I once heard someone say that if you can read, but don’t, you might as well be illiterate. That sounds a little harsh, but there’s some truth in it. Just as a car cannot run on an empty fuel tank, you won’t get very far in life if you don’t constantly feed your mind with quality input.
I’ve always loved reading so I’m lucky in that reading is a joy for me. If you’re not a natural reader, perhaps you could start by reading a book a month or even one every quarter. As with so many other things, reading is a habit and once you start you’ll find it surprisingly easy to keep going.
1. Have a To-Read list
Everything time you read or hear about a good book, note the title and author. Write it in your journal, PDA, post-it sticker, envelope, napkin, or whatever you have on hand. Chances are you’ll have forgotten about the book by the next day, so if you don’t write it down, you could miss the book that could change your thinking and your life.
The next time you’re in a bookshop or library, instead of buying whatever happens to be there, you’ll pull out your list and know what books you’re looking for. This gives you a sense of accomplishment since you’ll have the satisfaction of ticking off the list, and the feeling that you know what you’re doing rather than just browsing aimlessly. Of course you can browse and buy any other books that catch your eye too.
2. Affiliate yourself with a bookstore or library
Pick a bookstore that’s near a place you hang out often, preferably once a week. This makes it easier to step into it the next time you’re in the area, without having to go out of your way to get hold of books. Some big bookstores offer membership cards which cost very little and entitle you to a discount. Applying for this card provides a psychological impetus to use it. You could also redeem your credit card points for book vouchers if this option is available, and this way get your books practically free.
Joining a free public library is an option, except that you’ll often be put on the waiting list for the really popular books so this is a good alternative if your list comprises mainly obscure or difficult books that few other people want to read.
3. Decide on a ‘new book day’
This is the day of the week you start reading a new book, which of course means that you’ll have to finish the previous week’s book by this day. Having this routine makes it easier for you to remember to start a new book, and gives you a good gauge of whether you need to adjust your reading pace. If you’re halfway through the week and not yet halfway through your book, you may need to spend more time reading, read faster, or adjust your target to one new book every fortnight instead of every week.
I use Sunday as my new book day because I usually have lunch near a big bookstore after church. I also like to dive into a new book once I get hold of it, and Sundays give me more time to read. I buy the book, then sit at a cafe with a coffee and savour both the coffee and the book. It’s a perfect way to spend a Sunday if you love reading.
4. Read both fiction and non-fiction
Good fiction tickles your imagination and fires your passion for life. It takes you into another world which often provides a good perspective on the one you’re living in. It’s best to read different genres and different authors, as these broaden your mind in ways you could never plan or expect.
Non-fiction provides you with insights about the world and other people. Self-improvement books teach skills and attitudes that will help you succeed in life, work, and relationships. I like autobiographies written by successful or interesting people (as opposed to biographies which other people write about them) as I can learn how they think by reading what they write.
5. Underline sentences that make an impact
The physical act of underlining engages the kinesthetic part of your brain, and involves you more deeply in the reading process by going beyond the merely visual. You’ll remember what you read better when you take action. It will also save you time when you later want to find a specific quote or example from the book, since you’ll just have to glance over the parts you underlined instead of having to read the whole book again or flip through pages randomly hoping to chance upon the sentence.
When a sentence or paragraph makes a deep impact on me, I also write it in my journal or my PDA. This takes some time but registers in my brain a lot better, which makes it more likely that I’ll apply the insight I just gained.
6. Re-read the underlined portions
After finishing your first read, go back to the beginning of the book and read all the parts you underlined. This should take less than half an hour for a book of average length. You’ll likely have forgotten most of the details by the time you reach the end of the book, so this habit will help you to recall what the key learning points were. Your brain will also register the points better for long-term memory when it sees these points twice in a short period.
There’s obviously less to underline for fiction than non-fiction. Still, a good fiction book should provide a few sentences worth remembering for their informative content, communication style, or sheer linguistic beauty. In fact, fiction will improve your language skills a lot more than non-fiction.
Reading is food for the mind. Feed your mind as often as you feed your body. And feed it quality food too. Word by word, book by book, your thinking will expand imperceptibly at first, but over time you’ll surprise yourself by the wise and learned person you’ve become.