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How to Read a Book

Written by a recipient of a B.A. degree in Linguistics and English, who enjoys 'Office' re-runs (yes Netflix, I am still watching), would rather do house chores, and Instagrams everything she eats.

If you're like me, you have no idea how to finish a supposed page-turner. I will be honest, if I am filling out an Instagram survey (this should already clue you into how I waste my time) that asks me to circle what I'd rather do on a Friday night, and the two choices are reading a book or watching Netflix, this university-grad will unabashedly circle the one that requires the least of my concentration. And write in run-on sentences.

So how do you read a book? I mean a really, good, book. For those of you who absolutely cannot even (intonation includes raising the eyebrows and putting a hand up) at how I could say such a thing, let me introduce you to my academic self.

Hi. My name is M. And I'm reading a book a week for 4 years, which my professors are making me read and will ultimately result in an essay that will be due in three days, biasedly graded, and mostly unappreciative of what I just accomplished in one sleepless night, which was fueled by caffeine and a Trader Joe's meal. This is my story.

One day, I was in class, and a teacher asked me a question. Apparently, I did the wrong thing when I responded—simply because I did not know what he was asking—and he proceeded to seemingly repeat the information. He had me answer again, and I must've done the wrong thing once more because he got really upset at me. And this was all happening in the middle of class. One of my friends looked at me and gave me a sympathetic smile with a hint of "girl, you really messed up." I don't even think the professor let me have a go at it anymore after that. The next person just went, probably to save my behind.

Another time I was in a different kind of class, but still humanities. It was taught by two professors, one of which I preferred more than the other, simply because he was less sarcastic. Sometimes they were both there teaching, which I never understood why, and sometimes it was just one of them. Well, one day both of them were there, and I was sitting in the front of the class. We focused mostly on oil and energy, and some politics, basically big button issues in the economy. I don't remember what we were talking about that day, but I made a comment, that was a half joke, half pun. (I am cringing as I write this by the way.) The professor looks at me and goes, "What?" I repeated my joke. "... What?" I repeated it again. I don't really remember what happened, but he seemed to have given me a "Really? Really? You're doing this right now?" kind of facial gesture. I then proceeded to explain the joke, and by then someone from the back of the class yelled "Oh, come on!" as the other students scornfully laughed at me. Even my friends. I was so upset, so embarrassed. At the end of class I went out the door, then went to my car and just sat there. I can't remember if I cried, or if I just curled up in a ball that never wanted to be undone again. Either way, I was in all kinds of physical pain. My friend at the time then texted me, "You kinda brought it on yourself, you know."

Don't take this the wrong way. Most of my teachers whilst in school were great, and some were so amazing at getting the whole class to love what they taught. I am so thankful for them. I unfortunately just had a few that were fairly biased about what they taught, and I was graded and wrote on what I thought they would want me to say. I can probably count a mere handful of times I was asked to write my opinion. Even an argumentative essay needs a strong thesis if you're proving a point.

So what was the point of me relaying all that to you? As far as you can tell, besides the emotionally scarring and weary anecdotes I have made, the point is this: though my teachers were often varying in what a proper paper should be, my writing did improve. But since then, my love for free-writing stories on my own time had dwindled, and want to write a poem waned. My career path also changed. Yet I can attest to one thing.

After graduating I had a growing desire to read what I wanted to read, and I realized it needed to be at my pace. There is a difference here than merely having a favorite genre of lit. Back then whatever was my favorite genre was because that was my most interesting class. But now the two are allowed to be independent of the other. No bias, no opinions, and especially no graded opinions.

I used to read a lot of Shakespeare, but now (albeit, I still appreciate Shakespeare) I want to read Mindy Kaling's book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I also want to read The Stranger by Albert Camus, and finally get myself to finish The Great Gatsby. I'm tired of saying "American literature is so boring." I want to be able to have some solid recommendations. Not just classical ones, and British poems that once stood out to me.

So without further ado, my growing, newly self-discovered list.

'How to Read a Book'

  • Allow yourself these niceties: while beginning a novel, it's okay to put the book down. There is a thought that truly a book is wonderful if you absolutely cannot put the book down. Don't be discouraged by this. Some people have more time on their hands to do so. Whether you are reading something contemporary, spiritual, an encyclopedia or a cookbook, we are creatures of habit. I got some help recently from my peers about how to create a regular habit of reading every day. If all you have time for is a page, just read that page, but read a page daily. The goal is a habit, and daily. Don't be discouraged or compare yourself. If you only have ten minutes, read for those ten minutes.
  • Find a spot. I made a nook for this purpose (See my article!). I'm still in the process of fully forming my nook, such as my thought of adding plants, adding a bench, etc. Making it homey, cozy, and a place I can be aesthetically surrounded yet able to focus. It might help even to have that area be as electronic-free as possible.
  • Enjoy what you read. Don't worry so much about understanding the material, the story, the recipe. Just read it. There's no pressure to understand every word right away. Remember why you're reading it. With my latest book-read, it was simply to finish it so I could watch the movie on Netflix. Maybe it's so you can say you read a Shakespeare play. Or that you just finished a book.
  • Be encouraged that you read today. Even if it's just a page, or a paragraph, be happy you read. You made progress. Tomorrow you will read the same amount, and if time allots, more (or less!)
  • There are a lot of health benefits. Read "6 Science-Backed Reasons To Go Read A Book Right Now" on The Huffington Post by Laura Schocker.
  • When you finish, pick up another. Keep your small yet meaningful progress going. I'm happy to have started a book the next day when I just finished one the day before. It's one I have started before, though I am starting over, but haven't yet finished; a small, one hundred and twenty-three page-turner. With this in mind, it might help to have one lined up before you finish your current read.

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How to Read a Book
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