Stop Reading Faster, and Instead Read Better

Published on 3/21/2021

As a woman, it’s probably not surprising that I love to multitask. I like to watch a show whilst I’m cooking, as it makes the process more relaxing and an opportunity to wind down from my day. I like to listen to podcasts whilst I walk or run, as a chance to achieve a bit more from that time. I am all for multitasking, but I draw the line when it comes to reading.

I consider reading to be sacred. It’s corny and undoubtedly biased by the fact that I’m a fiction writer, but I truly believe reading is a vital function in human life. And I don’t mean daily quick-reading, like reading a sign whilst you’re driving, or a text message or even an inspirational Instagram quote. I’m talking about hard-core reading. When you sit down with a fresh book (or your sleek Kindle) and for half an hour or more, the world as you know it ceases to exist. You give up control to the author, allowing them to follow the time-old tradition of transporting you to another life.

Even just writing about it is getting me excited. I love books, and I always have, and that’s why I find it so painful to witness the trend of trying to read quicker. Individuals are playing audiobooks on double speed; people are advising you on how to skim pages or even skip sections. I can’t stand this, and here’s why.

Someone took the time to write this

I’m going to start by appealing to your empathy, as if that doesn’t work, I have reason and rationality ready on the defence. I just want to remind you that the book you’re holding in your hands is the product of someone’s passion. Someone took days, weeks, months and maybe even years, to create this book. Whether it’s nonfiction and the result of years of learning, or fiction and a story formed from their own mind, this was an achievement for someone. Even if they have dozens of other books out, someone took the time to sit down and create this book. And then you took the money to pay for it - at least I hope you did!

This book has value; it isn’t just a rushed text message, a Tweet sent out half-asleep; this is someone’s work. And you’re looking for the swiftest way to rush your way through it so that you can say you’ve read it, so that you can add another tally to your list.

We need to respect the arts and value of creativity, especially now in a time when so few do. Many things are available at demand; the world is moving so quickly and losing its patience for art, so don’t contribute to this sad demise. Respect the written word, respect the time that goes into a project. Just because you can binge a show within three hours, it doesn’t mean that a screenwriter didn’t spend close to a year crafting that work for you, that they’re not nervously checking reviews and hoping their creation will be appreciated.

Value the work of others, if only to release that good karma into the world. Respect a book and the time that went into each page or even line that you skim over, and recognise that this is wasting their efforts.

Books are not a number on your list

I will admit that I aim to read a certain number of books in a year. Last year, I managed to read thirty-five books, and this year I am aiming for forty. That could tempt me to rush through books and choose smaller books to reach or surpass my goal, but I resist the temptation. Because there’s a reason that I set this goal for myself, and I’m sure you have one too.

Did you aim to read more books so that you could say you did? If so, find another hobby that you enjoy more, one that brings pleasure. I aim to read more because I love reading, and I want to encourage myself to make more time for it.

Reading requires time, but that doesn’t mean that you should treat it like a chore that you hurdle through. The best things require time, like delicious souffles, intricate tattoos, aged cheeses and a plant growing to its beautiful self. Time can be an indicator of great things to come, of the value of something, rather than an obstacle to be overcome.

If you’re tempted to rush through books, consider why you’re reading them at all? You should want to sit down and enjoy them, to gain value from them, rather than using them as a to-do list.

Missing the content

When you fly through a book, eyes skimming the pages or speed cranked up until they sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks, you’re missing content. No matter what method you try, the result is that you’re losing out on words. Because there is no other way to be quicker than to skip aspects. You’re making a decision to miss out on parts to save time. Reading a certain number of words takes a certain number of minutes or hours, and by losing some of those, you lose content.

Maybe you’re just losing descriptions or extended examples. But consider the rigorous editing process that goes into a book. A book isn’t just written and uploaded to Amazon. There’s a first draft, a second draft, and a third draft. There’s copyediting, line-editing and developmental editing. By the time a book is done and dusted, at least half a dozen people have read and scrutinised it, likely more.

The lines you’re missing were chosen to be there for a reason. The words you miss because you’re not focusing were selected over dozens of others. This book and its content were finely crafted, and you’re missing out on that, which is a true shame.

If you’re reading this book to learn something, whether that’s techniques for productivity, writing tips or another form of self-help, then wouldn’t you want to get the most of all of those aspects? The text you skim over might include a vital hint, a tip, or an example that allows you to visualise what they’re talking about. If you are reading a book to learn from it, then let yourself to do so. Skimming over a textbook would be unlikely to get you an A+ in school, so apply the same rhetoric to your education now and give yourself the learnings of this book as they were intended to be read.

How to read better

Instead of trying to read books faster, aim to read them better. This involves giving your focus to the book entirely. As I mentioned, I love to multitask, but the exception is reading. When it comes to reading, I don’t do anything else. I don’t even listen to audiobooks as I run or go about my day. This ensures that I am always focused and fully present for a book to get all that I can from it.

1. Consider where you’re reading. When you start reading with focus, it’s essential to do so in an environment that doesn’t distract you. Choose a quiet area with no music or background noise so that you can immerse yourself in the book. As you build your reading muscle, you’ll find it easier to focus on a book in potentially distracting places, allowing you to read more in waiting rooms or on public transport.

2. Put your phone away. Turn your phone over, or even leave it in another room, and most certainly on silent. If your eyes are flicking over to your screen, you’re missing something that you supposedly just read. We all need more time away from our screens; ensure that your reading time achieves this by removing your phone or other devices.

3. Stay present whilst reading. This may sound redundant, as the whole point of reading was to transport yourself elsewhere! When reading a book, if you think you may be tired or distracted, be sure to test yourself. Stop at the end of a page and try to remember what you just read. Given the amount of stimulus we’re exposed to daily, we naturally start skimming over things. Or maybe we get excited and look ahead. Fight this impulse and check yourself. If you can’t remember what you just read, then reread the page. At the start, this might make reading take longer, but it ensures you’re getting so much from the book that you don’t need to reread it soon.

4. Make reading a gift to yourself. Reading shouldn’t be a chore, as it calms your body and engages your mind. Try to avoid thinking of reading as a hassle or something you ‘should’ do, and instead remember all the benefits of reading, and moreover the joy of it. Focus on reading in a positive light.

5. Read something you want to read! Too often, we read things that we believe we should. These could be classics, non-fiction books or acclaimed novels. Whilst it is great to push yourself and leave your comfort zone, you shouldn’t force yourself to read something you’re not enjoying. Especially if you’re just starting to read more or struggling with focus, you should fixate on books that you enjoy. Whether this is vampire romance, young adult or fantasy, just enjoy what you’re reading. Fiction holds a lot of benefits for us as well, including empathy-building, de-stress and escapism. Once you’re back into a routine of reading, you can challenge yourself more.

There is a way to read more and enjoy books, and it isn’t about rushing a book or quickening the audio; it’s about recognising why you want to read more. It’s about making that choice. Instead of sitting on your phone in bed, pick up your book. Instead of rewatching another show, choose a good book that you’ve wanted to read. Find the pleasure in reading, and the benefits are countless. Ensure that reading doesn’t become another chore, a hassle, or a number on your list, as then there is genuinely no point in picking up that book. Get everything you want out of a book by taking your time through it and reading it well, just like it was intended to be consumed.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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Ⓒ 2021 - Symptoms of Living