January 6, 2022
8 Minutes

I Never Learned How To Read

I never learned how to read deeply at school. Hence, I picked up bad reading habits. However, my new reading habits have had a considerable impact.

Reading widely wasn't a part of my childhood. I've written about it. Now, I want to write about how I never learned to read. For something integral to our life, we don't get taught deep reading. At least, not as much as we should be.

Old Reading Habits

My old reading habits were poor. But I didn't know any better. If I had to read a book ('had' is the keyword), I would switch between reading on my laptop and phone. Of course, reading is better than not reading at all. But why bother reading (or doing anything) if you're not putting any thought into it?

Even with poor reading habits, I captured notes from what I was reading. That's something which has evolved: I capture and share notes from books.

Reading makes you curious. The more you read, the more you'll want to read. I have an Amazon list of books that I want to read. The great thing about that list is that I can skim through it daily. I check if any of the books have got discounted. If a book has, I'll buy it, even if I don't intend to read it instantly.

New Reading Habits

My new reading habits have had a considerable impact on me. The purchase of a Kindle was a big turning point for my reading habits. Ninety percent of what I read is on my Kindle. It comes with me everywhere. I can't recommend it enough. (I prefer the Kindle Oasis because it fits my hand better.)

Many people have become attached to physical books. That feeling of holding a physical book is precious. I get it. I've acted upon the yearning to read a physical book. While in Krakow (Poland), I stumbled across a charming bookstore: I purchased Persuasion by Jane Austen (a bargain at 10 Zlotys). However, that yearning wouldn't have flourished if it wasn't for my Kindle.

My Kindle made reading more accessible. If you travel frequently, it's not possible to take many books (with a Kindle, you can). You don't know what mood you'll find yourself in upon reaching your destination. For example, while I was in Poland, I wanted to read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. My Kindle allowed me to continue the momentum of reading.

More recently, I've been combining reading a book on my Kindle while listening to the accompanying audiobook on Audible (you want a good narrator who represents the writing). For me, that combination elevated my reading.

For a lengthy book like The Lord of the Rings, having an accompanying audiobook is transformational (I seldom use that word). Having an audiobook to guide you as you're reading the text gives you another layer of immersion. I walk away from each chapter with a better understanding than I would have.

Zadie Smith makes a great comparison. She compares a reader who wants to write to an amateur musician. An amateur pianist may sit at a piano, read a music sheet, then play a classic from an admired pianist. That's no different from an amateur writer reading the work of someone they respect, learning the craft of writing through their work.

In fact, listening to an audiobook while reading can help you to learn a new language. Gabriel Wyner, the author of Fluent Forever, recommends it.

When I first discussed my new method of reading, people assumed I read faster. They believed that it was some life hack. It's not. I'm not a productivity guru. Nor do I intend to be. Reading while listening to the audiobook made me read slower (narrator dependent). It made me read with more thought as to what got said. I sacrificed speed for comprehension.

Should there be some insightful content online that I want to read: I print it. For example, I've printed many of Julian Shapiro's handbooks to read offline.

Creating a mental cue for reading is essential. By that, I mean creating an environment for reading. You want your mind to click when it's time to read automatically. James Clear talks about that in Atomic Habits.

Kindle V. Physical Books

There will always be debate around which is better, Kindle or physical books. I can only talk from my personal experience. Amazon's Kindle transformed my reading. Of course, there was an aspect of willpower on my part. But that's where technology is great. It can help you to achieve something meaningful.

Now, I'm happy switching between books on Kindle and physical books. I like to buy physical copies of great books I've read on Kindle.

How To Read Like A Writer

If you want to improve your writing, read more. Simple. There's a relationship between reading and writing. It was Stephen King who said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write". Heed his advice.

I'd encourage you to read more fiction. Non-fiction is great. I only use to read non-fiction. But, it doesn't expand your vocabulary and imagination as much as fiction. You're not reading widely enough when restricted to non-fiction.

Reading like a writer is fun and challenging. You'll often wonder why you didn't notice something that someone else noticed. That's the great thing about it. Everyone interacts with a piece of work differently.

Below is an example of me reading like a writer. Though I'm far from a professional writer, working that lens helped me to gain valuable insights. And, with those insights, I can apply them to my writing.

Courses are great. They're shortcuts. But, if you invest your time in studying the most significant works, you'll come across as good, if not better, insights.

How To Enjoy Reading

Many people wonder as to how long they should read per day. It depends. It depends on your lifestyle. It depends on if you have children. It depends.

Whether you carve out twenty-five minutes or fifty minutes per day, what's important is that you build a daily habit. You must train yourself to get comfortable sitting in one place and concentrating on a piece of text.

On my Kindle, I turn off the page number and percentage that I've completed of a book. Especially a large book like The Lord of the Rings. You want to get lost in the text. Not assessing what percentage of the book you've read.

If you struggle with reading for more extended periods, training yourself via the pomodoro technique is a good place to begin. Whereby you can read in twenty-five-minute blocks. Reading stamina is like any exercise. Over time, you'll increase your capacity to read for longer periods.

Don't get caught in the trap of comparing how many books you've read in a year. We all want more. But, sometimes more isn't better. Being able to understand a piece of work is better than speed-reading a hundred books.

It's Time To Read

I know that many of the bad reading habits I had were because I never learned how to read. We don't get educated on how to read at school, or at least I didn't. That baffles me. It gets assumed we'll pick up how to read properly.

I'm glad to have moved away from reading online. Reading on my Kindle, coupled with the audiobook, has profoundly improved the depth as to which I can read. It's difficult to comprehend how much of a change it has made.

At any one time, I'm reading both a fiction and a non-fiction book. I like to read fiction before bed. Non-fiction can stimulate the mind too much before sleep. As to how I select those books, I let my curiosity guide me.

It's simple. The more you read, the more you'll know. Books provider a richer source of input than reading Facebook or Twitter. Often, books go through layers of editing. Hence, the result is richer than a few seconds of a quote for which you have no context for on social media. I tend to stay off social media. I wish to prioritise other things, and reading is one of those things.

Of course, staying off social media is not possible for everyone. And, you may miss opportunities by not being on social media. But I'm okay with that.

Back to reading, I suggest you experiment with your reading style. Not everything I've mentioned will work for you. Take snippets of suggestions from a variety of people, and find something that works for you.

I hope you enjoy your next read. Now, I'll end how I ended a previous article.

It's easy to take reading for granted. On the surface, it seems like the easiest thing in the world to do. Get a book. Sit there. Read. But for someone who had the now joyful activity of reading schooled out of them, it wasn't easy.

To think that everything we will ever want to know is buried within a book, somewhere, is motivating. And it's humbling to be able to have the collected works of someone's life for nominal amounts of money.

Join over a thousand readers and get my short and insightful biweekly email. I share seven notable highlights from my latest book summary in the email.