Only You Can Decide
Somewhere along the way, a reader will ask himself/herself: “How do I get better at reading?” I have asked, too and was fortunate enough to find my own answer－a bit too hard a way.
The motivation to improve is certainly a good thing, but in terms of reading, it can get a bit misleading, and sometimes incurs an expensive catch－ it will discourage you from reading anything at all. And if such a tragedy happens, the reader pays too dear a price. I speak from my own experience－I abandoned reading for years because of false expectations for it, imposed on me first by others, and then reinforced by own assertions.
Nobody but yourself should define what “a better reader” is to you. And only you can find out how reading－if it means anything at all to your life－should be conducted. I believe my recent reading experience may shed some useful light on the issue (or maybe I just love bragging about it).
I read for several reasons:
Contrary to what many may perceive, I read mostly to derive pleasure. I’ve tried other ways. I’ve bought books that “should interest me”. Books that “I will benefit from”. Books that are really “well-written”. Books that “would change my life”. All those are good reasons to read. But there is one problem－you actually have to pick up the book you bought (or take out your Kindle and find the book pushed to wherever it is by so many others you downloaded), and read it. And it’s not as easy as you think when you buy/download the title. Having a good e-reader like the Amazon Kindle helps. But in the end it is the pleasure you derive from reading the first words that keep you going. The first words then become first paragraphs, then a chapter, then chapters, then half of the book, and so on.
So my advice is this: before you decide you would really devote time to finish a book, do the inspectional reading as suggested in the classic How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. Read the book cover. Read the content page and the titles. Read the preface, the index and the first and last paragraphs of the book. Then decide. It has saved me a lot of time and from a lot of distress for not reading the books I am supposed to finish.
My most typical read of this sort recently is Eleven Minutes: A Novel (P.S.) by Paulo Coelho. I finished it within three 8-hour working days.
I also read to learn. One of my top 5 themes as defined in the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test is Learner. And I prefer to learn from reading words and instructions than hearing them from someone I can see and touch. I don’t know why. I’ve even be told by my high school teacher that I “turned to books (or the Internet) instantly when posed with a problem.” And I agreed the second I heard it. Learning from words has always seemed more natural to me, perhaps because I learn from what I analyze and understand and generate－not what I am told. I suggest you do the same.
On my shelf under this umbrella: Mastery by Robert Greene, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction by Jonathan Culler
This may sound a bit corny. But every now and then we need inspirations. When our juice is running low, or nearly out. Whenever I feel stuck－and we all do－I read. I will surf on Amazon and Quora and just surf on “inspiration sites” I frequent. I will locate booklists or even seek them out proactively. Then I will try reading something strange and exquisite. And I will be inspired and rejuvenated. For example, I found Eleven Minutes (finished, yay!) by seeking out erotica on Quora. I found the Sandman by Neil Gaiman (finished Volume One and well onto Volume Two) by searching for superheroes. This is where you should listen to you own inner voices and follow them. You will be dumbfounded－in the best possible ways.
I am not as well-read as I would like to consider myself. Frankly, I will never be. And that’s all right－it only adds the great joy of improvement along the way to the large pool of pleasure and satisfaction I already get from the fountain of knowledge－sustainable and free reading.