Reading Better in 2015

"Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1" by Guillaume Paumier - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg

“Mark Zuckerberg at the 37th G8 Summit in Deauville 018 v1” by Guillaume Paumier – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mark_Zuckerberg_at_the_37th_G8_Summit_in_Deauville_018_v1.jpg

“Reading more” seems to be one of those resolutions people are making right now. Perhaps the most famous to do so is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who wants to read 26 books “with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies” (according to this article on Mashable). Mark would like us to read along with him. He’s set up a Facebook page where he is posting the books he is reading and hosting moderated discussions of the book. Based on the first title he has selected, it appears he won’t be reading fluff! (I understand that the book he chose, The End of Power, by Moses Naim, has spiked in sales since Zuckerberg chose it.)

I think this is great! I love the idea of high profile people encouraging reading, sharing what they read, and encouraging the rest of us to join them.   Zuckerberg is joining tech leader Bill Gates, who  has long been know for reading good stuff and sharing it with us. You can find reviews of what he has been reading on his blog. I discovered in checking out his blog that there are two of us on the planet who have actually read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century!

One thing I’m afraid of is that “reading more” will go the way of “exercising more” and “eating less”. That is, we look back at wistfully at the end of the year and say, “maybe next year.” What I want to recommend instead is “reading better”. I’m convinced that when we read better, we may read more. But the numbers of books matter less than having your life enriched and world enlarged by the books you read. Here are my ideas for “reading better.”

1. Read as you can, not as you can’t. It may be that you are an active person who can’t sit still and read for more than 15 minutes at a time. If you read 15 minutes a day, you can read 15 average size books in a year. Trying to read when you really want to be doing something else is miserable and isn’t going to encourage you to read at all, let alone more or better.

2. Read when you can give your attention to what you are reading and enter into the world of the book. Different books need different levels of attention. “Beach reads” take less attention than a serious book on climate change or a Tolstoy novel. Attempting to read a book when you can’t give it the attention it requires is just an exercise in frustration.

3. On a related note, I don’t recommend reading on a phone or tablet that has other applications running besides your reader. If we see we have mail or a text, we are already distracted. If we read them, our reading becomes disconnected.

4. Read what interests you, not what you think you “should” read. I know nothing that will put you off of reading more quickly that trying to trudge through a book that you really don’t like because someone thinks that all the cool people should read that book! One way to find books you might like is to read is to follow reviewers who seem to have similar takes on books you’ve liked.

5. If you find people with similar interests, forming a book group can not only help you read more but the discussions will take you more deeply into the book as you hear others “take” on the book. One book group I’m in has wrestled through some good but challenging books and helped each other make sense of books I’d probably have given up reading alone.

6. Reflect on what you read. Maybe it means keeping a “commonplace book” to jot down quotes you like. I started writing reviews to reflect on and remember what I read. Goodreads is a great place to do this and has the added benefits of discovering what your friends are reading and think of what they’ve read.

reading challenge7. While I’m talking about Goodreads, they have this thing called the “Reading Challenge”. Set goals that are realistic. Zuckerberg’s is a book every two weeks. More is not better. Better is better. Compulsively reading to reach a goal is not better. Choosing short, easy to read books just so you can “catch up” seems beside the point.

8. Read at least one book that differs from what you usually read. If you are a die-hard liberal, read a thoughtful conservative writer, and vice versa. If all your books are written by Americans, read something by an author from a different country, preferably a non-Western country. If you are religious (or not!), read something outside your tradition, or even something from another religion. I’ve found this both strengthens my own beliefs and enlarges my understanding of the world.

9. Read one intellectually challenging book on a topic you care about deeply . I’m not suggesting you read intellectually challenging books that hold no interest for you. I love singing and sing in a choral group but never had any formal training. Reading about music theory has helped me begin to appreciate more deeply what is going on in the music I sing which feeds my love for it.

10. Read something just for fun. I read a baseball book in the summer of each year. No profound reason except that I like baseball–and there are some great baseball writers out there and some great writers who are baseball fans.

I’d love to hear your ideas about reading better!

3 thoughts on “Reading Better in 2015

  1. Pingback: In Defense of Reading Slowly « Bob on Books

  2. I find that reading lighter, fun novels during times when reading a tougher work is out of the question keeps me refreshed and interested in reading, and in the habit. Also, reading a quick read can sometimes energize me to read something that’s longer and more challenging. But there must be a level of interest in every book. Reading for filler is self-defeating (though I don’t know anyone offhand that has this problem).

    In addition, I’m finding that keeping lists (on Goodreads, mostly) is invaluable for keeping me reading. Finishing a work and wondering what’s worth reading next is a killer. Instead, I have like eight books I want to read next, which gets me excited about it. I don’t always pick a book off that shortlist, but they keep me going.

    Finally, having a regular place/time to read every day is important to me. Mine is from 6-7am at home in my reading nook with a cup of tea.

    • Stephen, thanks for your thoughts! Gauging our reading to our ability to attend to what we are reading seems to make sense and I haven’t found many who talk about this. I never wonder about what to read next because there is a stack at my bedside that I’ve created with the books that I’ve previously decided I want to read soon. Sometimes I will slip something ahead when it is more immediately of interest. I’m a morning person and so early morning is my best time to read, with a mug of steaming coffee at my side.

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