Say “Literary Grace” Through Quiet Post-Reading Contemplation

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“There is no better way of coming to be aware of what one feels oneself than by trying to recreate in oneself what a master has felt. In this profound effort it is our own thought itself that we bring out into the light, together with his.” Proust from Edmundson, Mark. Why Read? New York: Bloomsbury, 2004. Print, p. 106.

We plod through books without taking time to stop and reflect. Rapid transition without taking the time to let an idea settle in  means you are not getting as much out of a book as you could have had you given it some time to work on you.

Take time to be grateful for what you receive from a book. You may do that by writing to someone and passing on what you learned, through a blog post, or journal entry. Any form of contemplation is acceptable. No matter how you say literary grace, pay as much attention to the reflection as you did to the book.

Religious scholars suggest reading the Qur’an or Bible with contemplation. That idea can be applied to all reading. Here are some tips on practicing contemplative reading:

1. Don’t fight the urge to read slowly.

There is no speed limit or minimum. Read without a page goal. That way, you won’t hesitate to stop mid-sentence to give the author your contemplative attention.

2. Let your mind wander while you read.

Follow the rabbit trails that reading puts before you. There is a reason your interests are taking you that way. Following your interests instead of denying them will make reading pleasurable.

3. Write about what you read.

Journaling is contemplation recorded,. Don’t feel like you have to make all contemplation’s results public. There is no harm in keeping something for yourself.

4. Find quiet.

Just sit for twenty minutes and think of what you’ve read.

5. Contemplation doesn’t necessarily mean worship.

I’m not asking you to spend time worshiping the ground every author you ever read walks on. That is foolish. It is within your discretion to conclude you disagree, but give it some thought and a re-reading before you do.

6. Asking questions that don’t get answered is a form of contemplation.

We have already discussed the benefits of reading with a pencil in your hand and a question on the tip if your tongue, but the point is worth emphasizing. Questions are a form of contemplative thought. Focus on them as you read. The questions that come to mind while reading can serve as the basis for future contemplation. Sometimes new questions arise during contemplation as well.

7. Use logic.

Solid objective reasoning is a valuable tool. Philosophers have perfected it. Borrow their approach as a way of thinking. The key is to approach thought in a systematic way.

8. Use emotion, it’s another tool, don’t discount it.

Emotion spawns energy and excitement. Remember its Latin root is, move. It also should not be abused, however. Let yourself get carried away to a degree but reel yourself back in through the use of logic. See things objectively first, but then play around with your own subjective views of the same subject.

9. Realize you are fallible.

Your fallibility means you just might be wrong. If you keep this in mind you will save yourself the stress caused by holding yourself to an impossible standard.

10. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. If you get no result the first time, keep trying.

Contemplation is a practice. You might not get an immediate benefit or be struck by the proverbial idea lightning bolt, but eventually you will get something out of contemplation if you persevere.

11. For an interesting exercise, try to see the book through the eyes of someone completely different. Create an imaginary character, a polar opposite, if that will help.

Contemplation can be a way to practice perspective shifting. Shift views to see an idea from all angles. Jump to a new set of eyes to experience the same idea in a new way.

What have you been reading? Take 10 minutes to think about what you’ve read without reading a line. Spend another five minutes writing down anything that comes to mind. Has your reflection shed any new light on the book?

Find the time to repeat this process at least as often as you finish a book.

Is the Book You’re Reading “Imaginative Literature?”

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

“From things that had happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.” – Earnest Hemmingway from Dick, Kay. (Ed) Interviews from ‘Paris Review’. Penguin 1972

What is literature?

Works of literature change over time. Their meaning today might not be their meaning tomorrow.

Literature is a higher form of art than ordinary fiction. The label carries great weight.

Literature still has a subjective component. Reasonable minds may differ when deciding which works should carry the label.

Literature has subcategories: poetry, short stories, drama and novels. Not all poetry, short stories, drama, and novels, are literature.

Literature is one of the highest artistic forms.

If you label something literature, that’s fine, but you should be prepared to defend your opinion.

Sometimes, you can define literature by what it is not. Literature is not non-fiction.

Literature is fictional and imaginative.

Literature in one society may not be literature in another.

Literature creates worlds that did not previously exist.

Literature makes us question many things, including, our place in the imaginative world created by it. Similarly, those questions should have some bearing on the world we actually inhabit.

Literature expresses ideas from philosophical schools of thought but it is not philosophy.

Literature can have a political effect but it does not decide who gets what, when, and how. It is free from that burden.

Literature can be defined by prior qualifying works.

Literature will not answer every question, but it will cause you to reflect and develop your own answer to the most important questions.

Works of literature attempt to be beautiful. The more ambitious, the better.

Authors of works of literature want you to think they have written something beautiful and true.

Literature is creative. Literature is unique in some way. It can not only be the sum of what came before it.

Literature will define our time and place for future generations and great literature will have something new to say to those future generations.

Literature has something in it that is personal, yet universally applicable.

Literature has no word count or predetermined page length. It is finished when it is finished.

Literature is ultimately given any meaning by its effect on the reader.

Authors of literature can artificially impose constraints on its creation but only if those constraints foster the creative endeavor.

Don’t be afraid to ask what it is you are reading? Sometimes the author may even be confused about the direction until the end. Be prepared to amend your answer as you read. 

Try it out. Read 10 pages of a book you choose. Were you reading literature? Why do you think so? When you figured this out did you approach the book in a different way or think about it in a new way?

What other criteria do you use to determine if you are reading literature?

Some rights reserved by david__jones

3 Reasons Listening to Audiobooks is as Valuable as Reading and 4 Ways to Get the Most Out of Them

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.

I was asked this week, over a slice of pizza, whether audiobooks “count” as reading. I offered an off the cuff opinion, they do count as reading, but I’ll admit I only partially defended the position at the time. This week, I thought about the question in the context of some recent reading and I want to offer a more vigorous defense of the audiobook.

Three reasons you shouldn’t discount audiobooks completely:

1. Oral tradition is the basis of monotheistic religions.

I recently read Chatwin’s The Songlines. He explores nomadic tradition during a trip to Australia. From the trip he draws some conclusions which don’t necessarily differ from the generally accepted biblical scholar’s opinions. Songlines can be visualized as a “spaghetti of Iliads and Odysseys writhing this way and that in which every episode [is] readable in terms of geology.” Bruce Chatwin. The Songlines. London: Penguin, 1988. Print p. 13. Now, I won’t come close to doing songlines justice but they do creep into my thought process on the subject of audiobooks because they are part of a grand oral tradition that pre-existed  formal written language. By way of additional example, Old Testament literature developed from oral traditions that likely pre-existed written language. Chatwin further concludes, “[t]he more I read the more convinced I became that nomads have been the crankhandle of history, if for no other reason than that the great monotheisms had all of them, surfaced from the pastoral milieu.”

Something great, through influence and creation can come, therefore, from specifically unwritten or oral tradition and stories. No matter your religious affiliation you can’t argue the influence of the Old Testament. Now, poorly written works made into audiobooks will read no better than the written form. They may read worse because it would take longer to finish a poorly written book thereby preventing you from moving on to more pleasurable material. But, well written works made into audiobooks, possibly even written works stemming from an oral history, have value.

2. Homer, the recognized, fictional or non-fictional author of The Iliad and The Odyssey probably never read a book, but instead relied on a tremendous oral tradition.

“Whoever Homer was, we may say confidently this of him: He was not a literary man. He had, I think, never read a book about books, if he ever read a book at all.” Brann, Eva T. H. Homeric Moments: Clues to Delight in Reading the Odyssey and the Iliad. Philadelphia: Paul Dry, 2002. Print p.6. We don’t even know whether The Iliad and The Odyssey were written themselves from the start or “collated  out of many then current stories or lays…” (Brann 5). “In all probability the Iliad and the Odyssey drifted into being gradually, indefinably, more like popular myths than formal literary productions, through the untraceable process of ancient ballads sifting and blending.” Manguel, Alberto. Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography. New York: Atlantic Monthly, 2007. Print p. 1.

We have never, as a literary community, allowed this to influence our opinion of the original work. Having accepted the oral tradition into our literary canon it is ironic a debate would now rage as to whether audiobooks have a place in a reader’s toolbox. The argument makes itself, but if oral tradition educated Homer on human behavior, why can’t we accept the modern incarnation, the audiobook?

3. Audiobooks have practical applications for modern man.

Android, Blackberry, iPod, iPad, iPhone. Millions have one by their head when they go to sleep. If you have one bedside you have access to thousands of free audiobooks. There are limitations, though. It’s hard to mark the margin of an audiobook with your reading pencil. It’s hard to read at varying paces depending on the content. It’s hard to reread a particularly confusing paragraph. Even with those limitations, though, I have found some uses for audiobooks.

4 Ways I Use Audiobooks:

a. Relief for my fatigued eyes.

I read quite a bit and sometimes I even read on an iPad. It’s bad for my eyes, I know. Sometimes, I want to keep reading and my eyes can’t take it. I stare at a computer screen at work and between work life and home life sometimes my eyes start this maddening twitch. Biological feedback signaling my eyes have had enough. Audiobooks can fill a practical need for optical rest.

b. While reading to slow yourself down and give the reading your full sensory attention.

I originally heard a suggestion from a good reader, Norm McDonald. In a tweet, he gave a tip, purchase both the audiobook and the paperback and use both simultaneously. Exterior noise can invade the reading space if you don’t set up barrier for it. Pipe the same noise into your head so you, in effect, have a double sensory dose.

I find the pace slower than I prefer. The expense doubles unless you borrow the audiobooks from a library or find them for free. You have to make sure you get the same edition in both forms if working with a translation, as well. If concentration is an issue, though, and you can’t find a quiet place to read, this provides another option.

c. Before bed.

Ever tried reading a book with your eyes closed? You can’t do it, unless you use an audiobook to send one last sweet image into your head before you sleep. A commonly taught memory trick is to read what you want to remember right before bed. This way the important material operating on your subconscious mind while you sleep. Audiobooks give you a way to do this. For aural learners the benefit could be massive.

d. For poetry and plays.

Poetry is meant to be read out loud so you can hear the cadence and rhythm. Plays are meant to be acted and while an audiobook is not a full action rendition, you can at least hear the spoken dialogue with real emotion. Hearing poetry and hearing plays may actually be preferable to simply reading them in silent isolation. If a live reading or acted play is available it trumps an audiobook reading. Absent a live option, however, you may find yourself exposed to more poetry and theatre than would ordinarily be accessible if you give audiobooks a chance.

Suggested Resources:

4,728 classic audiobooks for less than a cup of coffee.


Do you count audiobooks as reading?

Photo: Some rights reserved by Mulad.

9 Questions Raised By a First Reading of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

This essay was written by Brandon Monk.
Harbach, Chad. The Art of Fielding: a Novel. New York: Little, Brown and, 2011. Print.

Bare bones synopsis that leaves out all the important details: A baseball player with all the requisite natural talent meets a player that helps him put in the work he needs to become a professional. A psychological hiccup makes routine throws from shortstop to first base mental impossible. This threatens his career prospects and eventually the circle of relationships around him. Meanwhile, a male school president falls in love with a much younger male student and must juggle his responsibilities to his school, his daughter, and his new love. Five major characters: Henry, Schwartz, Pella, Affenlight, and Owen bounce in and out of each others presence to create the action.

1. Is love blind to age or must age always play a role in a relationship? p. 363

2. Is there an acceptable or healthy level of co-dependence? In some cases can it help you get through the day a happier person? pp. 203, 241, 293, 302, 408, 421, 509.

3. Psychological problems manifest themselves in physical ways. Can the physical association ever be truly controlled? p. 326

4. How do you handle your birth into privilege when so much value is placed on hard work?

5. What is “The Human Condition” as referenced on p. 257?

6. How do human beings define comfort? p. 290

7. What is the meaning of the powerful scene involving the earring on p. 297?

8. What does it mean when you name a condition? Does that give you power over it? p. 328

9. How should we deal with death? p. 503

Have you read it? Any thoughts of your own?

Photo: Some rights reserved by yomanimus.

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,, 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, 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

18. Order a reading snack on 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.