It often happens that the amount of books I read is misinterpreted as superb intelligence or supernatural speed reading. “I thought you are a super reader like someone who reads 1500 words a minute,” a friend once teased me when we had a brief book-chat via Instagram. Of course, I don’t have the courage to take that super-reader title because I am not. It is a misbelief. I have indeed finished reading more books (14 books) in three months than any season last year in one of which I read at most 11 books. I nonetheless attribute this accomplishment to a more efficient reading habit, which gradually takes shape after a year into reading. Let me share with you some practices I deploy when I read a book.
1. Read the subtitle
Simple as it may sound, I was used to bypassing the subtitle unnoticed and straight jump into the content. It did not happen often, but I sometimes found myself lost in a jungle of words when the structure of the book get complicated. To give an instance, let say I read Hans Rosling’s book, Factfulness, the name of which does not even appear in an English dictionary. It isn’t very easy to grasp the overall message the author is trying to convey. The book was well-structured and quite easy to read and graphs, numbers, and illustrators quickly gave me a sense of the book. I nonetheless subsequently found the subtitle, though short, delivers a clear message of what the author wants to convey the most “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.” Straightforward, clear-cut, and it takes just 2 seconds, doesn’t it sound easy?
While the title of a book shows the originality and individuality of its author, the subtitle is where the author encapsulates his book in one phrase or sentence. Understanding this central idea is like following the right sign and turning to the right path, and by being aware of this sign, at least, you know it is a safe road.
2. Purchase paper books
Conservationists presumably oppose me at this point, and it does not sound pleasing to many Mother-Earth-lovers. If you are a serious book reader, however, I believe you will concur with me on this point: to purchase paper books. If you don’t spend much time reading books, spare me a minute because I want to bring you around.
First, you have every right to purchase environmentally friendly books by choosing the forest-sustainable publishers certificated by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). FSC mark at the corner of your books means that the wood or paper you are purchasing comes from responsibly managed forests. Penguin Books, for instance, officially states that 99.9% of their paper is currently FSC certified. I was impressed by a line on its website: “We might be orange at heart, but green flows in our veins.” How innocent it is!
Second, this connects to the use of sticky notepads I cover later on, but basically, reading comprehension and retention are more effective with physical objects like papers and sticky notepads than a digital screen. I agree though I could not explain why. It is said that our spatial sensation has been a fundamental feature in human evolution, and multiple parts of our brain are allocated to help us quickly learn our territory and void getting lost. In this sense, when reading a book and getting meaning from words, we (I & you) subconsciously remember words’ physical location. Ah, this might justify why I met difficulties remember what I read in Kindle. I think it will take time until our brain is re-wired and get a better sense of digital devices.
Third, I feel more connected with the author by some means when I read paper books.
Forth, you might find a high stack of books flamboyant, or people might think you are a pompous ass pretending to know the whole world. Physical books motivate me. They trigger the feeling of achievement and rewards. Always. I am proud of myself looking at the growing number of books, and there is no reason to feel showing off when I am serious with reading.
3. Read out loud
If someone ever puts his ear to my wall, he will probably overhear all the chanting-like sounds as I read whatever book out loud. I started this routine in the early day (back in high school) chiefly to learn English and practice my pronunciation, and somehow turned that deliberate practice into a routine act.
* I feel as if I am giving the details of my crazy private life to you, which I usually keep for myself. (lol)
If it is a novel, I act as though I am telling invisible audiences a story, trying to speed up, slow down, change my tone, whisper, yell, cheer, et cetera. If it is a self-help book, I act as though I am talking in front of thousands of people, motivating them and changing their life. This may seem weird at first, but trust me: if you are not an English-native speaker (like me), not only does your English get more natural, but the uneasy feeling of speaking another language will also go away. More importantly, you remember information better with words spilled out from your mouth.
4. Use sticky notepads
I use sticky notepads instead of marker pens because I want to keep my books clean though some might say that books are there for us to learn, to take notes, put highlights, and draw illustrations. Different readers have different choices, and how you mark details in books is a way people express their personality. I love looking at things neatly lining up not just books neatly lining up on a bookcase, but also printed words neatly lining up on a page.
And, I did not expect this at the beginning, but there is a by-product benefit of notepads that it is fast and easy to re-open pages you look for.
5. Write a book review
Reflecting on the content of the book each time by briefly putting my thoughts, feelings, and what I learned into words forces me to read the book more carefully. Why? Because to review and rate a book, I must grasp the underlying meaning of the text. It is impossible and unnecessary to remember details entirely, but important messages should be captured and put into words. I always feel very uneasy about rating any book without understanding its core messages and the logic behind them that I actually gave up rating some books on my list. I choose to come back and re-read them later. At the same time, looking at the past 50 book reviews, which were not always perfect, gives me a substantial sense of achievement and motivation to move on.
To do this, it is necessary to answer one of the most common questions “How much detailed of a book could you and should you remember?” I, however, will tackle this question in a separate blog in the future since the subject is worth a deeper and more profound answer.
6. Leverage the commuting time
Since I am sharing with you my personal experiences, it is inevitable that inapplicable advice appears here and there. This last practice seems exclusive to those living in big cities like Tokyo and spending a big proportion of their day on trains or buses.
I spend, on average, an hour to an hour and a haft for daily commuting every day, which is such a waste if improperly used. The morning train is always crowded in cities like Tokyo, but it turns out the most efficient time of the day when I wake up fresh out of good long sleep. Either while waiting for a train or jammed among others on the train, I often process information faster in the morning. After work, I feel exhausted of looking at the computer screen all day long that looking at papers and resuming my unfinished morning reading becomes a good after-six therapy.
Now, my two-hour reading habit sounds less intolerable. I end up sparing an hour to 90 minutes at night for my after-dinner reading session before I fall asleep on pages. And, I rarely experience sleeping problems.
I just want to assert again that I don’t appreciate the term “super reader,” which doesn’t reflect the truth. I was once really bad at English and could never finish a book in a foreign language. Posts and book reviews you find on my blog today are direct results of ceaseless and earnest attempts to learn. Forming a habit takes time, but it does not take forever. It took me a year. How about you?
It would be great if you can share your practices as well!