Date a girl who reads….books are friends….line your house with books…never throw your books away…omg how can you get ride of your books??
Oh, do I hate online reading inspo. Actually, I hate inspo, but that’s another matter. And then unquestioning book fetishization.
I’m an english major, dyed in the wool. I got my degrees in this discipline. I actually love it. I love reading, and I’m proud of it. I also love my books and would not want to get rid of them totally. But I must criticize the ideas popular in our online discourse: that reading is always an all-consuming activity, that if you don’t craft your life around it you are some sort of ignorant person, that if you don’t keep every book ever and if you don’t always 100% love it then You Are Doing It Wrong.
Please. One of the things “They” don’t tell you about college is that you have to constantly decide how you’re going to do what you must do. And this includes books. For that matter, “They” also don’t want to square stereotypes of being well-read with the mundane realities of readers. We have other things to do than read.I like to joke that I gave up reading in grad school. It’s kind of true.
I was working, commuting, dealing with a lot of personal issues – I didn’t have time to plow through all the books all the time. I was very lucky in that I had the skill set necessary to “cheat” sometimes. Is this even ethical to do? Should I not be admonishing people to read every single word they can, as carefully as possible? I’m supposed to be all about literacy, comprehension, and critical thought!
But I’m also about getting things done. Reading is not always going to be some sort of Neo-Victorian exercise in leisure and cravats. We’re busy people, and sometimes other things have to take priority. If you’re a student, you have multiple classes to juggle, and a heavy workload. I know the feeling.
So I’d like to talk about how to get through a book, discuss it intelligently, and actually learn something from it instead of approaching it as a thing to slog through. This got me through years of English major work, so it’s all tested, workable advice!
1) Read around the book – Look at the front matter, the page with publisher information. Find the authors or editors and google them. What else have they written or published? Especially if this is an academic work, when did this book come out, what can its time period tell you? Read reviews of it, or (if you can) articles that cited it. Try to get a sense of what was going on in the subject area at the time this book came out. What was the author responding to, what were they aiming to contribute?
2) Keep up on your “cocktail party” knowledge – This used to be a thing. But I don’t think anyone holds these any more. The idea was that you’d have to make light, yet intellectual, conversation over drinks with other well-heeled guests. The object of this kind of interaction was to have a broad knowledge and thus be able to intelligently converse with just about anyone. This is still a good goal. While not neglecting depth, it is a good idea to know a little about a lot. Especially if you’re bluffing your way through a book.
3) Read for pleasure as often as you can – Keep the reading muscles limber so all of this is easier. This is the weirdest part of the “cheating” method: actually reading. But to be honest, the more you are accustomed to reading, and the more pleasure you take in it, the easier it is to pick up on extra-textual cues (hints 1 and 2), or to skim the book.
4) Practice active skimming – Skim with a pen or pencil in your hand. Mark up your text (provided you own it) Annotate! Annotation is your friend. If you only have time to read a portion of each chapter or section, make notes on the sides to jog your memory, hi-light quotes, or add some quick ideas to talk about. You can always pass off your still-new ideas a just that – you can always change your mind on symbolism, interpretation, etc.
This is actually all still literacy-enhancing work, so you’re not really taking the easy road here – it just feels easier. If you can’t read “properly”, this is a far more active way to digest books. You should still read thoroughly, but when you’re short on time, there’s no reason not to work smarter.