If you were asked this question—Are you a good reader?—what would your answer be?
Let’s backtrack a bit. I think the question should be: Do you read at all?
With the advent of Kindle, book readers, newspapers and even social media, it’s much easier to read now that it has ever been. You can skim through newspaper headlines as you wait in the queue of your local grocery store. Your potential boss running later means that you can scan some emails in your inbox as you wait in the interview room. You can download reading apps and get books for free.
But are you reading anything that is actually benefiting your life?
Chances are you’re not. Most of what people read these days is on the internet and they access it through their smartphones and other devices. When people read, they usually do it as a side activity: when they’re on the go, when they’re stuck in an elevator, and many other similar situations. Most people do not make out time to read deeply.
And I get it. Totally. Life gets in the way of many good things. You can get stuck in the wildly incapacitating cycle of making money and you might not have the time to read. But do you have the desire? Do you want to be a better reader?
If your answer is yes, here are eight ways to become a better reader.
Choose the right book
Despite what you might have heard, reading just about any book at just about any time is NOT a good way to improve your reading skills. Before you start reading, you have to choose the right book for that particular reading time. Choosing the right book should depend on your mood, not some random person’s reading list you found on the internet.
Before you pick up a book to read, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I want to read for knowledge or for enjoyment?
- Am I longing to read a book into which I can escape?
- Am I just curious about this book because everyone’s raving about it?
- Do I want to learn technical writing skills from a book?
- Do I want to learn self-help or business skills from a book?
The answers you provide to these questions will rightly determine what kind of book you should read at that moment.
For example, if you’re bored and you want a story you can enjoy, fiction—probably romance series or Young Adult novels—is your best bet. If you’re looking for a story you want to get lost in, crime fiction or fantasy might do it for you. If you want to learn technical writing skills, literary fiction and general topic non-fiction books will help you. If you need to learn business or self-help skills, nonfiction business and self-help books are what you should go for.
If you need a guide, here are some books you should read before the age of 30. If you’re above 30, you can still read them too. These books will surely help you become a better reader.
Reading has many benefits but finishing a 248-page book in one reading hour isn’t special. It doesn’t make you smart or incredible. It doesn’t make you a superhero, either. If anything, you finish the book as exactly the same person you were before you started.
It baffles me that extremely fast reading is somewhat glorified, while slow reading is shunned. If you’re a slow reader, kudos to you! No matter what people say, you are NOT stupid for reading slowly. The truth is, the faster you read, the less likely you are to completely understand what you’re reading. It’s much better to read slowly, because then, you are less likely to miss a word, a sentence or even a whole paragraph in your reading process.
However, this does not mean that taking six months to finish a book is a good thing. It is, in fact, a very bad thing. The best readers are flexible—they can identify parts of a book where they can read fast, and the parts where they have to slow down to catch salient points, especially if there are difficult concepts or big words present.
It is also advisable to have a dictionary by your side, in case you come across an unfamiliar word.
Practice makes perfect. When you start reading slowly and closely, you will become faster over time without missing any important information.
Re-read what you have missed
If you get to the end of a paragraph, check within to see if you understood it fully. If you find that you haven’t absorbed any information, go back to the beginning of that paragraph and re-read it. The same goes for a sentence or passage that caught you off-guard. Read it again and dwell on it for a few minutes.
Becoming a better reader also involves rereading books or articles you have already read in the past. You might not have to read the whole thing—sometimes reading a small section that resonated with you is enough. But reading everything again from beginning to end is ideal.
Not only does rereading help you remember the story or information, it will help you remember the parts that you liked in it. Sometimes, you might even see the book or article in a different light after rereading it. Rereading helps you ponder and think about that thing you found interesting in the passage.
You can even take notes. Notes are especially helpful when you are reading business books and self-help books.
That’s what reading is truly all about—remembering the interesting bits.
Craft a reading strategy
Actually, it’s much better to make a to-do list of all your daily activities and attach a timestamp to each of them. This to-do list should also include your reading time. To pick a convenient reading time you should ask yourself these questions:
- When would you like to read? Before bed? During lunch break? On the train or car to work?
- How long would you like to read? How many minutes? Are you comfortable with a few hours per day?
Pick a convenient time and include it in your to-do list. If you have one reading hour, craft a goal or promise to yourself that will make you spend all the 60 minutes in that hour reading your chosen goal.
It is also important to spend your time reading books you are really interested in and are important to your life. If you are reading a book that is boring or doesn’t hold your interest, please quit reading it immediately. Quitting doesn’t make you a bad reader; in fact, it makes you a better reader because it will help you spend your reading time reading stuff that actually matters.
To avoid starting a book that won’t hold your interest, try to skim articles, summaries, reviews and synopses before purchasing it. This will help you decide what books are worth your time—and money.
Try to read more deeply and critically
Before opening a book to read, be intent on devoting your time, concentration and brainpower to assimilating the contents of that book. Reading deeply and critically helps you become a better reader. The things you can do to make sure you read deeply and critically are:
- Take your time—don’t rush yourself.
- Keep a dictionary near you at all times.
- If you skim or skip any sections, backtrack.
- Try to use a highlighter or sticky notes to mark things you want to revisit or remember.
- Turn your phone off or put it away. Try to tune out any other potential distractors.
- Stop at intervals and internally ask yourself questions relating to the book, especially if it’s nonfiction.
- Consider whether you agree or disagree with the message and contents of the book.
- You don’t have to read for many hours to be an effective reader. Even if your reading time is 30 minutes, you can use it to improve your reading skills by making the decision to read deeply and critically.
Read several books simultaneously
Let me tell you something: all that talk about reading only one book at a time is trash. Let me tell you why.
No matter how well-researched and superbly written a book is, there is every tendency that it can get tiresome. It is true that concentrating on one book at a time makes it more likely to finish one book before moving on to another one. But what will you do when that book gets irksome to read?
The answer? Start reading another book. When you feel refreshed, you can go back to the first one.
But you have to be careful when reading multiple books at once as there is a chance you’ll end up not finishing any of them. That’s why it’s a good idea to read different genres of books at once. For example, you can alternate between a fiction novel and a nonfiction book.
If you’re reading during the day, it might be best to read nonfiction books and keep the fiction books for night reading. Mix and mash however you like. But whatever you do, don’t read more than three books at once. If you do, you might become overwhelmed.
Try using a pacer
Confession time: Although I get excited at the prospect of starting a new book, I always get scared to open the book. Why? Because the second I do, I am greeted by huge blocks of endless text. I have bad vision, so reading, even for just a few minutes, puts a strain on my eyes, which leaves me very frustrated. This happens especially when I’m reading on my phone or Kindle.
So I use a pacer—and it makes my reading life so much easier.
Pro Tip: Using a Kindle stand or holder can help you read on Kindle much more comfortably.
A pacer helps you narrow your vision as you read. Instead of seeing a huge amount of text, your attention is drawn instead to the individual words and sentences. This makes the reading process much smoother.
Many people—maybe you’re one of them—used pacers to read when they were younger. But they usually abandoned them as they got older, most likely because pacers are generally seen as reading trainers.
If you didn’t know before, pacers are used commonly by speed readers. Have you ever wondered how some people are able to read a whole book in a matter of hours or days, rather than weeks—and actually understand everything they read? Pacers, that’s how. Pacers can come in different forms—a pen, a pencil or even your fingers.
There’s no shame in picking up a pacer once again. It’ll help you become a better writer, believe me.
A book is not just a bunch of papers bound together; it’s not a dead thing. Inside books are stories and perspectives and worlds and emotions. To get the full experience of reading, you have to feel all of these things.
Before you begin to read, clear your mind. Put all of your worries on a backseat. Take out every thought you have and focus your utmost attention on the book.
Let the book transport you into its world. As you read descriptions of places, people and things in the book, let the words paint their pictures on the canvas of your mind. Search deep for elements you can relate to in each character. Form an emotional connection with the characters and the places, and feel the emotions that the characters feel.
This way, when they say something funny, you’ll laugh. When they lose a loved one, you’ll mourn with them. When they graduate college with honor, you’ll feel happy for them. When a detective catches a killer, you’ll feel vindicated. When the monster’s coming, you’ll feel scared. When a villain one-ups the protagonist, you’ll feel angry. When your favorite character dies, you’ll cry.
Books have the ability to make you live lives that are not your own. Feeling—that’s the only way to truly enjoy a book!
Here’s a recap of this list of reading tips:
- Choose the right book
- Read slowly
- Reread what you’ve missed
- Craft a reading strategy
- Try to read more deeply and critically
- Read several books simultaneously
- Try using a pacer