I was always something of a slow reader. As a child my mother was so desperate for me to read anything that she resorted to buying me books of jokes (side note – Where do policemen live? Letsbe Avenue.)
I didn’t get much better at reading as I grew up. I read much but digested little. And that had a big impact on my ability to read Christian books. I was so desperate to tackle the books being recommended at church, but the experience felt fruitless, as I waded through chapters of books without being able to remember any of it or explain what I’d read.
Things changed a few years ago when I read a book about reading; it turns out that all I needed were some simple tools to make my reading more fruitful.
Here are four ideas that taught me to become a reader:
1. Books are your servant, not your master
You don’t have to finish a book if it’s not very good, or its not what you thought it would be. You’re allowed to dip into parts of books without reading the whole thing. And you’re allowed to own books that you haven’t read yet, without them making you feel guilty.
2. You are allowed to write in your books
Yes! Highlight key phrases. Jot down definitions of words you don’t understand (I have to do this all the time!). Put question marks next to bits you’re not sure about. Write down questions or implications. The aim is to absorb what we’re reading, and if your coral pink highlighter helps you to do that then go to town.
3. Write little summaries
At the end of a chapter write a summary of the main points or big idea on a post it note and stick it at the end of the chapter. It’s easy to lose momentum with books; when we come back to them after a few months we can’t remember what we’ve already read. When that happens I used to think that I had to start again from the beginning, which was so demoralising that I didn’t bother with the book at all. Going over the summaries means you can easily pick up a book where you left off.
4. Learn when to speed read and when to slow down
Sometimes we give up on books because we get bogged down in a boring part or can’t see where it’s going. Learn to speed up your reading when it’s less important and slow down when it’s really worth while. Last autumn it took me a whole term to get through 50 pages of an excellent book, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because every page was making me think. That was slow, but worthwhile reading.
Lots of these ideas can be found in Lit! by Toney Reinke. This book may not change your life, but it will change your reading.