Reading is an interesting skill. I would think that almost 100% (probably 100%) of people reading this blog can, well… read. You know how to interpret the characters on this page into words, and words into sentences, and so on. The question I am asking is not whether or not you know how to read, but how well you know how to read.
An Acid Test
Find a book you read recently, preferably non-fiction (if you haven’t read any non-fiction recently, this post probably isn’t for you). First, can you give the major arguments of the book? You can have a few minutes to quickly review it. Can you surmise the author’s major examples, implementation advice, and other information? If the answer is no, open it to a random page – how many markings on that page are there? How many pieces have you underlined, highlighted, noted, written in the margins, dog eared, or otherwise annotated? If the answer is zero (and it’s a common trend throughout the book), then you really aren’t getting the most out of your books, and I hate to tell you – but you really aren’t that good of a reader.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Reader?
I don’t pretend to be the best, but I have been trying to learn, and I wanted to share some of my insights. Have you ever been to a play or performance, and noticed some people getting more out of the experience than you? I have – you’re sharing the same experience, but for some reason you are getting a different experience – they are getting more out of it then you! It’s not because they are smarter, more qualified or better looking than you (although the latter almost always proves true for me), it’s because they know how to maximize the experience, and the same can be said for reading.
Reading is an interactive experience – and because of that, it requires effort. It’s very easy to page turn through a book, absorbing it as you read, but you simply won’t get the most out of it that way. The best definition of reading that I have come across is that “reading should be a conversation between the author and the reader“. You should be questioning, highlighting and challenging points; coming to conclusions, trying to understand the author’s key arguments and theses, and analyzing them (that’s why reading is best done in clusters like I talked about before in my earlier post).
In order to draw out these key points from a book, you need to interact with the book. This will also save you time in the future. When you come back to a book at a later time, you don’t need to re-read the entire book! Scan through it instead, reading your highlights and comments, and you will get 80% of the value. You will refresh yourself on the most important points – the foundation of the book, not the filling in-between.
So How Can You Become a Better Reader?
Step 1: Go get Mortimer Adler’s book How to Read a Book. It might sound childish, but Mortimer was the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and is an excellent teacher on the art of reading.
Step 2: Start reading with a pen/pencil in hand. The quickest trick I use to guess if someone is a good reader is to see if they carry a pen/pencil while reading – so that they can underline and jot down any important notes. It’s hard to interact with a book without something to write down those interactions. Start holding a pencil with you while you read, and I guarantee you will start using it.
Investing the time in becoming a better reader is worth it – it’s like building better infrastructure to make the absorption process to your brain for efficient – it takes time now, but the investment will pay dividends for the rest of your life. When you read, you want to make sure you are getting the best return on both your time and money. Make sure you are an interactive reader, and you will never read the same way again!