I have a confession to make.
I am a passive reader.
Sometimes I read a book, really enjoy the book, put it on my shelf, and don’t think about it again.
I don’t like that I do this. It’s something I’m trying to work on. Because I love books, I love words, and I want part of my reading experience to involve thinking deeper — thinking critically — about the things I’m learning from books.
If you’re feeling the same way — I really hope I’m not the only one — I want to share a few tricks I’ve started using to become a more active reader. They might help you, too.
Write about it
It feels like everyone is writing book reviews and starting book review blogs. Don’t listen to the “advice” that you shouldn’t do that because everyone else is, though. Forcing yourself to follow up a good read with a review not only refines your writing skills, but makes you pay attention to what you feel are the most important elements of whatever you’re reading — and important skill set for an aspiring writer.
You don’t have to write full book reviews to practice this. I’ve started (infrequently) doing micro-reviews on my Instagram. I much prefer writing two- or three-sentence blurbs about my experience as a reader, from the perspective of a fellow writer. It’s not much, but it does force me to reflect on what I’ve just read. That might be a fun way for you to start experimenting with more critical reading outlets.
Take snapshots — literally
Some people annotate. Some people dog-ear pages (!!!). You can highlight, sticky tab, bookmark any page in a book you want. But sometimes, I want to take a (literal) snapshot of a passage quickly, so I don’t have to stop reading for long, so I can store it in a place I won’t lose it and return to it later.
All you heathens with ereaders can pretty much do this automatically — it’s built into the software. If you need to hold and cherish a physical book like the rest of us, all you have to do is take a photo with your phone. Call me old-fashioned, but I know exactly where to find the quote I saved from Bill Nye’s new book this morning. Three finger taps on my phone, and I’m there.
(In case you weren’t sure, I love physical book hoarders and ereader junkies equally. You’re all lovely.)
I know, I know, you’re having English class flashbacks. But admit it — those [required] discussions were vital to your understanding of literature, whether you enjoyed them or not. Sometimes sharing your thoughts about a book — and hearing others share theirs — changes your perspective relating to a specific theme, character, or string of events. As a writer, meeting with others to discuss published books is just as valuable as meeting with other writers and discussing your unpublished work as a group.
Don’t want to venture out into the world and physically interact with other human beings? This is why the internet exists (well, sort of). Join a virtual book club! You can find them all over the place. Or you could start your own. I can guarantee you aren’t the only one who likes to read a specific genre and wants to discuss books with others on the web.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.