Among the resolutions people make each year is some variant on “read more books.” That’s certainly a goal that I can applaud when the average number of books read by adults is 12 a year (a number skewed by avid readers; most read about 4 a year). But I have a hunch that many of these resolutions fare no better than those of losing weight or exercising more, and probably for the same reasons: lack of specific goals that are realistic, forming a habit, social support and a good coach. I will come back to these but I want to address something I hear less about–reading well.
For a number who read this blog, I don’t have to convince you about the value of reading, and in many cases, you already have good reading habits and exceed that book a month average. And even if you don’t, you probably sense that reading isn’t about numbers of books but part of a well-lived life. You read not only for amusement or diversion but to better understand your world and how to live one’s life in it. That can be anything from understanding the inner workings of your computer and how to use it better to a work of philosophy or theology or even a great novel that explores fundamental questions of life’s meaning, living virtuously, or the nature of God.
So a few thoughts on reading well, and then a few tips for those who do want to read more:
- Reading well is an act of attentiveness. We read well when we read without external and internal distractions. A place of quiet and a time when we are not distracted with other concerns helps us “engage the page.” It also helps to turn off the notifications on your phone or tablet, or better yet, put the electronics in another room. Read on an e-reader without other apps if you prefer these to physical books.
- Visual media often encourages us to passively absorb content. Books of substance require our active engagement–noticing plot, characters, and the use of literary devices like foreshadowing, allusions and more. Non-fiction often involves following an argument, and paying attention to the logic, the evidence, and whether the argument is consistent. Reading well can mean jotting notes, asking questions, or even arguing with the author. Above all it means reflecting on what we read, and how the book connects with our lives.
- Reading well over time means choosing good books to read. What is “good”? I’m not sure there is one good or simple answer. There are a number of “great books” lists out there and they are worth a look. You might choose one of those to read this year. One test of a book’s worth is whether people are still reading the book and finding value in it long after its author has passed. Also, in almost any genre, there are reviews, websites, and online groups. Over time, you will find sources of good recommendations.
- Finally, I’d suggest choosing something to read off the beaten path. Reading authors from other cultures, or a genre you don’t read can stretch your horizons. This year, I want to work in some poetry and get around to the Langston Hughes and Seamus Heaney that I’ve had laying around.
And now a few thoughts for those who simply want to read more and get into the reading habit.
- Set a realistic goal. Rather than focus on numbers of books, figure out where you can regularly find 10-15 minutes a day to read. You probably spend more time than that on social media. Do you know if you read 15 minutes a day, you will end up reading 15 books a year?
- Start with something you like. Don’t choose something others say you should read if you don’t think it is interesting. Choose something you’ve always wanted to read.
- Try doing this for a month–15 minutes a day with reading you enjoy. The idea is to form a habit. I started an exercise routine taking 5 minutes a day, then gradually expanded it. Forming the habit was the most important part.
- Finding some friends who read, or are trying to, and getting together to talk books can help. Many of us find exercising with others helps. Reading and talking books can work the same way.
- Finally, get a good coach. I have a number of friends who work with personal trainers or life coaches. But book coaches? Where do you find those? I’d start with a local bookseller or librarian. Any of them worth their salt can learn about your reading interests or topics you’d like to read about and suggest some good things to read.
I mentioned that finding good sources of book reviews can help you find worthy books that you will love. Hopefully Bob on Books will be one of them. My goal in writing reviews is to tell you enough about a book to help you decide if it is something you will want to read, or just something it’s good to know about. I’m looking forward to digging into the books on my “to be read” pile and telling you about them. To reading well in 2018!