These are 3 things I’ve stopped doing as a reader to read books better and wiser.
I write this post from the point of view of an English graduate, but this post is for anybody and everybody who considers themselves a reader, and would like to start reading more efficiently.
When you’re no longer an English major, like I once was, it can get a little confusing at first. Right after I graduated, a few things happened. Firstly, as an English major, you’re required to read up to 5 readings (excerpts) and/or novels a week (Holla, fellow English majors!)… which is way more intense than the reading lists of most casual readers. Without a strict English major reading list (which you can actually only keep up with if you’re one of those super-on-the-ball people), I was slightly worried about finding good, quality books to read. As intense as those reading lists were, one thing I could count on is that 99% of the time, I can rely on them to recommend only the highest quality literature.
Secondly, without the academic rigour I was used to, there was no longer any need for the discipline to read each book comprehensively and thoroughly.
That’s both good and bad. It’s good because first of all, not all books are good and our time is precious. It can also be seen as bad because in school, and in many reading groups, you may be seen as lazy or not a “good reader” (whatever that means) if you “cannot be bothered” to ever finish a book.
Almost two years after graduating, I can safely say that is are loads of top quality literature out there, some not even in the syllabus, both in fiction and non-fiction. Also, there are ways to ensure you read well without having to finish every bad book.
To ensure that I only read good literature, and not waste my time and money on books I don’t like to read, here are 3 things I have stopped doing post-graduation.
1) Reading Books I Don’t Like Till the End
I’d say that it is not only okay, but highly recommended, that you kick goodbye the notion that you’re not a good reader or a lazy reader if you don’t finish a book.
That is truly nonsense. There is really no need to finish a book that isn’t adding value to your life, whether that value comes in the form of entertainment or education. When I read for leisure, my goals are 1) entertainment and 2) education. If the book doesn’t meet either one of the goals, I simply stop and put the book down.
This is especially important, but also tricky, if you don’t read much and have been trying to get into the habit of reading. If the book is making you hate reading, then your goal has backfired. But at the same time, don’t give up reading a book too fast just because it gets tiring and you aren’t used to it. Sometimes, perseverance is necessary. Practice and experience will help you differentiate laziness from truly not enjoying the book or the story.
2) Buying 90% of the Books I Read
Because I no longer make it a point to finish every book, I almost never buy books anymore. Out of every 10 books that I read, I own at most one or two of them.
In comparison to the huge stacks of books I used to buy before every university semester (I hate the inconsistency of studying from a borrowed book that you have to return and possibly not get the chance to borrow again), I now only buy most books after I have read them. This ensures that I only buy books I know I love enough to want to own forever, and most importantly, that I will want to read multiple times.
Also, I tend to wait a few months now after reading the book before I buy it. I want to be sure that a few months down the road, I still like the book just as much. I only want books that I know will stay my top favourites on my personal bookshelf.
Although this may seem a little extreme (I know many people who buy books to read them for the first time), this helps me maintain a top quality, minimalistic bookshelf.
Buying books to read for the first time is risky as you may end up with the arduous task of throwing, or trying to give away or sell a second-hand book.
I make exceptions to this rule for subsequent books from my favourite series or if I get the book free from book swaps or other events.
3) Read Books Based on (Most) Recommendations
Book review and recommendation blogs and social media pages are becoming super popular, having their own hashtags like “book club of Instagram”.
These places are a great method of finding good reads without having to spend hours browsing through the bookstore (although I would never say no to that). If someone, or someones have liked the book so much to read the whole thing then write publicly about it, it must be pretty good to some extent.
However, most mainstream books and genres do not appeal to me, especially young adult fiction and romantic novels. Personally, I am extremely fussy with the books I read. I don’t pick up 90% of the books at the library, and stop reading half of which I start reading.
Book recommendation sites, and recommendations by others usually don’t work for me. I only take book recommendations at face value only if I have been following the recommender for a while and truly enjoy and trust all or almost all the content they personally produce. This only goes for non-fiction books, recommended by sources like The Time Ferriss Podcast or Casey Neistat.
For fiction books, instead of looking at reviews and recommendations, I choose my books based on specific writing styles or authors. A lifetime of reading has allowed me to know whether or not I’ll like the book based on reading its first page. If I like the first page, there is a very high chance I’ll finish it. If I don’t, you can bet that I’ll put down the book by the third or fourth chapter.
My top authors whose writing styles I like include but are not limited to Donna Tartt, Haruki Murakami and Alice Sebold. For these authors, no matter what the story is, I want to read every book they write, simply because I love the way they write, and how their prose flows.
(I’ve always wondered why this is the case… is form more important than content to me, or does the form make or break the content for me? Either way, writing style is the primary consideration for me, oddly enough.)
I also like certain authors based on their subject matters, their unique ways of writing and storytelling. For these authors, I may not particularly enjoy their writing style, but I read their works because what they write about or the way they write intrigue me so much. These authors include Jonathan Safran Foer, Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.
I hope that this will help some of you read better and wiser in the future. Good literature is out there for the hunting down, and will truly be worth every second spent reading them. Remember that practice makes better and it takes time to grow wiser as a reader.
As always, happy reading!