I never learned how to properly read a book – all my life.
Sure, elementary school taught us how to recognize letters, numbers and words. But I was never taught how to comprehend.
We were assigned a book to read as homework but forgot it all in just a few days.
As a result, I was frustrated and bored. And I only read my first book (cover to cover) near my 50th birthday. No joke.
I thought I was screwed up in the head. And about 20 years ago, I asked a doctor for help with my attention. He asked me one question – do I have to reread newspaper articles. I said yes. About 5 minutes later, he prescribed me the powerful amphetamine drug Ritalin! In mere days, that drug numbed my brain. Even worse, I did not comprehend books better. About the only good thing about Ritalin was it suppressed my appetite – and I became “crack thin.”
I am not alone. A lot of people do not know how to read. I know this is the truth, because people would much rather watch my videos than read my blog posts.
Marcella Frydman Manoharan recommends these tips on how to read mindfully:
Find a window of time when you can focus on your reading, rather than trying to squeeze it into a busy day or get a few pages in before bedtime.
Pick reading that will engage but not deplete you, something that requires a bit of mental energy, but doesn’t end up as another item on your growing to-do list. There’s a whole world of text out there to discover: novels, biographies, histories, but also collections of essays, science writing, poems and long-form journalism.
Consider reading in print. If much of your reading is on a screen – your phone, computer or tablet — then mindful reading from a tangible book could be a nice break from the pinging.
As you turn the pages, notice the quality of light, the color and even the smell of the ink on the page, the way that the spine of your book feels against the palms of your hands. You may find yourself more easily bored or sleepy. Take note: This is you slowing down – the point of this exercise to begin with.
Pay attention to language. Look at an individual word; look up unfamiliar words. Maybe you use a pencil to underline language that you notice, or maybe you just make a mental note. Either way, get into the details — the rhythm of a sentence, a detail that conjures a person or place. Notice as reading causes your thoughts to meander. Reading does not have to be a comprehensive or linear exercise. Your mind is not a vacuum sweeping up each word mechanically. You will invariably drift off, think of something else, imagine what you’re getting for lunch, or what you should have said to your date last night — all of this is expected.
When your mind wanders, gently usher yourself back to the text and keep going. If you’ve forgotten the last passage you read, you can always go back and read it again. Or don’t. There’s value in a bit of uncertainty, in finding peace within ambiguity.
Finally, don’t over-prepare for your reading. You don’t really need the perfect lounge chair, with light at just the right slant and a cup of tea precisely brewed. Mindful reading can provide an oasis even in more turbulent settings.
I use the “5-minute rule” when reading new books. That is, I set a 5-minute timer on my phone. And I convince myself to read the book for at least 5 minutes. If it holds my interest after the phone’s alarm sounds, I will read longer. If not, the book gets donated to a local library.
Many people I know recommend this classic book by Mortimer J. Adler titled How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. Who knew reading mindfully is a 70-year old tactic.