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How to Become Good at Reading.

August 18, 2012

Do you have problems reading? I confess I do. Despite the fact that I’m an English major and have a reputation for being a reader, there are many days where I find it hard to read, or simply forget about reading entirely. It’s easy to get caught up in other activities and not even crack open a book in a day. Other days, I will simply open up a book and stare at any given page without digesting any information.
     Everyone should read, but many people are scared and don’t know how to start. I will give some tips on how to begin reading as well as dispel some myths about reading that have become popular.

1. Myth: I don’t have time to read. Truth: Yes, you do. This is a very commonplace myth. Often you will hear something like, “I would love to read, but I just don’t have enough time.” It’s telling that no one ever says, “I would love to get on Facebook and mindlessly look at other people’s pictures, but I just don’t have enough time.” The truth is that you don’t have enough time for any activity. I could say that I’m too busy doing homework to eat, or too busy pretending that there are invisible elephants in my room to go and hang out with my friends. The fact is that all of life is built around scheduling. We allot a certain amount of time to different activities (eating, sleeping, drooling, etc.) and we try to make sure that one activity doesn’t trample over all the others. No one has time to read, they make time to read, just like no one has time to have a girlfriend, they make time to have a girlfriend. If reading is important to you, then you will make time for it. If you say reading is important to you, but you don’t have enough time, you’re lying. Period.

2. How to make time to read. The best way to make time to read is to get rid of time you are wasting elsewhere with things that you won’t enjoy as much as reading. There’s a principal that things you will enjoy more will seem less enjoyable at the outset and will require more effort than things you enjoy less. I enjoy lying on a couch all day, but I enjoy working out more. I enjoy frying my brain looking at pointless things on the internet, but I enjoy reading more. Find these time-wasters and get rid of them. Facebook is a big culprit. I have a Facebook, everyone has a Facebook, and everyone thinks that everyone else cares about what’s on their Facebook. If you want to get serious about reading, kill your Facebook. No, you don’t have to delete your account. (Though that would probably be a good idea.) But you can seriously cut down your time on it. One way is to not get on every day. Another is to not post statuses. A third strategy is to hide people and things that you are not seriously interested in. I legitimately don’t care if someone I barely know thinks that baby animals are adorable or just LOVED THE NEW BATMAN MOVIE!!!!!!!! The less you put in to Facebook, the less it will take from you, and the more you can use it as a legitimate tool for checking up on your friends or communicating with people, instead of using it as a replacement for a social life. I know this is hard for most people, (including me) but Facebook isn’t worth the time we spend on it. Most of the things we see on there are irrelevant, banal, and eminently forgettable. The same thing goes for other time-wasters. Is 9gag really that funny? Do you have to see every single new YouTube video that comes out? On your deathbed, will you say “I wish I had spent more time playing Skyrim.”

3. Myth: I have to start reading books that are really, really hard and literary.  Fact: just start reading. Trust me, there are a lot of books which I just cannot stand. The ones that irk me are the teenage Fad books. “Are you going to read Harry Potter and the Twilight Games?” Not if I stay sober.  However, many people start out assuming that if they are going to begin reading, they need to start reading something really hard. “I’m getting back into reading. Should I start with George Eilot’s Middlemarch, or the Constance Garret translation of The Brothers Karamazov?” This is similar to the kid who wants to start working out, and begins by trying to lift the heaviest weights he can find. It doesn’t end well. If you want to start reading, don’t start on hard stuff. Start on stuff you like. The goal is not to be stuck on easy things all the time, but to work your way up to better things. Don’t try to begin with something really “literary.” Do you like mystery stories? Good. Read a whole bunch of mystery stories. Reading things that you like is better than reading nothing at all. There are plenty of books which are well-written, but not particularly hard to read, such as The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and pretty much anything written by P.G. Wodehouse. There are also lots of fun history books out there too. Start out with books that have short chapters, so you can read a chapter or two in a short period of time. Start small and work your way up.

4. Read Multiple Books At A Time. This sounds counterintuitive. Shouldn’t you read only one book at a time? However, this method has several benefits. First, if nothing else, it makes you look smarter. Having a stack of books next to your bed will impress your friends more than having a single book next to your bed. Secondly, it helps prevent boredom. If you are only reading one book, chances are you will get bored or frustrated with it. This happens especially if you are reading a challenging book. The principle should be different books for different occasions. There are “study this book with a look of deep thought on your face,” books, there are “read this book when you have twenty minutes” books, and there are “Read this book at night when your face is about to fall off” books. Right now I have about four or five books going. One of them is The Brothers Karamozov. There ain’t no way I’m gonna read that book when I first wake up or when I am about to go to sleep. That’s why I have something else on hand, like Roger Lancelyn Greene’s Tales of Ancient Egypt, which has Egyptian myths that last about five pages each. A good principle would be to start with about three books; a serious book, a fun book, and a theological book. (And when I say “theological book,” I don’t mean Calvin’s Institutes, but something more along the lines of C.S. Lewis or Tim Keller.) And make sure you always have a fun book going. Reading should be enjoyable.

5. Surround yourself with books. I am kind of an audiophile. I own more CDs and records than most people I know. I have (I think) around 100 CDs. Many of these I have bought and listened to once or twice. A few I haven’t listened to at all. Some of them aren’t any good. Some are great. I surround myself with music because I love it, even if I’m not able or willing to listen to all of it. Since I’m surrounded by it, I love it more. The same goes with books. If you want to love them, surround yourself with them. Go buy them at Goodwill or off a clearance rack and fill your house with them. You won’t read them all. Don’t expect to. But you’ll start to enjoy them a lot more. If someone is serious about working out, they will get a gym membership and some workout gear and surround themselves with motivation. If you are serious about working your brain, surround yourself with books. You’ll read at least some of them. Plus, it will make you look a lot smarter than you are. “Dave must be such an intellectual. Look at all these books.”

Tl;dr: Shame on you for not reading. That’s what the entire post is about. However, if you need a short list of the tips, here it is.

1. Myth: You don’t Have Time To Read. Fact: You Do.

2.Make Time To Read by Eliminating Time-Wasters such as Facebook

3. Start out with books that are easy and that you will enjoy.

4. Read Multiple Books at a Time

5. Surround Yourself With Books.

Current Listenings: Chulahoma by The Black Keys.

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