Reading is the probably smartest thing you can do for yourself. The path is rewarding and well-traveled, but busy people must make a special effort to follow it.
You can acquire information when you’re scanning text or watching a video, but it’s not the same as reading a book. Deep engagement with the text is an unparalleled mental enrichment exercise. Quite simply, reading is the skill of civilized adults: it imparts the necessary body of knowledge required in modern society and builds the brain’s capacity to understand and use it.
Why Reading is Fundamental
Recorded civilization began, literally, with the invention of writing. For centuries, leaders and those who aspired to achievement have been not just serious readers, but people to whom books were an essential and ubiquitous preoccupation.
Reading is a daily mental exercise which maintains mental focus, cohesion, imagination. In this article, we’ll go through the proven steps to improve yourself as a reader, and how to develop your scope so you can read more books.
How to Be A Better Reader
The wonder of human experience is available for a library card … but books demand quiet, free, focused time. In a loud and distracting culture, how can we practice the skill that built civilization?
Before you Begin: Check your motivation
Reading requires effort and persistence, though not as much as you may fear. Becoming a better reader is a lifetime career, but there is great news. It’s joining in on a lifetime of fun.
Prioritizing reading comes naturally if you continually reward yourself with new books or magazines and trips to the library with ideas. If reading seems difficult at first, have confidence in knowing the activity was made for your brain. It’s just a matter of familiarity.
Practice makes reading more fun
Becoming a better reader is very simple … so simple that you will know how by the end of this sentence: practice. The single common reason that people become good readers is that they read a lot.
Once you can decode words, reading teaches itself naturally. You gradually improve your concentration, vocabulary, logic, and reading skills by merely doing it.
Not only that, but it doesn’t matter so much what you read, so long as you do. The act of reading itself makes you into a better reader. It’s a great system because there are many books available for every level of reader.
All enjoyable reading is good for you
It used to be thought that serious books were needed to make serious minds. Education figures and parental worriers were beside themselves in alarm when children of the 60’s skipped over the classics to bury themselves in comic books and silly tales of hobbits.
Later those hippie minds raised on comic books founded the tech revolution in between Dungeon & Dragon games. Reading is the finest mental exercise.
Step I: Establish enjoyment as your priority
The first step to becoming a better reader is the attitude that makes a successful one: enjoyment.
In school, reading often becomes a testing ground of fear and loathing. This is for many reasons, most not very good, but one genuine issue is that a teacher’s job is not really about helping students enjoy reading.
Helping you enjoy reading is the author’s job
Obviously, if you are reading this, you know how—for that, you can thank your teachers. However, the teaching profession is not about helping you engage with a lifetime of reading.
Reader enjoyment has always been the author’s job. Unfortunately, many students never make it to the stage of listening to authors instead of teachers: if they did, they would probably like books.
Find your joy
The first step in how to get better at reading is to enjoy yourself. There is a serious reason for such happy talk. Our brains find many ways to sabotage something it does not consider ‘fun’ … though this can be defined in many ways.
Forcing yourself to read is a serious matter. Save that kind of effort for tax returns and road signage. If you find Shakespeare hard going, then honor your preferences and shun Shakespeare forthwith. Don’t read a sonnet line.
Guard this essential joy closely, and don’t let it be worn down or abused. No one can do this for you, which is part of why reading is such a pathway to personal growth.
Step II: Find Good Books
Step two is about keeping a pipeline of books you want to read. This is an ongoing source of pleasure once you’ve gained the habit. It does, however, need to become a habit.
Comic books, mysteries, romances, sports biographies, dinosaurs–this is your own journey, so make it what you want it to be.
Step III: Read daily
Consistency is key, so set aside time to read every day. A few minutes will suffice, but the habit is necessary.
This doesn’t mean making the experience miserable, of course. You can take breaks or change books if you’d like. Make sure you always have books available that you are interested in. Get used to low-key, routine book time, and play to your own reading patterns and moods.
Step IV: Develop an Approach to Reading
You will develop a style of reading that works for you, but to start out here are a few common tactics many experienced readers use:
- Determine the purpose of your reading, so that you have context and focus.
- Understand what kind of text it is: whether fiction or nonfiction and which genre or subject it covers.
- Stay relaxed while reading. Good readers are not necessarily faster than others; you can make good progress going slowly. There’s no pressure to achieve anything other than some regular reading time.
- Learn to pause and visualize the story, making a picture or movie of it in your head. This will help you grasp the story or information.
Tips for Becoming a good Reader
The following are some ways to be more active in your reading, which develops greater reading competency.
Build your vocabulary
- Get a dictionary or other means for looking up words, and keep it close by.
- Try to figure out an unknown word’s meaning by using the surrounding words as hints.
- Look up words you don’t understand, or wish to know more about. Some readers look up words as you go, others check them after the end of a passage.
- Use new words after you learn them.
Take time to read a challenging book
It can be gratifying to tackle a tough book, whether a detailed biography or literary classic. Consider setting aside some regular time for such books, to keep their reading as a special accomplishment instead of a drudge.
This is the essence of active reading. Summarize in your own words the major characters, essential terms, key dates and main events— even after all these centuries, it’s the best way to learn.
Read out loud
Practice pronunciation and narrative rhythm by reading aloud. You can do this by yourself or with others, as long as you are comfortable.
Keep track of progress
Even if you don’t have a goal in mind, it can be fun to keep a record of your reading. Track pages read, minutes of reading, books added—it is motivating to see how your progress.
How to read more books
Since the way to become well read is to read more, you need to find a steady supply of reading material you enjoy.
Step I: How much do you read?
The first step is to evaluate where you are. Most people read fewer than 5 books a year—many read none at all.
The key to reading more is to read regularly. Even 15 minutes a day will make a big difference in your ability, and you will be surprised at how many books you complete without specific effort.
If you want a rough estimate, most readers finish 20 pages of most material in about 30 minutes, an adequate amount of daily reading.
Step II: Make reading a regular habit
The key to reading more books is to read regularly, and there are proven ways to help.
Establish a nice space for reading
You want reading to be a pleasant activity, so create a welcoming spot to read in each day. The space you choose should be quiet and without distractions, with proper lighting and furnishings. A library, home office, or sofa in the living room can all work.
Keep a supply of books available
You want access to a variety of reading material, so you can always match your mood and interest. You might find you like reading nonfiction most mornings, and romance novels on weekends, etc. Keep your shelves filled with books so that you’ll have the material you want when you want it.
Set a time
It may be helpful to make a specific time to read each day. Waiting until bedtime is not always a great idea—though it’s one of the pleasures of reading—because you may find yourself too tired to engage.
Step III: Find the right books
Today we have the world of books at our keyboard. Websites like LibraryThing and Goodreads provide large communities of book-lovers for recommendations and reviews. Don’t be intimidated by the vast ocean of books that can be read.
Here are some hints on finding your way.
Explore books on your reading level
Remembering the enjoyment priority, find books at your current reading level. You can read anything, regardless of its level—if you want to—but check out the books at your comfort level too.
How to determine your reading level
- Skim the first pages, and see if it makes sense to you. If it seems too simple or too difficult to understand, it may not be in your target zone.
- Try the 5-Finger Rule: read a few pages, putting up one finger for every word you struggle with. If you put up 5 or more fingers in a single page, the book is probably above your comfort level.
- Recall a book you’ve enjoyed and read comfortably, and look up its level specification online.
Build a pipeline of books at your level
Two good ways to find books are “leveled” book lists and grade-level recommendations. You can find such lists online, compiled by reading or education specialists, and they are a great way to explore a body of work in your comfort range.
There are several standardized methods of determining the difficulty of a book. None is absolutely correct, but it’s a place to start.
It might take a few tries to establish your reading level, so remember not to burn yourself out. If a book is too complicated or doesn’t grab you in a few pages, stop reading it and go to another.
Your public library
Libraries are a primary source of reading material and resources … and it is free. You can browse shelves for discoveries, research subjects or authors, and/or get help from professional staff.
One often overlooked service libraries provide is their ‘hold’ process, whereby you can look up and order a specific title to be sent to your local branch. In this way, you have the entire library book collection to choose from and can easily maintain an ongoing pipeline of reading material.
There are hundreds of book lists of popular or critically-acclaimed works. If you are reading at a school grade level, you have a wealth of recommended works by educational groups. National book awards like Newberry have been evaluating titles for many decades.
One of the easiest ways to get book mileage is to explore sequels of a favorite book or author bibliography. Genre authors are excellent sources of material if you enjoy their style or subject. Harry Potter has made many lifetime readers by giving them long hours of enjoyment in a related series of volumes.
Rereading favorite books
Another excellent source of books are the ones you’ve already enjoyed. Rereading books adds another dimension to the reading experience, and it’s a great confidence builder too.
Online lists and forums for free fiction written by fans of various shows can be a source for enjoyable reading. Proficient writers often add their own work to expand upon a story using its familiar characters. If you are a fan, you can have a lot of fun reading such work.
Whether your interest is horses, tractors or antiques, some magazines cover it. You can find in-depth and well-researched articles on most subjects.
Step IV: Tips to Reading More
Make your reading more social
Just because reading is a solitary act doesn’t mean readers can’t socialize. It can be very motivational to join a book group or to start one of your own. Contact with like-minded people can support and expand your literary horizons.
Increase your bookshelf turnover
There are books you want to keep forever, but your reading shelf should be an active setting. Make a practice of returning or lending books to friends, keeping space available for others you might borrow or find at a bargain.
Maintain a reading list
Keep a list of books you’d like to read and add to it whenever you find something that interests you. Some readers keep their list online, but in any form you choose, make sure it’s readily available.
Listening to an audiobook provides much the same experience as the real thing. Your mind will still assimilate the words and make mental pictures, so audiobooks are a close substitute to reading.
Like audiobooks, electronic devices are a convenient way to keep a reading pipeline open and available. Research can’t confirm that reading on a screen is as beneficial as a real book, but it has features that make it an alternative choice for many.
The main benefit of e-readers is they can store many books at once. Also, the e-book scene is a pirating frenzy so books can be found at huge discounts. This is a strangely compelling feature for so-called book lovers, considering library books are completely free—but there it is.
Reading is an essential part of civilized life, and your personal efforts to become well read are highly worthwhile. Much of our consumer culture works against adult reading, but it is never too late to start! With the right attitude and a few easy habits, you can benefit from the enrichment books can bring to your life … and, perhaps surprisingly, from their enjoyment too.