Tell me how you read.
January 1, 2014 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I want to up my reading game. Help?

One of my intentions for 2014 is to read more books. Great! But I feel like I could be doing more with what I'm reading, in terms of processing and absorbing. Sometimes I make note of passages I particularly like, but I don't quite know what to do with these. Should I start a reading journal? I feel like without the guidance and discussion that comes along with studying a work of literature in school, I just don't retain as much of what I read. But I don't think I'm looking for a book club (or maybe I am? I've never been a part of one)

posted by bluloo to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about blogging? You can post the interesting bits and talk about them if you want. A blog is a one-person book club.

Honestly, I don't retain much more than half of what I read after a year. Unless I was absolutely enthralled, my understanding of a work is usually "Guy does XYZ, and it was sad." Maybe a couple things I liked about it. So I'm not sure it's worth your while to work on retaining, unless you really want to be an expert, rather than just reading more frequently and keeping yourself interested in that.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:30 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

This may sound weird but I've found that watching movies based on books sometimes helps me understand the context and delivery a lot more. For example, watching A&E's pride and prejudice mini series made the book immensely more funny.

Also, the first time i tried to watch Age of Innocence it made no sense and I had trouble following the dialogue. Then I read the book. It's one of my favorite books ever now.

I think the above helps because seeing a visual can help provide the clothes and surroundings and accents and facial expressions and gestures that the author may have been taking for granted the reader would know about.
posted by sio42 at 6:30 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a booklist that I maintain online. It helps me to think about what I've read, whether I liked it, whether I'd recommend it. I keep things categorized and do a year-end wrap up which is interesting to me and about ten other people. It's neat to see trends over time and to help me pick other books that I might like. Sometimes looking at past years' lists has me going "Oh yeah I really used to love that author and OH HEY they have a new book out!" I'm not great on retaining stuff so sometimes I just talk to people about what I've read or mention books on MetaFilter or whatever. I also try to think when I'm done with a book "Do I know someone who would really like this...?" and, if so, suggest it to them, drop them an email or something. I am not great with book clubs just because I'm not good with scheduling and not good with other people who can't run clubs (and I don't want to run one) but I've enjoyed keeping an online book list and I'm in my seventeenth year now.

Sort of unrelated but I also read with an index card as a bookmark and write down things I particularly want to remember or other stuff that I want to look up. When I'm really interested in a topic sometimes I'll go nerding around online looking things up about it and sometimes even make a MetaFilter post about some subtopic that was in the book. Then I get to talk about that subtopic with people here and that's enjoyable.
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 PM on January 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

Sometimes after I've finished a book, I'll read a bunch of reviews of it, especially the long intellectual ones that talk more about themes or ideas than plot spoilers. It often helps me develop a deeper understanding of the book, and often I'll flip back through the book with the review in mind.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:00 PM on January 1, 2014 [15 favorites]

1) Book Club

2) Goodreads or something similar where people discuss the books asynchroniously online

3) Reading journal where you write about your reactions
3a) Condensing your thoughts into some arbitrary form, like six sentences, or a haiku, so that you aren't just free-form reacting but having to compose your thoughts about the book into a specific tight form. The form doesn't really matter, just that sometimes free-form reacting is overrated and having to actually THINK to compose your thoughts carefully into one paragraph or whatever is helpful.

4) SparkNotes, which typically has stereotypical essay questions in each book's set of notes

5) A lot of literary fiction books, when they come out in paperback, have a "book club questions" set of pages in the back. Sometimes you can also find book club guides online from the publisher, with study/discussion question sorts of things. Sometimes they're very facile, but they can also be really interesting and help direct your thoughts.

6) Writing HELPFUL Amazon reviews; it really helps me marshal my thoughts about what worked in a book and what didn't, and why, when I have to put it into words to help others decide if they'll like the book.

7) Websites/blogs that focus on the genre you like to read; reading thoughtful reviews and discussions of books by professional book lovers is always helpful, and if you read, say, an SFF-focused blog, they often link to reviews around the web so you can read several.

Watching movies based on books is definitely interesting, because you get to see one point of view of the book really brought out and expressed and think about how you might have done it differently. Book clubs are awesome for seeing different points of view about a book, with the downside that you generally only read one book a month for book club and a lot of people read considerably faster than that, so it's a limited number of books you get to discuss. (Also it depends on how disciplined your book club is whether you actually discuss the book or not.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sort of unrelated but I also read with an index card as a bookmark and write down things I particularly want to remember or other stuff that I want to look up.

I love this idea. But now what am I gonna do with all the magazine subscription cards that no longer have a home?
posted by DigDoug at 7:43 PM on January 1, 2014

I also find the index card handy when reading books with many characters and cousins. Jot down who likes whom, brothers, sisters, aunties and 200 pages later my cheat sheet is way more helpful than my memory.

Challenging books I'll read with a small sticky pad. In my first read, I'll highlight questions, "Why choose to disclose this relationship now?" or "What economic systems challenge this assertion?" I'll also note those word choices or metaphors or characterization which "throw me out" of a book: when I realize I'm thinking more about how the message is delivered than the message itself. Finally I stick my flag on the rich and juicy parts. At the end of the book I'll review all my flags: maybe I'll have answers, or maybe not. They certainly form the basis for good book club discussion or blog posts or so forth.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:14 PM on January 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I keep a database of all the books I read. It pulls basic data from Amazon (including the cover) and then I add my own keywords, rating, when I read it, and anything else I want to remember. I like that I can find things again pretty easily, whether it's because I think a sequel to something might be out, someone just asked a mefi question about that topic, or I just realized that something would be a great Christmas present. The fact that it takes about a minute per book means I actually keep doing it, too. The more complex your journaling, the less likely you are to keep up with it, generally.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:42 PM on January 1, 2014

YouTube, etc. has a lot of lectures, etc. by authors or professors or whatever to help frame the context of / provide insight into a work. Perhaps consider viewing these before / during / after your read.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:16 PM on January 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sometimes I think I learnt to read three times.

The first time, as a kid. Learning how to recognise and process letters on a page.

The second time, from the ages of about 19 to 21 was about learning to appreciate language. In this stage, I spent a lot of time appreciating why certain words were used - the rhythm of sentences, the sound of the words, the appreciation of the words unsaid. Following all the works of a single author and seeing how their style developed, or following a group of related authors to see how the times affected the language they use.

The third time, last year, was about learning to appreciate how different authors grapple with a single subject - how they approach it, the conclusions they reach, the ideas they use, the metaphors they choose.

Both the second and third times I had to slow down.
posted by girlgenius at 12:25 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

There was an article floating around last year (maybe even posted to Metafilter) that stated most of us only retain 20% of what we read. So don't feel too bad about the lack of retention - it's normal.

I maintain a book database where I list and write short reviews of what I've read. I've found it helps a lot of I do that immediately after reading the book. If you are reading on a Kindle you can highlight as you read and the highlighted passages all get saved to your Kindle account so you can review them later.
posted by COD at 6:02 AM on January 2, 2014

I use to keep track of books that I've read, am currently reading and would like to read. Once I'm done with a book, I try to write a review on the site which helps me to remember what I read, and I also read what others have written about it. I started using Goodreads in 2007 and have recorded every book I've read there. I find it's a great way to keep track and helps to motivate me to read more, just because I get waaaay too much joy in changing a book's status from "Currently Reading" to "Read".

As I'm reading, if I find a particular passage that I like, I fold the page down and revisit those passages when I'm finished with the book. Sometimes I will write about particularly moving passages in my journal, but not often.

If there are Sparknotes available, I'll read those too as I go along.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 6:07 AM on January 2, 2014

You might find How to Read a Book helpful.
posted by Silvertree at 6:20 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. In recent years, I started a list (a simple Word file) of every book I read and every movie I watch. It is a helpful reference, but I don't write reviews or participate in any book clubs.

2. I will make note of any unfamiliar word or phrase and look it up later. (English is my second language, so this is an old habit...) Sometimes I will do a short search (20 minutes) about a location, a historical reference, or some other aspect presented in the book.

3. I pick out three or four ideas and use them as conversational topics with friends. Not even mentioning the book, but just the issues raised by what you read. Anything that was thought provoking or struck a chord. People like being asked easy yet interesting questions.

4. If the material lends itself to such consideration, I try to imagine why the author felt compelled to write the story or what was the larger point being made. This is just quiet reflection as I drive or stand in line at a store.
posted by 99percentfake at 6:44 AM on January 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great suggestions from everyone, I also use Goodreads, read long reviews or the Wikipedia articles after I read the book (and sometimes, if I find it totally impenetrable, I will use those as a tool for entry as well so I sort of know the shape that I'm looking at), and often I will go check out the tag of something that I liked or didn't like or whatever on Tumblr. People often have interesting, casual, fan-nish but very deconstruction-oriented dialogue about books there, and it's a good way to get some differing perspectives.

But one thing I haven't seen anyone else mention is rereading. Do not be ashamed to reread. If I like a book, I will get totally sucked into it and be all like SCREW LANGUAGE SCREW PACING SCREW CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT IF I DON'T KNOW HOW THIS ENDS I WILL LITERALLY DIE. On a second or third or fourth or whatever reread, I'm much more slow and appreciative. Reading a really good book is kind of like sex: the first time you're with a new partner, it's pretty much like "get these damn clothes off right now," and then subsequent times will reveal how much you actually liked it and whether there's anything there worth pursuing further. Also, I find even a quick flip-through and revisiting of my favorite scenes after a read helps tremendously with my retention.
posted by WidgetAlley at 6:52 AM on January 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do exactly what Shadow Boxer does. Only thing I wish I started was a "discarded" shelf, where I could keep track of books I started and didn't finish. I'm pretty particular about books I put on my Goodreads "to read" shelf, so if I add something and didn't finish, that means something.

After I'm done I like to read reviews that agree with me when I'm in the minority - for example when I finished The Goldfinch I sought out reviews by people who didn't like it. They validate my opinion.
posted by lyssabee at 9:59 AM on January 2, 2014

I've been using Goodreads for several years now, and it's definitely upped my reading game. It allows me to track what I want to read, categorize it (this is helpful when I'm in the mood for a particular genre), review it, and track how many books I've read in a year. I also get a lot of great recommendations by following reviews written by people who have similar bookshelves to mine.
posted by anotheraccount at 10:02 AM on January 2, 2014

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