3 Steps to Getting More Out of Your Reading

Day 3 of the New York Times “Be a Better Reader in 7 Days” challenge is to “Read More Deeply”. Sounds great, right? There’s just one question: how?

The first couple of times I heard or read the phrase “read deeply”, I thought it sounded like a great idea. Get more out of what I read? Sign me up! The problem was that I had no idea how to read deeply. What did that even mean?

I had to figure out how to get more out of my reading on my own; you don’t have to. Here are 3 steps you can take today to get more out of your reading:

Step 1: Comprehend

What does it say?

Most of the suggestions in the “Be a Better Reader” challenge are geared toward this step. Slow down; reread; look up words you don’t understand. Depending on what kind of book you’re reading, here are some other things you can try to make sure you understand what’s going on in your book:

  • Look up unfamiliar locations on a map (or, if the book includes a map, refer to it).
  • Write a one-sentence summary of each chapter.
  • How would you describe the main character (or the narrator)? What kind of a person is he/she?
  • If you’re reading fiction, predict: what do you think will happen next?

Step 2: Interpret

What does it mean?

During this step, you’re trying to answer one question: what does the author want me to take away from this book? Even in fiction, you can often find a message the author is trying to communicate, a reality about life or about human nature that they want you to think about.

If you’re really studying a book, you can spend a long time on this step, rereading and paying attention to the details in the book. Most of the time, though, we don’t have that much time to spend on a book. Here are a few relatively quick strategies you can use to figure out what the author is trying to say:

  • Save quotes that catch your attention. If you own the book, you can highlight or underline; if not (or if you don’t like writing in your books), use a sticky note or a book dart to mark the spot.
  • Once you finish the book, flip through it again and look at the quotes you saved. (This usually takes less than 10 minutes.) Think about what deeper truth the quotes might be pointing to.
  • If you’ve been summarizing each chapter, look over those summaries and see if there are any “threads” running through them that might relate to the book’s theme.
  • If you’re reading nonfiction, try to summarize the message of the whole book in a single sentence.

Sometimes, you’ll find a theme; sometimes, you won’t. But by looking, you’ll be reading more deeply than if you didn’t try to begin with.

Step 3: Apply

What does it mean to me?

You know what the book says. You know the main point the author was focusing on. There’s just one more question you need to answer: Why does it matter?

Some books leave you with concrete steps the author wants you to take in response to his or her message. Others inspire you to live your life a little differently in response to them. For some books, it’s not the message of the whole book that impacted you but a single memorable quote. Sometimes it’s not what the book says; the feeling it left you with that impacts you and makes you see the world in a different light.

Regardless of how a book affected you, here are some steps you can take to figure out why it matters and what it means to you:

  • Talk about the book. You could discuss it with a friend who’s read it as well, or you could try to explain to someone who hasn’t read it why it made an impact on you.
  • Save a quote. If there was a quote from the book that impacted you, write it out and put it somewhere you’ll see it often (on the cover of a notebook or journal; on a sticky note on your wall; on a whiteboard; taped to your mirror; on your fridge at eye level; etc.).
  • Write about it. Putting your thoughts into words is a great way to clarify exactly what those thoughts are. I do this in my journal or on this blog; pick a medium that’s convenient and works for you.
  • Choose a next step. What is one small thing you can do or change you can make in your life in response to the book?

Not all of these suggestions will be appropriate for every book, but you can usually adapt some version of them to get more out of whatever book you are reading.

I’ve love to hear your perspective: have you tried any of these strategies to read more deeply? Do you have any other tips for getting more out of your reading? Let me know in the comments below!

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *