On Better ReadingPublished: 2023-01-01
In 2020 I realised I had an opportunity to overcome my reading apathy. I had not really been a big reader, and had perhaps read a couple of books a year, possibly even forcing my way through them. Overall I had a great interest in learning but was unmotivated to read. But with Malaysia going in and out of lockdowns, I realised I had an opportunity to fix that.
The biggest kick that I got was to watch a video by Mark Manson (Yes, he of the 'Not Giving a F*ck' fame, so there is a bit of language on display). His video made me realise that, perhaps I was just reading... wrong? So I decided to make some changes. I thought I would share them with you here.
Yes, it is true, you can practice reading. When I started again I did feel like I just had to get better at it. It probably didn't help that I started with 'Thinking Fast And Slow', which is quote a challenging book. When you practice you should do so on something easy, and that was not easy!
So I also read some more practice-oriented books: I read a collection of short stories and a book of essays, so I didn't have to follow a long plot and I read books fairly short books (under about 250 pages) pages which I could follow easily. But you don't have to forego quality - I picked books that I really wanted to read (philosophy books, Sherlock Holmes, Catcher In The Rye) so that I was motivated.
Many people (including Mark Manson) say that you should learn to 'turn off your inner voice'. I did find that at the start I was reading at a pace that I would talk at and sort of 'talking in my mind', so I understood what they were saying. It was hard for me to tone it down but as I read more it got quieter and I read faster with no loss of comprehension.
So yes, you can practice reading and improve at it. Which brings me to...
Embrace the E-Reader
Because I am a tech person, I tend to be motivated by tech things. But this was a big conflict for me... I am also nostalgic and I have a love for the feel of paper passing through my fingers with a regular book. I think there are some things to dislike about an e-reader, such as it is 'socially anonymous' (i.e. people only see that you are looking at a screen and can't relate to what you are doing) and it runs out of battery (as someone I used to work with once said: "Pens don't need recharging and paper doesn't crash").
However I have grown to appreciate the E-Reader and now I love it. The main reasons are:
- You can customise your font. This is important for practice. There are some physical books I have (like 'Thinking Fast And Slow') that use a small font and can be hard to read. Reading the same text on an e-reader with a larger and more consistent font is much easer and I'm sure I would read the same amount 20-30% faster.
- You can take multiple books with you. As we will touch on later, this provides you with choice over what to read depending on what mood you are in.
- The note-taking is much better. I have stuffed books full of mini post-its and written in the limited margin space, so the note-taking capabilities of an E-Reader is a pretty solid plus-point if you do this often.
- Buying books is so much easer, especially living overseas. The books I want to read in English are very hard to find in Vietnam, but a couple of clicks on Amazon and they are mine.
So don't be afraid of the E-Reader. There are many out there now. I use a Boox Nova Colour which I now love and take everywhere with me.
Find the right time and space
I am lucky that I have free time and I can be flexible with when I read, and I have found that it is important to find a good time. Forcing yourself to read when you are not in the mood is going to lead to resentment, so try to work out when your best reading times are and make the most of them.
I tend to read in the morning or after exercise, and often after the kids are in bed I find I'm keen to read again. I'll read at home or in a quiet cafe. If there are other things on my mind then I feel I don't get the most out of what I'm reading so I try to recognise this and try again later. If you are not feeling it then put it down. Learn to understand when reading is good for you. With practice you will feel it more.
Read more than one book
Mark Manson recommends this and at first I was sceptical. I do think it depends on the books that you read, but this works for me because I mostly read non-fiction (probably a ratio of 2 or 3 to 1). With non-fiction, I often find that I need a break and can often stop at a convenient point and just open up another book. If you are taking notes with your e-reader then it only takes a couple of minutes to get back up to speed when you pick it up again.
Sometimes I have found myself reading 3 books at a time - typically 2 non-fiction and 1 fiction, but I will generally finish the fiction book faster because a) it is usually easier to read and b) it is harder to put down and pick up the plot later. So I don't recommend mixing fiction books, but perhaps it will work for you.
Don't finish a bad book
This mantra is repeated by book-reading-tips all through You Tube and other platforms. It is a simple rule. You might find it difficult to stick to because, if you are like me, as children it was drilled in to us to "finish what you started". That is a good mantra for most occasions, but just like in the stock market, hanging on to something bad for too long will do you more damage.
This is more relevant with a book because the hours that are given to you are not like money - you can't spread them around as easily but you can spend them poorly and miss out on better things. If you just don't like it, ditch it. Maybe it will appeal to you again later, but your appetite for reading is also driven by your interest for the topic, and forcing your way though pages of something you don't like will kill your motivation to read something that you do like.
So there you have it. Hopefully this will help someone out there to become a better reader, because it is worth it. Sometimes we don't need to stand on the shoulders of giants, we just to read a few of the right books.
You can check out my GoodReads profile here. I'm also aiming to publish some book reviews on my blog, so keep an eye on that!