I read a lot (that may be a slight understatement, depending on what season of life I'm in). For a while, I was reading a little less and writing a lot more, and now I'm striking a balance between the two. In any case, I believe that reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. I also think there are ways to read better, and lots of them. These are just a few of the ways I've found (after a lifetime of reading and loving it) that I can read better.
- Reading with a pen/highlighter in hand. I've found that I don't particularly like writing words in books (it just doesn't serve me well), but I love highlighting passages, underlining, etc. Anything works for that. However, Crayola Twistable colored pencils are perhaps the best product I've found for writing in books. They don't bleed through at all, are self-sharpening, and the words are legible beneath the highlighting.
- Switching between non-fiction and fiction. I've found that if I only read fiction, I get some emotional whiplash, especially if I was compelled by the last book I read. I like to give works of fiction time to settle in my mind and heart. Likewise, most books of non-fiction that I are either somehow educational (like the A Very Short Introduction series, or a biography), or self-help. If I'm learning something, I need a minute to contextualize it with the rest of the information I've learned throughout my lifetime, and if its self-help, it's easy to feel overfull of advice and under-full of practice. Switching back and forth helps.
- Constantly having a book of either collected short stories or poems I'm reading. While it's certainly possible to read an entire book of short stories or poems at once, I've found that I get more out of it if I take it slower and read a short story or two a week, and a poem or so a day. This is particularly true of anthology-style collections, or prize-winning stories. This generally does not apply to books of short stories written by a single author and published as a book in its original form.
- I never abandon. I just don't abandon a book I started. It might take me months to finish if its easy to put down and I hate it, but I will pretty much always finish books. This leads to two benefits: I make sure I'm interested in a book on its own merit, and I've learned how to look for a payoff where I don't expect it.
- I re-read. I don't read every book more than once, but if I really like a book, I read it again. There's always more to gather out of a really good book. If there's nothing worth going back to, I have to reassess whether I even enjoyed the book in the first place. Generally speaking, I try to re-read as many books in a year as books I'm reading for the first time. I have a list of about twenty to thirty books I just keep coming back to, which brings me to my next point.
- I read for fun. Since I am an aspiring professional writer (I'm already an avid amateur/semi-paid writer), I do have to read. I just have to. However, I also read books whose only benefit to me is my enjoyment. Right now, I'm reading the Little House on the Prairie books (again) because I felt like it. They're good. I like them. There are other books for my improvement. Basically, I intersperse books into my entertainment life as well as my self-enrichment life, and it's made everything better.
- I talk about the books I like. Right now, I meet up with a high school sophomore I've known since we were both much younger, and we talk books. Sometimes we read the same book, and sometimes we're reading different books (last week, she was reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I was reading Son of Laughter). Talking about the books keeps my brain activated, and reading the same book as someone else keeps me on track. Your book buddy might read more than you. Or less. Find a buddy and talk it out.
What makes your reading life better? Let me know in comments.