Books: To Buy or Not to Buy

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“The ideal library symbolizes everything a society stands for. A society depends on its libraries to know who it is because libraries are society’s memory.” Manguel, Alberto. A Reader on Reading. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2010. Kindle loc 4729.

“The ideal library (like every library) holds at least one line that has been written exclusively for you.” (Manguel loc 4759)

I could’ve titled this post “Confessions of a Bookstore Junkie.” I go every chance I get, but I’m not a collector. I even try to visit bookstores on vacation. For example, in March I get to go to New York and plan to visit Strand and in June, if the trip goes as planned, I will visit Shakespeare and Company while in Paris. I order books online and use a kindle/nook but still find myself going to bookstores on the off-chance I might make a discovery.

My library card is current, but I tend to move toward book ownership rather than book borrowing. Buying books forces you into giving the author the requisite commitment through investment. Borrowing books gets you into the library which you should learn to use anyway.

Borrowing books from friends is a third option. To lend means to risk the owner won’t return your book with your notes and with your memories written in the margins. To borrow may mean you see the book through the lender’s eyes first.

Search for books by looking “through the review sections of newspapers and magazines, talking to friends about their favorite books, whenever you meet someone in an interesting profession ask them, check out acknowledgments, blurbs and bibliographies of books you do like, read a collection of essays to try out different authors, read a book about books, search the internet, go to author websites, search for listervs, chat online about books, and go to libraries and bookstores!” Dirda, Michael. Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Kindle,  loc 1547.

Ready access to books is a relatively new phenomena. “We take books and mass literacy for granted, but in reality, they are a recent iteration, going back not even a millennium.” Ulin, David L. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time. Seattle, WA: Sasquatch, 2010. Kindle loc 62. Books were never easier to get your hands on. Amazon offers thousands of books for free online and Project Gutenberg touts 38,000 in free ebooks. An iPad/iPhone app offers free books as well.

I don’t care how you get books, but give yourself multiple options and an opportunity for chance discovery. Getting books into your reading pipeline should be a comfortable experience.

The world is your “ideal library.” Buy or Borrow, there is no reasonable excuse not to find a book you love.

For further reading, consider Amarie Fox’s essay on The Ethics of Buying Books.

Photo: Some rights reserved by the pale side of insomnia.

Embrace Your Inner Weird: Read Something Not on the Best-Sellers List

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“I’m interested in this sort of weird, people who have chosen to avoid conforming to the masses, at least in some parts of their lives.” We Are All Weird The Myth of Mass and the End of Compliance. Amazonencore, 2011. Kindle.

We Are All Weird reminds me of the attitude you see in places like Austin and San Francisco where the goal’s to be just a little more weird or weird in a little different way. Austin, TX feels weird. Some stores embrace the idea and sell this “weirdness” by planting the slogan on tie dyed T-shirts. Conformity in those places requires you to be weird. This goes on in high schools where kids try to stand out and find their own way in life. Students try to develop their own style. Occasionally, someone would go off with an older brother to a concert and come back with a particular new style dress or hair. As adults, we stop this behavior or it at least becomes less extreme.

Godin tends to see the battle ground in marketing as those fighting against the status quo with their declarations of weirdness. The weird form smaller groups, he says, and then go out into the world and show everyone how to be weird. Godin argues that we have a greater opportunity to be weird today than ever because we are all rich enough and have enough time and resources to make choices about what we like.

Godin gives an example, Etsy.com, which allows you to buy anything you can dream up, or, if it isn’t there you can sell it yourself. Geography is no longer a limitation.  We can be weird and listen to weird music and read weird books and dress in weird ways and even eat weird food without having weird stores in our neighborhood.

I say, whether you embrace it in your outward appearance or not, embrace it somewhere deep inside. Read something NOT on the best sellers list and bring it to the table in a discussion. You might inspire the entire group toward a new perspective.

Check-out the “weird” tag on Goodreads if your looking for something truly weird suggestions.

How Do I Read Without Falling Asleep?

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

“Habit makes everything look bland; it is sleep-inducing. Jumping to a different perspective is a way of waking oneself up again.” Bakewell, Sarah. How to Live, Or, a Life of Montaigne : in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. New York: Other, 2010. Loc 3254

We’re all tired. We spend the day in meetings, on email, and on phone calls. They collectively generate fatigue faster than a wind turbine in Abilene, Texas generates electricity. We need tactics to defeat fatigue as it fights against our mind and tries to prevent us from reading. Here are three suggestions:

Tip 1: Ask questions as you read.

Carry on a conversation with your book. When a new character is introduced, ask, who are they? What’s the book about as a whole? What message is the author writing to convey? What are the main ideas or arguments? Is the book true? What’s the book’s importance? These questions apply to everything you read. Reading is a conversation between you and the book. You probably don’t typically fall asleep mid-conversation unless you are narcoleptic. Approach the book in conversation instead of trying to upload it to your mind.

Practice: Pick a book and reread 10 pages. Read as slowly as you can tolerate. Take two minutes and think about the questions the book raises.

Tip 2: Read with a pencil in your hand.

Marking a book creates dialogue between yourself and the author. If you can imagine a mark, you can use it. There are no hard and fast rules. Highlight, make a vertical line at the margin to mark a block of text, make a star or asterisk (use this on the books top ten statements), number sequential points in the margin, write the number of other pages where the author makes the same point (cf – page # where same idea is discussed to mean compare to or refer to), circle key words or phrases, write in the margin or in any blank space you can find to record your own thoughts or otherwise take notes, and take notes in the front or end of the book after a complete reading to take ownership of your reading (simple as an outline or as complicated as your argument against the author’s position) (Adler and Van Doren loc 859).

Make the notes work for you. Develop your own system. Apply active reading and you won’t fall asleep. If you do, you risk  jabbing a pencil in your eye.

Practice: Find a pencil on amazon.com, at a local store, or in a utility drawer. Ensure it makes a fine line. You have selected your reading pencil. Keep it with your books and with you whenever you read any way other than superficially. Pick a book and read 10 pages. Write in the margin any question raised while reading and try to underline any line that interests or impacts you. For now, don’t worry about why the portion you underline sticks out to you.

Tip 3: Tackle books beyond you.

To stay awake while you read you need encouragement. Challenge is a form of encouragement if you can avoid frustration. The more you tackle books beyond your current reading ability the more you learn about life. The ultimate goal is pleasure, but books please by helping you realize something new. Challenge yourself and concentrate

When I suggest a challenge I don’t mean immediately jump into the most difficult book you can imagine. Look at reading like a ladder. Climb the first rung before you progress to the top. There is no shame in reading something you understand most of with a little effort.

Practice: Is the book you’re reading challenging you? What would be a step up in difficulty, one rung up the ladder?

Do you have any tips for avoiding sleep while you read?

Bonus Advice: I’ve been surprised by how popular this archived post continues to be so I want to add a few more things to tips, some of which have been suggested in the comments as well.

(1) Read standing up. You could create a makeshift standing desk. Google “Standing Desk.”
(2) Read out loud. Find a place where you can verbalize the text without embarrassment. Buy a cheap recording device or use your phone to record yourself and then you can listen to the audio before bed.
(3) Read on a treadmill or stationary bike. Read while you exercise.
(4) Read for short bursts and sprint (run outside or in place for a short time) in between.
(5) Read with others. Find a study partner and take turns reading back and forth to one another. Make a pact to poke the partner if they doze off.

See these two posts about reading with a partner or loved one: Reading and Writing in Relationships: How Partners Encourage Learning and Enjoyment ; How Reading Can Improve Your Love Life; Why Reading Should be a Shared Activity.

(6) If you try all these and fail I recommend you seek the help of a trained medical professional. You may have a treatable medical condition.

Photo by Paul Jarvis.

20 Things You Can Do Today to Become a Better Reader Without Leaving the House

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Reading isn’t a hobby that tends to break the bank. In fact, with a library card you can do it for next to nothing. Sometimes, though, taking a positive step toward identifying yourself as a reader makes all the difference. Runners don’t need much, but they buy shoes. Writers don’t need much but they use a laptop, notebook, and pens.

Even aside from gear, you can take positive steps today to be a better reader from the comfort of your own home.

20 suggestions (many of these links are referral links meaning the site gets a few pennies if you purchase using it):

1. Buy a pencil to hold in your hand while you read. Maybe this one?

2. Buy a Reading Journal. Ever owned a moleskin?

3. Buy a Book from Amazon.

4. Find a book around the house that you bought, but never read. Read 10 pages. Everybody owns at least one, right?

5. Set up a reading room or area where you can read in peace. Preferably a room without a TV.

6. Subscribe to a reading blog.

7. Set your alarm clock 15 minutes early so you can read before work.

8. Buy an e-reading device like a Kindle or Nook.

9. Talk to your significant other about reading or about a book you just read.

10. Read a book to your children.

11. Pick a short poem you can read as a warm-up before every reading session.

12. Try to create a reading mantra that you read or say to yourself from memory before you sit down to read.

13. Do a yoga workout so you can maintain good reading posture next time you read.

14. Memorize a poem or quote to share with a co-worker.

15. Search for an author you heard mentioned recently on Wikipedia.

16. Subscribe to a magazine or newspaper that shares book reviews.

17. Buy a reading lamp on Amazon.com

18. Order a reading snack on Amazon.com so you can read without hunger pains.

19. Buy a set of noise canceling headphones so you can read when you can’t escape the TV.

20. Follow a writer you are reading or may want to read on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

Of course, I’ve omitted the obvious which is to read.

I’m sure you can add to the list. Remember the rules. You have to be able to take some action today and you can’t leave home. Have some fun with it. Leave a comment if you have a suggestion.

A Non-Reader’s Call to Action

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

A third (one out of three) of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. Forty-two (42%) percent of college graduates never read another book after college. Eighty percent (80%) of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. (Source: Jenkins Group)

What are we doing? Watching reality TV? We sure aren’t reading.

Those statistics have to change. Do those statistics explain the reason some people still think dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time as man? Maybe.

Most reading blogs are for young readers or teachers. I suspect many of you are neither, like me. We all should read, not only teachers and students.

We need a reading revolution. After the Gutenberg press a reading revolution occurred. E-reading devices (Kindle, Nook, iPad) have the same potential. Let’s create a new reading Renaissance. Stop anticipating the end of the world and start understanding the world.

I went to high school and read as assigned. I went to college and read for grades. I went to law school and read fearing I would be called on to participate. I plead guilty to reading for the wrong reasons. Recently, I started reading because I love it and I want to share the experience.

Humans innately strive to understand the world so we can make sense of our lives. Reading is an essential way to do this. Not the only way, but an essential way.

Read for reasons other than a grade. Read to make life worth living. Start to read motivated by life instead of tests and you will enjoy it. Reading doesn’t invoke the same psychic scream it did in school.

Other blogs talk about books and review books but few focus on the art of reading. I’m not about to start prescribing reading material. Ideas about what you want to read? Focus on those ideas and run with them. We will probably talk about some books, but if you don’t want to read them, don’t.

Did you know there are funny books? Read humor if that’s your cup of tea. I don’t care as long as you’re reading.

Weigh in on a conversation, educated. Arm yourself by reading.

I know there’s a book you dream of reading, admit it to yourself.

Do you regret going through school doing the bare minimum, even if you made the grades? Do you regret having given no book a chance other than to understand the cliff notes version and pass a test? I did.

Ever failed at reading a book? We all fail! Get over it and move on like a professional.

Does TV fill your entertainment hours like high fructose corn syrup fills your belly? Shit-can it, at least until you get your reading done.

Do you think you can learn it all from YouTube or TV or class lectures? Wrong. You need books to converse with the truly great minds of all-time.

You will gradually come into reading like you would gradually prepare to run a particular distance like a marathon.

I realize magazines review books, but the problem isn’t finding a book. You aren’t reading at all or enough or the right way. Other readers develop opinions about books, but I bet you have opinions. Don’t live life regurgitating the opinion you hear. Form your own.

4 simple rules:

1. Read what you want to read.

2. Learn what you want to learn.

3. Write about it if the mood strikes you.

4. Do it every day.

As a reader you need to stop making excuses based on age, pace, or time. You have time. I reject the other excuses.

No hidden agendas allowed. Don’t start out reading to impress other people. Read for yourself and for pleasure.

As a rule attitudes are justifiers of behavior rather than causes of it. This means you need to start thinking of yourself as a reader today. Now.

Achievement motivates so set a goal, say 10 pages a day and stick with it.

Take time to reflect and see how far you’ve come. It may help to track your reading progress so you  visualize it.

You are a reader. You began the journey the minute you found this blog. Ride the momentum. That’s the new challenge. You have already begun.

Each day share your reading experience. Don’t flaunt it, but share it, so people know it’s important to you.

Joseph Campbell says, “a hero is someone able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations.” Step up to the plate and accept the role.

Be Superficial (When it Comes to Reading): How to Make a First Reading of a Book

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Try not to think of reading as simply uploading data, because if you think this way reading will always seem too slow. Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Kindle loc 946.

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”  Bacon, Francis. Of Studies … San Francisco, 1928. Print.

“[A] first encounter with a worthwhile book is never a complete encounter, and we are usually in error to make it a final one.” (Jacobs loc 1681)

“You don’t read for understanding, you read for excitement. Understanding is a product of excitement.” Marvin Mudrick from Dirda, Michael. Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Print.

This article is about how to make a superficial reading or first reading of a book you’ve only just encountered. Read the first time for pleasure, don’t worry about misunderstandings, and if necessary you can always read it again for deeper understanding.

Reading a difficult book for the first time means you will miss beautiful language or wonderful dialogue between characters. You may even miss words’ meanings or references to places or predecessors’ books. Commit to a reading without stopping to look-up or ponder the people, places, and things you do not understand right away. Commit to a first reading without worrying whether you “get it.” Instead, absorb the story. Commit to the story and characters emotionally.

You’ve probably never been taught to read superficially. Instead, teachers preached about dictionaries and you probably resorted to study guides to force feed meaning. Reading with constant interruption is not proper for a first reading. Studying to get through a test is not a leisure activity you will come back to daily. Adler, Mortimer J., and Doren Charles. Van. How to Read a Book: the Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972. Print. p. 36. Break away from your schoolgirl mentality. Reading and studying are not the same. Some of you stopped reading for this reason. You equate reading with studying. Studying is labor. I want you to get caught up in the art of reading. Since reading for pleasure isn’t taught it will take practice to learn to read this way. Make a concentrated effort to read a book with no ulterior motive. Fight your urge to study it, for now.

I hear you saying, “you mean you expect me to read this book twice?” Remember the goal. Consuming book after book is not it. I am challenging you to commit to a lifetime filled with pleasurable reading. To commit, you must first realize  a book may take more than one reading. Huge point! You will hear great readers echoing this as they scream it in empty hypothetical libraries.

Ok, I decided to commit to a first reading. How fast should I read

Over time you will learn to vary your reading speed according to the degree of understanding in your sights and according to the material’s difficulty. With a superficial reading or first reading, read as fast or as slow as you can without stress. Use a first reading as quiet contemplative time. The reading highway doesn’t display a minimum speed sign. There’s no universally right speed. Exercise freedom and find your comfort level. Do not read as fast as you possibly can. Instead, learn to read at the appropriate speed given the circumstance and read fast when you can and slow when you want or must.

Why should I plan to come back to a book at all?

First, an introduction to a man named Seneca. Born around Jesus’ time, according to most historical accounts, Seneca suffered from severe asthma. This meant he spent time with books and philosophical thought.  Despite his sickly nature, Seneca became wealthy and rose to political power. Much of Seneca’s work is designed to explain his position on wealth and to establish a recommendation as to how to behave toward wealth. Seneca advocated Stoicism.  At its heart, Stoicism is a practical philosophy which emphasizes the importance of an individual’s action as opposed to a focus on his words.

Seneca interests us because he encouraged studying one wonderful book intensely. He thought you could get more from approaching one book wholeheartedly than you can from skimming the surface in both thought and effort with many books.  Seneca viewed interaction with books the way the best readers do. I want to introduce you to the idea here, but we will come back to this. To Seneca, wisdom does not necessarily come from the book alone but from your own thoughts about the book truly expressed.

Ready access to numerous titles at bookstores, libraries, and even instant online access and purchase power makes books more accessible today than ever before.  Google, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon all make books available for free online.  Habitual consumption is an easy trap to fall into. You are the proverbial “kid in the candy store!”

Seneca says, we should make ourselves a great author’s true student and then spend energy on creative reading rather than the consumptive pursuit of the next book you get your hands on.

Committing to re-reading books is mandatory to come to the understanding Seneca recommends. Re-reading will appear again and again as we consider the world’s great readers’ advice. For now, allow a book to sweep you off your feet and carry you where it wants. React to a book as a feather reacts to the wind. Read knowing pop quizzes are yesterday’s news.

Start a Reading List or Remain Listless

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“[A] list of books that you reread is like a clearing in the forest: a level, clean, well-lighted place where you set down your burdens and set up your home, your identity, your concerns, your continuity in a world that is at best indifferent, at worst malign. Since you, the reader, are that hero of modern literature, the existential loner, the smallest denominator of moral force, it behooves you to take counsel, sustenance, and solace from the writers who have been writing about you these hundred or give hundred years, to sequester yourself with their books and read and reread them to get a fix on yourself and a purchase on the world that will, with luck, like the house in the clearing, last you for life.” Sissman from Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Kindle loc 1696.

“Systematic reading is of little help. Following an official book list, may, by chance, throw up a useful name, as long as we bear in mind the motives behind the lists. But the best guides, I believe, are the reader’s whims….” Manguel, Alberto. A Reader on Reading. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2010. Kindle loc 217.

For some reading purists, lists are shit and you should read for pure pleasure. I look at lists like a road map, not a tally sheet. A “have read” list gives you reading sense, like a compass might with direction, and can inspire new reading suggestions. A “to read” list assures there’s reading material waiting in the pipeline. Don’t let me confuse you, the list is not a mandate. I can promise you will never find yourself without something to read next if you create a list. Understand though, you should always read for interest, in the moment, to ensure enjoyment.

I used to live trying to remember it all.  As I get older, I realize my memory is far from perfect. I do not want my memory to disappear, but I expect decline. I credit Total Recall  for giving me the idea to create a book list. Bell, C. Gordon., and Jim Gemmell. Total Recall: How the E-memory Revolution Will Change Everything. New York: Dutton, 2009. Print. Life gets more digital daily. As Mr. Bell and Mr. Gemmell correctly conclude, our ability to save and store unlimited information, including digital video, for future use will mean total recall.  So how does this idea apply to a book list?

I recommend you start a note-taking system if for no other reason than to allow your family and friends to see your reading experience.

I use Evernote so I can get to the list anywhere I access the internet. At year-end and year beginning I look back and reflect on the books I read and make a plan for the coming year. I can’t remember as well as I used to and I find reflection easier with a list’s guidance. I don’t use the list as a syllabus to structure the books I must read in the new year. I keep the list for myself alone so it looks ugly.

You might decide to keep a reading calendar instead. I wish I started keeping a calendar earlier. I could have used it as a task organizer and to-do list, but also as a diary. Google calendar gives you this ability. On a day ten years down the road you will want this information and be unable to recall it on your own. Could you write down the book’s title on a calendar? Google calendar’s search function means if you consistently use a key in the event title like [reading list] or even [RL] you can search for the unique character set and generate a list from your calendar.

Even remembering the book’s title can bring back the book’s grip and potentially a crucial idea you took from the book. You can experience the initial reading again before you decide to re-read. Today we read from so many sources like the library, Kindle, and physical book stores, remembering means doing more than looking up at your bookshelf from your chair.

What will you value enough to want to pass it on to your relatives? I think as you get older you will find value the knowledge and experience you acquired the most. You can use a list to share to share your reading experience instantly, and the minute you learn a lesson you can pass on,you will find yourself truly inspired. If you’re list allows you to connect with a niece or nephew or son or daughter then it is worthwhile. Let this project be your first practice creating a digital legacy.

Start a reading list using Evernote or Google Calendar to catalogue your reading. Make one list books you “have read” and one list books you want “to read.” Throughout these lessons I may offer options. Pause. Think about your preference. If a reader insists they possess the reading holy grail, another reader is shouting contradictory instruction over their shoulder. Let preference guide you. List? No list? Evernote? Google Calendar? Something else? Decide what works for you.

Skimming the Surface

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“To be succesful today, it not only becomes necessary to skim but it becomes essential to skim well.” Shreeharsh Kelkar taken from Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Kindle, loc 1459.

“I learned at a very early age that unless you are reading for some purpose other than pleasure you can safely skim over difficult quagmires, cut your way through tangled jungles, skip the solemn and boring lowlands, and simply let yourself be carried by the vigorous stream of the tale.” Manguel, Alberto. A Reader on Reading. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 2010. Kindle, loc 127.

According to my dictionary, the word skim comes from the word scum. If I wanted I could play with words and suggest skimming the surface detects scum sitting on the surface.  As appetizing as I find the relationship I prefer to stop my etymological analysis at “skimming the surface,” barely touching the substance beneath. Suffice it to say the ways to approach a book differ depending on the level of understanding you want to achieve. Even a brilliant reader doesn’t roll through Finnegan’s Wake without having to pause and reflect. On the other hand, most adults could probably read Pinnochio and understand the basic plot.

Adler and Van Doren describe four basic approaches to reading, each requiring a different time commitment and all producing a different understanding (Adler and Van Doren 16). Consider the four approaches: (1) Elementary Reading; (2) Inspectional Reading; (3) Analytical Reading; (4) Syntopical Reading (Adler and Van Doren 17-19). We will progress to Syntopical reading assuming Elementary reading mastery as our starting point. If this all sounds like a foreign language, don’t worry. We will take each step at a time and its not as complicated as it sounds.

Systematic Skimming, Pre-Reading, or Inspectional Reading (All names meaning the same)

Skimming is a methodical way to learn the most information about a book given a limited time commitment. From there you can decide if you want to spend anymore time with it. Skimming involves asking yourself questions to get the book’s gist while understanding some books will reveal more from a thorough reading.

Do you even want to read the book?

Why do you think you want to read the book?

Look at the title page and preface.

What’s the book’s type and do others cover the same subject?

Look at the table of contents.

Ask yourself the same questions again?

Do I want to read this book?

Why do I want to read this book?

Read the blurb (the publisher’s summary on the book’s back or on the book’s jacket).

Which chapter piques your curiosity or seems important to explain why you want to read the book?

Read the summary paragraph for the chapter, if possible.

Randomly select two other paragraphs to scan.

Brave and willing to risk spoiling the ending? Read the book’s last two pages.

(Adler and Van Doren 32)

You can perform this work mentally and with practice you won’t even find it necessary to refer back to these questions.  You probably already skim to a degree every time you go to the bookstore, but doing this systematically allows you to efficiently make an introduction to the book. For reference, at the grocery store shoppers skip to the back label for the information conveniently condensed there and make a purchase decision. There are no nutritional labels on books and book publishers sometimes lie on the blurbs. To keep them honest make an inspectional reading.

I skim to find out if I want to read the book. Bookstores and libraries expose you to books you can skim. Technologies like Amazon.com also offer to deliver free samples to your Kindle. With the samples you can skim a book’s table of contents and the first thirty or so pages lying on your couch.

Find a familiar book and skim it or find a new interesting looking book and skim it by asking the series of questions above. Write down one thing you learned from skimming the book you didn’t know about the book before you skimmed it. Write down two questions skimming the book brought to mind. Follow this process with any new book. Expect to ask more questions while skimming than you answer.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. For me, memory lane leads to a cul-de-sac with Paulsen’s Hatchet at the dead-end. I  read it as an adult and I still enjoy it, but as a child I remember wanting to live it. I even convinced my parents to buy a hatchet from a campground gift shop. I acted out the adventure, stranded with only the hatchet to survive. Silly, I know, but the book cast its spell. Paulsen set out with a simple motivation, write a page turning story. The story worked on me. Brian Robeson narrates. Faced with divorcing parents, initially, the book progresses and a survival tale engulfs the domestic anxiety. Brian’s pilot’s heart seizes up, the plane goes down, and Brian survives alone for many days. Brian’s mistakes could have killed him. Instead, combined luck, brilliance, and patience keep him alive. His survival spawns new confidence.

I enjoyed reading Hatchet because I identified with Brian. We shared an approximate age and affinity for the outdoors and the independence it represented. I liked hatchets and possessed the desire to test myself with it. There the similarities ended, but the book’s grip hardened like cement. I offer advice forged in my experience with Hatchet. Identify fearlessly with a core character or idea. Reading for entertainment requires feather-like reflexes. Literary critics can’t risk getting swept away, but for a reader, like yourself, you live for the experience of floating like a feather in the narrative.Come up with a book related memory. Were you reading? Were you being read to? Maybe someone recited a story or poem from memory?

It’s time to wake up the memory if you have one. If not, read on.

No pleasant reading memory? You can develop a pleasant reading memory with a little effort. Troubled because you think you just don’t like to read? Relax, you can blame your childhood if you want.  An adult pressuring you into reading may have accidentally inhibited your reading progress. A child forced into reading before they are ready may carry over her dislike for the experience into later school work and even into adult life. Adler, Mortimer J., and Doren Charles. Van. How to Read a Book: the Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972. Print, 24. This means you are excused from your reading past. Now, commit to plod forward.

Apprehension toward reading shouldn’t last forever. You can retrain your brain.The brain isn’t a hard-wired circuit board, it’s more akin to moldable plastic. For our purposes, neuroplasticity means we can strengthen through repetition of physical or mental activity into a habit. For all the mental flexibility we can end up locking ourselves into rigid behavior, even negative behaviors. 14. Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. New York: Oxford UP, 2011, Kindle loc 1349.  Just as easily as we create negative rigid behavior, though, we can create new positive rigid behavior through consistent practice. No matter your reading past, your brain physically changes after weeks of reading. You can actually re-wire your brain to make reading every day easier if you consistently practice.

Have you ever enjoyed reading a book? Ever lost time while reading? Write down the name of the book and the author in your journal or Evernote. Share the name of the book in the comments if you prefer. Whether you have ever enjoyed reading a book or not commit to a regular reading plan you design. Can you read 10 pages a day for two weeks? Remember to read them slowly, with a pencil, and ask questions as you read.

The 14th reading day will be easier than the first week as you mold positive rigid behavior.

Photo: Some rights reserved by ajvin.

Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of You, the Reader.

This is an essay by Brandon Monk.

The hardest step is committing to the habit. Just like running a marathon, you will need to mentally prepare to accomplish your reading goal. To ease into the habit try starting with a simple initial goal. Set a goal of reading for five minutes or for five pages. Make the goal so small that you will consider yourself foolish and lazy if you don’t find the time to get the reading done. Also, start calling yourself a reader. Tweet about reading and mention me @readlearnwrite and we’ll get a conversation about reading going. I’d love to hear of your reading exploits.

Around 1954 a psychologist named Julian B. Rotter studied a variable called “internal locus of control.” Having a high internal locus of control means you think you control your own life.  He studied it for years and published a study along these lines. Rotter, J.B. (1966). “Generalized expectancies of internal versus external control of reinforcements”. Psychological Monographs 80 (609).  He found the higher your internal locus of control, the more you control your behavior. If you think you can control your life then you can more easily actually control your life. So, flip the internal switch to reader. The switch is more important than any other step you will take. You are a reading architect. Only two obstacles keep you from becoming a reader: (1) a physical disability (and even most disabilities overcome these days) or (2) your own negative attitude toward reading. You should work to develop an internal locus of control with regard to reading. You control your own reading destiny.

Who: Who do you want to learn from? What do you want to master? What do you want your reading to enable?  Define your reading goals. What will you look like as a reader in a year? Will you read every day? Will you read all you want? Start to think about your reading goals. You should even consider introducing yourself to a friend or family member as a reader.  Identify yourself to others as a reader to strengthen your internal locus of control.

What: What do you want to read? Sure, you read blogs, you’re reading this one, but your insides stir with a substantive reading goal. What brought you to this point? To read better, but in what way? Do you want to learn to read with more depth and value? A goal exists. Write it down and make it concrete.  Buy a journal or scrounge one up from the storage bin and take notes as you work through this guide.  What reading equipment might you need? Would it help to go out and buy a tool to use to identify yourself as a reader?

I suspect your note taking habits will change over time. Embrace the learning process and adapt as you go.

Where: Where can you read comfortably? What room or chair works best? Do you read better with noise reduction head phones? Can you read supine without falling asleep? Use this community, or at least, use me (readlearnwrite@gmail.com), as your reading support system.

When: When do you read? Every day–for life–you should read. What if you only read 10 pages a day for the next 365 days? You will read 3,650 pages you didn’t read last year.  You will want to do much more after a month. For now, though, do you read in the morning or evening? Give it some thought. When would you give the book your full attention? Do not focus on speed. Read as slow as you can tolerate. When can you read without the world pushing you another direction?

Why: The fates drove you to this point. They want you to read about them. You found this blog. An attractive cosmic rule is in effect. Don’t fight the urge. Why do you want to read?

How: How do I become a better reader? Check back at least once a week and you’ll get some new ideas or some new motivation. Come back for renewal on a daily basis if you will benefit. Use the blog as positive reinforcement or a kickstart. Use me for reinforcement if that suits you: readlearnwrite@gmail.com.

Start to define yourself as a reader. Answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of You, the Reader, on your own. Journal your definition. Design your future reading self.  Ask for support when you need it. Everyone here wants to help because we want you to be part of our discussion about reading when you’re ready.

Photo by Paul Jarvis.