Thursday, May 15, 2008

More thoughts on reading

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about reading in response to a question from one of my blog-readers. A few more thoughts have occurred to me.

On reading books:

  • Keep a list for recommendations. Suggestions for good books to read come up all the time: from blogs, on the radio or TV news, in lectures, from friends. I've found it helpful to make a note of recommendations that I want to eventually follow up on-- even if I don't plan to get the book soon-- and keep a list in one place. This way, I have my list handy when I order books. I've found using an Amazon Wishlist is the easiest way for me to organize these recommendations; since I'll probably buy from Amazon anyway, this makes it particularly easy to choose from my list. (I can access Amazon-- and add to my Wishlist-- through my mobile phone, too-- so it works on the road as well.) It doesn't hurt that this makes for easier gift-giving at Christmas and birthday times.

  • Have options on-hand for "what's next." If you're keeping a list, this makes it a lot easier to have options-- whether you go to the library or buy books yourself. I buy books about once a month, and I rarely order only one at a time; instead, I'll get two or three from my list (which also qualifies my order for free shipping, if I'm buying from Amazon). This way, I have a stockpile to choose from when I finish the book I'm reading.

  • Keep reading. When I finish a book, I start another within 24 hours. It is easy to fall out of the habit of reading, and difficult to get back into it. Reading is exercise for your mind-- so persistent discipline for it is the same as going to the gym. Keep it up.

  • Make notes about what you've read. I've begun to do this on this blog, as you may have noticed. When you finish a book, reflect on whether it was worth reading, what you learned, whether you would recommend it to someone else-- or at least that you read it!

  • Catalog your books. If you buy very many books, eventually you'll amass a collection that can be difficult to keep up with or manage. I've found it helpful to keep my books cataloged in a computer database (I use a free one called Books, which is made for the Mac; there are others for Macs, some for PCs, and online options), but you could do fairly well with just a spreadsheet. Keeping track of the author, title, some publishing data, and other helpful information (like if you've lent your copy out, or the notes you made about it when you finished it) is a good minimum. My database keeps all of this, plus a lot more.
If you really want to learn more about reading books well, I actually have a few book recommendations about that:
How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler; How to Read Slowly by James Sire; The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen; and Shelf Life by George Grant.

On other reading:
  • Keep newspapers in check. If you subscribe to a daily newspaper, do you read it every day? We've found that we actually read our paper more because we cut our subscription back to Saturday and Sunday only. We don't have stacks of newspapers piling up as fast as before, so we're more likely to read them. You might find that a re-evaluation of your newspaper subscriptions will keep your reading progress streamlined.

  • Get your news from more than one source. It's hard to get accurate news. While it's tempting to settle for just one news source, it's likely that you won't really get a clear picture of the news, but a mostly editorialized version. I get my news from World magazine, Newsweek, the local newspapers, and the New York Times online.

  • Magazines are good-- in moderation. In addition to my book reading, I also have several magazine subscriptions. I've already mentioned Newsweek and World; I also get Cooks Illustrated, Photo Techniques, ByFaith, and Leadership Journal. Magazines are great for quick, concise articles on specific topics. But they can get overwhelming too-- Marcie gets stressed out with too many magazines coming in, so we keep these in check too.

  • Use RSS feeds for blogs and internet news. If you don't already know about RSS feeds, you should definitely check them out. I keep up with over 100 blogs and websites, and RSS feeds allow me to skim through more than 200 posts and updates daily in what amounts to just 1-2 hours total (and that's spread throughout the day in 10 or 15-minute increments). I don't even bother trying to read a blog that doesn't have a feed anymore-- but I haven't seen one without a feed in recent memory.
Reading is so worthwhile, but like anything worth doing it requires time and discipline. I hope that my suggestions have been helpful to make you a more effective reader.

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