I’ve always loved reading. As a child, I was known to always have a book in my hand, to ask for novels for birthdays, and had mastered the art of walking and reading at the same time. Once I got to college, I majored in English, and my reading list consisted of various classic novels, Heath anthologies, and poetry collections. I still loved reading, but I rarely did it in my free time. Now that I’m out of college, I’ve found that, like everything else, I need to have the discipline to read effectively. For me, this means reading books that challenge me. It means reading multiple genres and getting out of my comfort zone. It means writing in the margins, consulting my dictionary, and going past the footnotes and into original references. People read for any number of reasons. I read because I love it, and because doing so exercises my literary analysis muscles, makes me a better thinker, and ultimately brings me joy.

Below are some tips that have helped me to read more effectively. These are things that have helped me to read more closely and stay focused. If you’re reading for personal growth and retention, maybe these tips will help you too. And if you have intimidating books that have been sitting on your shelf for years unopened (mine are The Bhagavad Gita and The Tibetan Book of the Dead), maybe these tips will help you to finally face them.

Identify your objectives. What is your purpose for reading? Do you read to relax and escape into fictional worlds? Do you read to learn more about the art of writing? Do you read for personal growth, for education, for mental exercise? Hopefully you read for all of these reasons. Whatever your reasons are, identify them. Doing so will allow you to set realistic goals for reading.

Set Realistic Goals. Making reading goals will help to keep you motivated, keep you focused, and will serve as a measure of your success (or failure). Make your goals based upon your objectives. How many books do you want to read? What types of books? How long should it take you? And always remember, why are you reading? If you’re just reading for fun, you can probably read a lot more books than someone who is reading to gain extensive knowledge on a single body of work (say, the complete works of Shakespeare). Be realistic.

My goal this year is to read at least 24 books. That’s only 2 books a month, a very realistic goal, considering the amount of time I spend annotating and analyzing each book. Sometimes I’ll read a single book 3 times over just to get a better understanding of it. So, for me, 24 books is a realistic goal. Sometimes I’ll finish 3 books in a week. Other times it will take me 2 months to read a single book. It all depends on what you’re reading and how you’re reading it.

Take it to the Next Level. Start interacting with your books. Write in the margins, dog ear the pages, study the footnotes, bend the spine. You can always tell how much I’m enjoying a book by how beat up and scribbled it is. Don’t just read the words… Think about what they imply. Think about the era these words were written, and about the author’s perspective when (s)he wrote them. Take the book out of context, then put it back in upside down. Don’t be afraid to play with literature. You might be surprised by how a difficult book can come into focus just by playing around with it. And taking the time to understand a notoriously difficult book is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

Now Read. This is the most crucial step. Go to the library, grab a book off the shelves, and just start reading!

What tips do you have for reading more effectively? Share in the comments section below! 

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