Reading Techniques



You may take or leave any of the following techniques as long as you develop your own friendship with books, that will automatically guide you through the act of reading, and teach you how to read and treat books, like good friends treat each other. You can be creative, having your own reading strategies, book lists, reading schedule, notes, and personal lessons from books to keep all your life.


Techniques before Reading

1. For effective reading, make a book checklist of what you intend to read; such as the following:

  • Books you want to read before you die.
  • Books to read this year, month, week …
  • Books you want to re-read.
  • Books you want to finish reading.

2. Make a more general list of subjects you want to read about, that may include various "questions" about all the things you need answer to:

  • Subjects you want to learn more about—whether from books, articles, courses, people, media, or personal experience.
  • Subjects you want to master and be professional at.
  • Subjects you should focus on now.
  • Basic knowledge any human should have, like that we learn at school, in case you miss it, forgot it or want to further it. This is a great place to start with, because of the importance of the subjects, the nostalgia and pleasure with which we read such subjects, and the familiarity with topics that need only some "dusting" and brushing up.
  • Subjects or branches of knowledge you believe to be the most vital to humanity, deserving the most attention and priority. People may differ on this, especially that most knowledge branches are intricately interconnected. However, the priority should always be for protecting human life first (medicine, energy, etc.).
  • Subjects you suggest for others to read, without being too subjective or overzealous; thus you should have credibility first, mastering each before passing your experience to others.

3. Recognize your MOTIVATION, by making a list of the books you plan to read along with the reason why you want to read each: this will motivate you more. The list may include books to read for pleasure, benefit, or (preferably) both.

4. Recognize the difficulties keeping you from reading, and face them:

  • Not finding the right time, place, mood, motivation ... Then find it!
  • Losing interest in a book you started reading. Then, read something else, till you have your interest back. Or, forget it if it wasn't worth reading!
  • Having difficulty reading because of style, vocabulary, unfamiliar topics ... Then, keep a handy dictionary or a reference book, and give yourself time to familiarize with the style. Read reviews written on the book and its author; but, if book-reviews, short and simplified versions, or even authors' biographies make you lose interest in reading, then avoid/postpone them and take your time reading the original work. Remember that, in general, poetry, philosophy ... and esoteric subjects are usually read slowly; and books you read at ease have a long-lasting effect, more than books you read in haste. It's always QUALITY, not quantity, that matters.


Techniques during Reading

1. Focus

It's meaningless to read absent-mindedly, just rolling your eyes between words like a lifeless machine, dumb animal or illiterate person. Not before long the words in front of you will lose life, while you are struggling to imagine the simplest, easiest of them, and ending up repeating some like a mantra, monotonously and hypnotically, that you can't free yourself from. To avoid/escape this "brain numbness" state, fight all causes of distraction and loss of motivation first, to have your interest back and read with passion. Here are techniques to re-concentrate, if you get lost, temporarily, during reading:

  • Stay still! Stillness hones the desire to contemplate. Turn your senses off and play temporarily dead, as the mind naturally acts better and faster in a still relaxed body, gradually losing interest in any addictive urge, physical or emotional, while seeing ideas clearly.
  • Imagine what every word simply means, i.e. what it refers to in real life: a dog is that fluffy friendly animal, a tree is that vertical green object standing out on the ground, etc. This will be very slow in the beginning, but gradually you can imagine what a whole sentence, paragraph, or page refers to, until you get into your mood and normal speed of reading.
  • Relate to what you read, by instantly evoking objects, people, situations, etc., in your life similar to those you are reading about.
  • Argue, question and challenge everything you read, until you agree or disagree with it. If the latter, keep on reading, because you can never agree with everyone on everything in life, and there is always something to learn from everyone (it's a good exercise of tolerance and open-mindedness); or, you may discover you were wrong in the end, and you have to agree with those you had refused to agree with.

2. Develop the right reading habits during reading. Habits are easier repeated than created. Reading habits are acquired gradually, with practice, when the rules of reading become a matter of course, that you automatically, spontaneously follow them without interrupting or spoiling the act of reading. Learn how and when to do the following:

• Pause, to absorb what you have read, share your own thoughts, challenge the author, etc.

• Slow down, to imagine an abstract idea, to keep up with a difficult style or an unfamiliar topic, to pay attention to details that matter to you most, or to relish a part you particularly liked.

• Speed up, for getting a whole concept in non-fiction, without stopping to argue and interrupt your reading (as in a civil conversation, respecting the other party's—the author's—turn, and temporarily seeing the world from their perspective). Speed up in fiction too, when getting a whole picture, and learn how to follow the author's rhythm: it makes no sense to slow down when the writer himself is speeding up like a camera panning an audience, capturing every detail of their clothes, tones, postures, facial expressions, etc. Fiction books should generally be read fast, because their job is to re-create real-life experiences, that mostly happen fast, while including the lessons and morals within.

• Re-read a sentence, paragraph, or page when needed.

• Read non-stop, "eyeing" every word once only, to give a sense of reality to your reading and simulate "everyday life speech," where time cannot be turned back, as in conversation, story-telling, lectures, sermons, audio-books, music ...

• Scan-reading, to get every point, treating all as equally important. This takes time; so find a place in your schedule in advance, and prepare your mood as well.

• Skim-reading, to get the main points. This requires being both fast and alert.

  • Within a page, pay more attention to these sections: introduction, conclusion, and any parts in the middle of particular interest.
  • Within each section, focus on paragraphs at the beginning and end.
  • Within paragraphs, focus on first and last sentences, which are usually more informative.

Train your eyes to follow important and unusual punctuation, as well as graphs, illustrations and pictures, if there were any. A priority should be given, in this order, to the following: subheadings, bold font, quotations, capitalization, italics, plus any unique punctuation.

On the other hand, ignore information you don't need, at least temporarily until you get the general picture: references, proper nouns, stats, and irrelevant/unnecessary stylistic effects, layout, ads, links, messages, etc.

• Close-reading by stopping at a certain part to analyze (i.e. "zoom in" visually and mentally). This requires having the time, purpose for such interruption, and flexibility to go back again to normal speed and other parts, moving from specific details to the whole picture, whether one is an amateur or a researcher. It also includes some other techniques within: pausing, slowing down, speeding up ... whose use is decided by the purpose or idea particularly followed. Close-reading is done by the following:

  • Analyze syntax, punctuation, vocabulary, setting (place, time, characters ...), and context in relationship to other parts.
  • Get maximum details, mentioned casually or intentionally, explicit or implicit, as a whole or in fragments, scattered or organized ... then put the pieces together in a coherent way.
  • Get enough background about the author and topic before or during your close-reading, to give value to your final finding.

• Search for some points only. This has become easy thanks to statistics and search tabs in browsers, and to internet search engines in general. It's vital to learn advanced searching basics to fully benefit from such tools. As in skim-reading, focus on what you need only, lest you get carried away by subjects you don't want; the latter can be very addictive and time-consuming, especially that many websites use every possible advertising technique to seduce visitors.

• Skip reading by moving to a different part from that you are reading, that can be more interesting, then go back to the first part again. Sometimes you familiarize with and get interested in a part, after you know what it is about and how it ends. You may lose some of the reading pleasure, natural order and element of surprise, but this helps you temporarily re-concentrate and have your motivation back (better than stopping reading altogether).

• Read while reading something else simultaneously, or consecutively (finishing a section here, then a section there). This could be another book or article with a related topic; a dictionary, reference book or search engine to verify or learn more about a certain detail; an audiovisual material supporting the subject, etc. This technique is needed now more than ever, because we read mostly online with a multitude of resources a click away from our hand, that we cannot but choose and benefit from, but not at the expense of the main topic at hand, and without getting lost and wasting time. Thus, we must know "in advance" what we need to learn exactly. (Some works/parts must be read as WHOLES first, without interruption, postponing any further "investigation" until later. Reading shouldn't degenerate into mere "checking-out"; nor writing into "blogging" and diaries.)

• Read while doing something else: writing, taking notes, or something totally different, like listening to music, humming, singing, eating, playing, etc., according to your mood and ability to concentrate, the level of concentration the book itself deserves, and its possible combinations with other learning tools, audio-visual and otherwise.

• Use your body: Read aloud, moving, walking ... if you are bored, sleepy, or unable to focus. However, once you have your interest and focus back, it's better to read silently, with minimal body movement, tension and sensual distraction.

3. Decide when to stop reading a book altogether, temporarily or permanently. Don't be obsessed with finishing books or the act of reading itself. Your objective is knowledge, not reading: whether by reading whole books, sections of books, articles, stories; or by meditating, imagining, arguing, writing, working, meeting people, discovering the world, etc. We naturally get a sense of achievement (thus, a rush of endorphins) when we finish doing something (reading a book, washing the dishes, clipping our fingernails, etc.), however silly or meaningful what we are doing is. So to enjoy a true sense of achievement, we'd better spend enough time first choosing a book we can finish, that deserves reading from cover to cover.


Techniques after Reading

1. Once you finish reading, don't forget to have bookmarks of where you stopped reading last, lest you waste time searching for it again, re-reading what you have already read, or missing out what you "should have" read.

2. Keep track of all the books you have read, or at least the important ones. If possible, take notes of what you have learned most, so you may easily remember it afterwards (with computer all such work is much easier now, compared to how messy and time-consuming it was in the past). Otherwise, if some books were read for diversion or a temporary purpose, or were just unworthy books, then there is no need for notes, but keeping a record won't hurt (at least to remind you not to read them again). This is more challenging with short works, articles and online reading, where one keeps grass-hopping the web, simultaneously searching for, filtering and collecting data. However, again, thanks to technology, with one click you can save all the articles you need, their addresses, or just the name of work and author to track later.

3. Memorize

Repeat to yourself all the notes you took during reading or the lines you highlighted, casually, later while you are "mentally" relaxed. They are the sum of all you read, so they are worth memorizing. Memorization should be the final step of learning, crowning all previous steps, and preceding application to real life.

4. Experiment

  • Visit places and people you read about, if needed, to compare reality with books, or just to help your memory store the data it has acquired by some sensual support, pleasure or relaxation that your mind deserves after all the intellectual work it has done (not to mention resting and sleeping well to consolidate all the data it received during the day).
  • Make experiments on a theoretical part you read (as in most natural sciences).
  • Practice a law or formulae you learned, by taking many tests, solving many questions and puzzles on it, till you master it.

5. Write

Writing is a good test of how much you understood from reading. You can write a review of a book, notes on it, ideas it inspired, etc. Write to yourself, or to others you want to share thoughts with. In the latter case, you become more motivated and responsible, knowing your thoughts can influence other people too.

6. Share

Share views with people whose opinion matters to you. Discuss together the work you have read, or related works. With the internet you can do this even with strangers, who can still be like-minded and useful. However, don't get carried away by socializing, on line or off line. Remember  that your objective is KNOWLEDGE.

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In all the above, never forget that whatever list you make should be within the larger "List of Priorities" of your life. Reading is only one activity to maximize one's life experience and enjoy it to the full.


Books for Autodidacts

Reading Fiction

Learning Motivation

Intellectual Pleasure