I am so puzzled by my own reading habits.
For a start, I read six or seven books at a time. I always have a pile of books by my bedside table, usually from different genres, and I pick which one to read based on my mood.
I don’t read from where the bookmark is, but I flick through the book and start reading whichever page or verse catches my attention.
Very soon, I am looking for a pencil, which I have several in the near vicinity, to underline words or phrases or sometimes whole paragraphs.
I skip paragraphs or sometimes pages, but then there are sentences that I read and reread, until their beauty sink in my soul, leaving me in eternal happiness.
At this point, invariably, I stop reading, close the book and start thinking. Sometimes that thinking leads to writing.
The result is that the book doesn’t get read.
I am envious of my writer buddies, who can read books from cover to cover within a week.
Why can’t I stick with a book, finish it and then move on to the next one?
Do I have attention deficiency?
Am I unique in my approach to reading multiple books, or are there others like me?
The goal of reading determines how you read.
Reading the latest Danielle Steel novel is not the same as reading Plato.
If you’re reading for entertainment or information, you will read a lot differently than if you are reading to increase understanding.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested.” — Francis Bacon.
While many people are proficient in reading for information and entertainment, very few are willing to improve their ability to read for knowledge.
Mortimer Adler, an American philosopher, educator, and popular author, literally wrote a book on reading — How To Read A Book.
Adler identifies four levels of reading:
- Elementary Reading
- Inspectional Reading
- Analytical Reading
- Syntopical Reading
Elementary Reading is a basic reading skill taught in elementary schools.
Inspectional Reading involves systematic skimming and superficial reading and gives you the gist of things. Sometimes this is all we want or need.
Analytical Reading is thorough reading.
Syntopical Reading, also known as comparative reading, represents the most demanding and difficult reading of all. It involves reading many books on the same subject and comparing and contrasting the ideas, vocabulary, and arguments.
This task is undertaken by identifying relevant passages, translating the terminology, framing and ordering the questions that need answering, defining the issues, and conversing with the responses.
The goal is not to achieve an overall understanding of any particular book but rather to understand the subject and develop a deep fluency.
This is all about identifying and filling in your knowledge gaps.
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance, was well-read, smart, critical, and possessed a tendency to write in a personal tone — with references to and reflections on — his own thoughts and his own life.
Montaigne considered himself a pretty lazy reader. “I leaf through now one book, now another,’ he wrote,’ without order and a plan, by disconnected fragments.”
His only rule in reading was to pursue pleasure. “If I encounter difficulties in reading,’ he wrote, ‘I do not gnaw my nails over them; I leave them there. I do nothing without gaiety.”
Doris Lessing, a British-Zimbabwean novelist, wrote:
“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.”
Patricia Lockwood, an American poet, and essayist have put it this way:
“There’s a way of reading that is like writing. You feel in collaboration… You have a pen in your hand, you’re going along in a way that’s, like, half creating it as you go. And you’re also strip-mining it for anything you can use… you’re sifting for what could be gold.”
I am feeling better now.
I am not the only one with weird reading habits. A lot of people have different reading habits.
What are your reading habits? Do you start a book and don’t put it down till you have finished it? Or do you read with a pencil in hand and write on the margins.
Or maybe you use one of Adler’s four stages of reading a book.
Drop me a line in the comments section.