7 Reading Hacks To Improve Your Literary Skills
by Claire Fallon
When we think of “hacks,” many of us think of tricks to make a task quicker and easier than we’d previously believed possible. And of course, people have been trying to “hack” reading for decades, whether through speed-reading courses or apps or … well, Cliff’s Notes. The temptation of speed-reading is strong; the sheer number of books to read in the world is daunting to even the most dedicated reader. If only we could read quickly and painlessly, maybe we could make a real dent in the world’s literature in our brief lifetimes!
Reading, however, isn’t like chilling a drink or opening plastic packaging: The experience itself has just as much to offer as the end result. Hacking the reading experience by speeding it up seems to miss the value of the reading process. Plus, speed-reading may not work as well as its proponents claim, especially for more complex texts, as faster reading tends to work out to worse comprehension.
That doesn’t mean we can’t use relatively simple tricks and techniques to improve our reading. These easy reading hacks may not allow you to breeze through books and articles at the speed of light, but they should help you concentrate better, process what you’re reading more effectively, and get more out of each book.
Here are 7 basic hacks to turn your reading up to 11:
Don’t read in bed
Okay, we all love reading in bed. It’s cozy, it’s relaxing, it feels like someone is dreaming a beautiful dream for you. And then, two minutes later, you fall asleep, only to wake up four hours later with a crumpled book on your face, confused. If you want to get some actual reading done, you have to do this the right way: in an at least somewhat vertical position. Stand at your standing desk. Sit on your exercise ball.
Reading isn’t a group activity, and it certainly isn’t one facilitated by Gchat or Twitter. Set aside time to read alone, without distractions. If possible, read in a different room from your family or roommates, where there’s no TV blaring or conversation pulling you in. Definitely switch off your devices — checking for new texts, Facebook notifications, emails, Twitter mentions, Gchats, and Instagram likes is a sure path to distracted, ineffective reading.
Read in print if possible
Sorry e-reader fans — several studies have suggested that reading in print leads to superior comprehension and retention compared to reading on a screen. This suggests that trickier materials or books you hope to read more carefully should be read on paper, while the Kindle is reserved for fare you intend to skim or read purely for pleasure.
Books are precious, sacred objects. Nothing depresses us more than opening a used book we’ve purchased and seeing it covered with scribbled notes like, “LOL!” and “huh?” and “the tree symbolizes life” (no kidding?). However, you must leave this reverent attitude behind, as Tim Parks recently exhorted readers to do in the pages of The New York Review of Books, if you want to become a master reader. Start simply, with underlining. Hold a pen, or, if you’re still squeamish, a pencil as you read. Underscore lovely phrases, confusing sentences, or particularly memorable passages. By physically marking them, you’re forcing yourself to linger over them, taking extra mental note of the words and possibly giving yourself more opportunity to ponder their meaning.
Don’t stop at underlining! It’s time to add some “LOL”s and “huh?”s to your own books. Taking notes, either in the book, on Post-Its, or in a separate notebook, ensures you’re not only engaged in this active conversation with the book, but that you have a record of it you can review later.
Other “hacks” include:
Reread for clarity
Read aloud, or mouth along