I love to read, but, as I’ve shared before, I’m not always great at it – especially if it is non-story-based non-fiction. I might enjoy the topic and writing style immensely, but I struggle to retain what I have read. For a long time, I let this dissuade me from reading much non-fiction. What good were the books doing me if I did not retain them? Last year, I decided that had to change.
Here’s the kicker, though. It has not been just about changing my reading plan. I have also had to change my reading habits to help me retain. As I look at the titles I have read over the past year, I realize how much more I have retained from those titles than from any previous non-fiction attempts. So, what has been different?
I’ve been determined to make the books my own.
When I was in high school and college, I recognized my struggle with processing information, and it motivated me to work extra hard. I highlighted, underlined, took notes, and wrote in margins when possible. I did this with my Bible as well. And it worked! My books and their content were my own. The added effort provided a multi-faceted input that allowed me to truly interact with the message and sear the information into my heart and mind.
During my junior year of college, though, I heard someone talk about how marking up your Bible kept you in a learning rut, and it was better to let the Holy Spirit speak afresh every time instead of always seeing what you’d learned the last time. The logic is debatable, but the following summer when a dog managed to get ahold of my Bible and rip it to shreds, I “started fresh” and broke the habit of marking up my Bible. Meanwhile, I started wanting to loan out my books, so I didn’t want to mark them up, either. And with that, my interactive habits stopped.
Unfortunately, I never formed new habits to replace the broken ones.
As I became determined to challenge my reading habits this year, I knew those new habits had to be formed. So, I’m actively exploring ways to get back to making what I read my own. Here are some of the things I’m trying:
Some people – including members of my family are speed readers. I am not. My “to read” stack stays pretty large and daunting, and sometimes I’m tempted to rush through a book just to get to the next one. But, it is better to never get to the bottom of the stack than to miss the great content in each book of choice. In order to process, I have to slow down and really read.
Let me admit from the get-go that the habit of journaling slows everything down even more! I’m a writer, and I still get frustrated at times with the amount of time it takes to process through journaling. But, for writers and non-writers alike, journaling is an incredibly powerful tool. When we journal, we have to interact with and show an understanding of what we have just read. And journaling can take many forms. It can be coherent sentences and paragraphs, lists or a series of phrases referencing the original material, voice recordings, or even art. The key is the interaction and “teaching back” nature of processing what we have read. And yes, sometimes that will also include underlining, highlighting, and writing notes in the margin!
Talk It Out
I love reading a book at the same time someone else is reading it. This year, I’ve read several books simultaneously with my husband, oldest daughter, or a Bible study group. Having read the same information, we talk it out and share how it impacted each of us. This works for Bible reading as well. I love being on the same Bible reading plan as the rest of my family! But, this also works for books I read on my own. When something stands out to me, I like to process through it by sharing with my husband, the kids, an accountability partner, or friends. Like with journaling, this forces me to process what I have read in a coherent manner.
The first time through, I almost never mark up a book. But, there are certain books that automatically go on the “buy a loaner copy and reread” list. When I’m able, I snag an extra copy to have on my shelf. This copy stays unmarked and available for loaning out. At least once a year, I want to pause from reading new books and go back and reread one of the books from that list. And in the reread, I will probably mark it all up and really make it mine! Not every book is worth this. But, some really, really are.
How do you make sure you really process what you read? I’d love new ideas!