Enhancing Your Reading Skills

Posted on
Share on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on RedditTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

In this week’s Study Guide, we’re going to talk about how to read. Now some of you may be thinking, “Dude, I already know how to read. I’m reading this right now!” I hear ya. What makes a reader a good one is not the ability to merely discern words on a page, though, but rather the ability to extract central meanings from them. This isn’t always easy. As esteemed reader and writer Thoreau said, “To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any other exercise which the customs of the day esteem. It requires a training such as the athletes underwent, the steady intention almost of the whole life to this object.”

So, presuming a certain grasp of the mechanics of reading on your part, we can proceed into the methods that make for a good reader. To be sure, this isn’t necessarily someone who has a voluminous vocabulary or can take in more than a thousand words per minute. And you certainly don’t have to be able to make it through James Joyce’s book “Ulysses” — renowned for its difficult passages and cumbersome style — to consider yourself a good reader. If after reading, say, this article, you can immediately boil down its theme down to one or two short, relatively simple sentences, then you probably have the makings of a good reader already.

This ability to wring out the essential significance of vast collections of words does not usually come from some innate understanding of how language works and how it’s used to express ideas effectively (although it can come from that). Good readers typically arrive at their status through tried-and-true methods of gleaning key points and lessons from an overall corpus. One of the ways in which they do this is by marking major parts of a printed text. Speaking of which, don’t ever loan a book to a good reader, unless you want your copy returned with dog-eared pages, highlighted paragraphs, and sentences and phrases underlined in pen.

Also, most good readers will tackle a book or manual or guide or whatever with a dictionary and other references. Again, good readers are obsessed with meaning, and they don’t want their understanding of something to be incomplete just because they skipped over a word they didn’t understand. Go, and do thou likewise. At the very least, keep a dictionary on hand. If you’re laboring through an especially technical text, perhaps you should have a Web browser open to www.whatis.com at a computer nearby.

Additionally, good readers are typically good writers (and vice versa). I’m not saying you’ve got to try to write a novel or anything like that. But if you concentrate on writing well in e-mail messages, forums, blogs and other forms of media — with proper consideration of correct grammar, clarity of communication, and solid organization of points and facts — then you’ll also find yourself absorbing information in print as never before.

You’ll also find yourself realizing how many bad writers are out there, which brings me to my last point: Good readers usually don’t waste much time with poorly written text. Life’s too short to try to toil through shoddily composed and organized materials. Be sure to skim through a book before paying money for it if you can. And if you should find that you actually paid money for a horribly written book, contact the company and ask for your money back. You might not get your money back — caveat emptor, always — but your complaint will send a clear message: Bad writing will not be tolerated by good readers.

Share on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on RedditTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone


Posted in Archive|