Reading is easily my favorite pastime. I could read all day, every day, if that were an option. It wasn’t always this way though. I hadn’t truly picked up a book to read for myself until my senior year in college. Until that point, most of my reading was either required or the requisite fiction of the day (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc).
It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and I actually choose to read a book instead of going out or watching TV. What changed? I learned how to read.
On the surface it seems simple. Just pick up a book and read it. There’s not much more to it. Except there is. There are ways that can make or break your love for reading. Factors that make reading enjoyable, rather than a forced task.
It’s not about discipline or how fast you can read, but creating a process of reading that let’s you truly enjoy the act. If you enjoy it, you’ll do it a lot more often. Here’s how you can develop your own reading practice.
1. Do Your Research
Most people just read the New York Times Best Sellers or books that their peers recommend. While this is a good place to start, if you take a more rigorous approach to choosing what you’re going to read, you’ll be rewarded with a reading experience.
Here are a few ways I figure out what I’ll be reading next.
Follow the Stars
While they’re not perfect, using star ratings as a filter for choosing a book, is a good first step. Try to keep things at an average of 4 stars and up.
Read the Reviews
I’m not talking about the 5-star that was probably written by a friend or the 1-star that was written by a troll. Read the middle ones, in the 3ish star region. Find the ones that are the most helpful to other readers and see what they have to say. These will be the least biased and most insightful reviews the book has.
Check the Highlights
The great thing about the Kindle is that you are able to crowd source the most popular highlights for each book. Take the time to check these out. More or less, these highlights are to a book, what a trailer is to a movie. It’s giving you the best parts to preview.
If you don’t like the highlights, you’ll probably not like the book.
2. Don’t Force It
It took me awhile to accept this one, but you don’t have to FINISH every book you pick up. Yeah I said it. There’s no rule that says books must be finished, as romantic as that may sound. If you’re not enjoying a book, then let it go. It’s that simple.
Forcing yourself to slog through a bad read is painful and will only result in you reading less. Instead, just drop it and move on to the next one.
3. Read the Summary
Sometimes there’s a book that you know is valuable, but for one reason or another, you’re having trouble getting through it. This happens to me a lot when I try to read books on philosophy. I get lost in the words and how they convey their ideas to the point that I don’t absorb anything.
Instead of trying to process them, I take a shortcut and Google summaries for that particular book. This solves my problem of struggling through the book, but still getting the best bits. My favorite source of such summaries is sivers.org/books, which is a collection of highlights and notes on hundreds of books.
4. Balance Non-fiction With Fiction
When I started my reading practice, I only read non-fiction. Book after book. It was great and I learned a ton, but eventually you start to lose steam. There’s no joy in it.
That’s when I started to mix in some fiction books as well. Reading both at the same time made reading much more pleasurable. I was able to find a balance between reading for pleasure and reading for knowledge. Now I read non-fiction in the mornings to get my mind working and then fiction at night before bed to unwind.
5. Read Multiple Books At Once
This is something I’ve started doing a lot more since I transitioned to e-books. Being able to have an entire library on your phone or tablet is f*cking awesome. Since I read almost exclusively on my devices, I’m always reading about 4 books at once. The key is to read different types of books.
For me this means one work of fiction and then a couple of non-fiction books in different genres. Why? Well besides the value of reading many books at once, you are also able to read things when you’re in the mood for them. There’s a time to read about mindfulness vs. startups vs. economics and so on. Having a few options to read, lets you cater to your personal preference at any given time.
6. Take Notes
Reading books takes time. Especially if you read a bit more slowly, like I do. Moreover, it sucks when you invest the time into reading, but a year later you nearly forget everything about a book you loved. This is why I take notes on everything I read, which is the other reason I use e-books. I used to hand write notes as I read, which meant reading a book took twice as long (I take A LOT of notes).
Anyways, thanks to my Kindle, I can now just highlight and type up any notes I have on the go, which saves me a lot of time. After I finish a book, I compile my highlights and notes into a document, which is 20x shorter, but filled with my favorite ideas and insights from the book.
So when I forget what a book was all about, it takes me 20 minutes to review my notes and re-live the wonder and ideas that the book had offered me before.
7. Pay Attention
What books do you love? What books could you not put down, reading late into the night, hanging on every word? Read more books like that. Find the authors that write in a way you enjoy and find the subjects that you’re loving in the moment.
You won’t always love a subject or author forever. Your tastes change. When you read a book matters, so pay attention to what is resonating with you in the moment and follow it.
The benefits of reading have been discussed ad nauseam. Books can open up the imagination to new ideas and worlds. They can expand your knowledge and improve your memory. They can build your vocabulary and make you a better writer. As Joseph Addison put it, “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.”
Books shape who you are. In short, you should read more. It can change your life, but to do so, you need to know how to read. Hopefully these steps can help you discover exactly that.
Image via flickr