for so graciously allowing me to reprint her list here!

On Being a Good Reader

1) Read broadly on a large variety of topics that interest you. I’ve checked cookbooks out of the library before! As well as books on photography, sewing, books of book lists, etc. Not every trip to the library needs to weigh you down with large tomes that you feel pressured to read within two weeks time. There’s plenty there to browse. (A few of the guidelines below are just this guideline restated.)

2) Read some books on topics that aren’t immediately interesting to you. You may be surprised at not only what you learn, but what you end up enjoying, and how much more conversant you can become in that topic. For example, my husband, a theologian, just read a book on economics someone recommended — it was great, and he learned a lot about an area wouldn’t have naturally been drawn to otherwise.

3) Don’t be a ‘book snob.’ Go beyond the boundaries of what is erudite, trendy or Oprah-Book-Club-ish, into what is less popular, slightly odd, too popular for you to normally consider, or even what is poorly written, and discover a new story you never would have heard otherwise. Some books I’ve ended up enjoying were poorly written doctor novels that were devoured because the story was so good (for example, The Hospital By the River)! Right now, I’m reading a biography by Carolyn Jessop regarding her life in the FLDS (and her eventual escape) that will never be Pulitzer Prize Winner, but will affect the way I think about fundamentalism, polygamy, etc.

4) Use the local library. This is a great way to “test” a book before purchasing it or committing to read it. I sometimes check out books that look interesting, and then realize that I don’t want to commit to reading them. So I return them. No harm done.

5) Have a reading list. For bibliophiles, this is like making a Christmas list as a child while going through the J.C. Penney’s catalogue. Don’t be realistic about what you can accomplish — this is a “wish list” — but do prioritize the ones you want to hit “next.”

6) Read a couple of different types of books at a time. Usually I try to have one biography, one fiction work, and one non-fiction work going at once. I usually end up prioritizing the one that interests me the most and then going back to the others while looking for a “replacement” in that category.

7) Look up words you don’t know. (I’m bad at this. I know, I know, it’s a pain to carry around a dictionary when you read. Sometimes I’ll write a word down and then look it up online later, as this is fast and easy.)

8) Read beautiful writing out loud on occasion.  Yes, it will feel weird when you start doing it, but I guarantee you will appreciate the (poem, prose) so much more when you do. It is absolutely satisfying to hear (not just see) cadence, alliteration, assonance, rhythm, onomatopoeia…

9) Research a topic. My husband laughs at me because when I become interested in some random topic, whether cultural, historical, whatever, I usually read whatever I can get my hands on about that topic, whether in print or on the internet. My current research project is a story from my grandma’s day: Operation Auca and the resulting conversion, and Westernization, of the Waorani people. I’m completely fascinated by what I’ve read and have seriously worked this topic over backward and forward. In fact, I’m currently looking for the original 1956 Life magazine article with Cornell Capa’s photos, if you have any idea where I can find a copy.

10) Read the classics. Even if you don’t have time. Read a few pages once a day, and you’ll be surprised how quickly they go. They will make a valuable contribution to your life and tend to provide both high quality content and well-written prose to appreciate. This year I want to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book which Abraham Lincoln credited with starting the Civil War, and I at least want to start The Count of Monte Cristo before 2010 ends.

* An extra tip from my husband: try to take notes on something you read (if you really want to let it sink in). My husband does this and he remembers so much more of what he’s read because he took the time to write something down.

I know that one of my favourites is #8: Whenever I find a good bit of Shakespeare, I love to read it aloud and share the beautiful images with those around me.

What’s your favourite? Do you have any tips to add?


1 Comment

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One response to “On being a good reader

  1. RA

    I recommend The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen for very useful suggestions on getting the most out of your reading.

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