Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Guest Post: Reading "Rules"

Everywhere one looks, it seems that bookstores are closing or becoming cafés, or that they are selling things other than books:  book things, but not books themselves.    There is a constant lament from booksellers, publishers, writers and the media about the death of the book, the end of reading.  These lamenters tell us we prefer video and film and interactive games and books on tape to actually reading silently to ourselves.

Most recently, this sentiment was expressed on the cover of the NEW YORKER – one of several they’ve published in recent years heralding the end of book selling, book reading, and book buying as we know it.  (Not funny!)


But if you were to spend a little time “surfing” the web, you would be forgiven for thinking that the naysayers are not paying sufficient attention.  There are thousands of books sites on the web.  Practically anyone who reads puts up a blog about their book likes and dislikes; there are book review sites in which books are reviewed by committee; there are book discussion sites; book club sites; book seller sites; book author sites; “modern” book sites; “classic” book sites; science-fiction book sites; mystery book sites; chick-lit book sites; book-a-day sites; library sites; and even book sites which review other book sites!

It is daunting.

I said in my very first post, What I'm Planning More or Less..., that I am a very slow reader, and that I couldn’t possibly read all that there is to read, let alone all that I want to read!  Even dipping into these book sites takes more time than I can comfortably manage!

But help has come my way….

Since 1985, Judy Pollock – a close friend of mine for more years than I care to mention! – has been president of Language at Work,  a communication skills training company.  Judy has been a reading teacher, a professional actor, and a public speaker; and she has designed many courses that help others communicate more easily and confidently.  Her clients range from private individuals to businesses and government agencies.

But Judy has had a “hands-off” policy when it came to her friends, and it is only since I began this blog and have been whining to her about my slow reading that she has finally come to my rescue.  While I can’t say that I am now a speed-reader, I can say that I read much faster than I did only a few months ago.

I am posting here one of the things she sent me that I found helpful; I hope it helps those other slow readers out there, as well as those who want to supplement their reading skills.  If you have questions about her post or other communication concerns, you can email Judy directly; or check out her web blog to see what else she has to offer.

Happy reading!
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Reading “Rules”

Reading is wonderful, but not for everyone. What I frequently hear is, “How I can get through all the things there are to read?  I’m such a slow reader.”  Or worse: “I don’t have time to read fiction.” 

Slow readers can learn to read faster, and all readers can improve their skills. Contrary to what we’d like to think, efficient reading requires some work, and most of the strategies are appropriate for non-fiction.  But, if you can step up your non-fiction speed, you’ll have more time for luxuriating in your fiction!

Here are some things to try:
1.  Silence the voice that says you have to finish reading anything you start.  I give books 100 pages to convince me.  If you’re slogging through books you don’t like, no wonder you don’t have time to read anything else.  And how can you be excited about starting a new book if it means a mandatory sentence of 300+ pages! 
2.  Don’t think you have to read every article in the magazine.   Look for articles that you might want to read.  Tear them out; throw the rest of the magazine away.

3.  Don’t read every article in the same way.  Some will yield their treasures to you with a quick skim.

4.  Identify your reading places: watching TV, in bed, by the phone, in the kitchen.  Here is where you should stash potential reading material. 
Match the material to the place: some things you will skim quickly; some you want to read carefully; some you just need to review; some you want to curl up and read for enjoyment; some you have to work at.  

Now you have a stack of quickies by the phone to whip through while you’re on hold.  You have magazines for previewing in your TV watching chair. Your current book is by your bed, and the latest gobbledy-gook about your health insurance is on your desk where you will presumably be clear-headed and sitting up straight.
5. Preview everything you can.  Look at the title, subheadings, captions, side-bars, table of contents, index.  Many of us begin reading by starting at the first word and plodding along until we either forget what we’re reading or get to the end.  If you take the time to preview your document, you will actually SAVE time because: 
You may decide not to read it; 
If you do decide to read it, the previewing will make the reading easier, and your comprehension and retention will be greater.
6.  Try skimming as an alternative to a thorough reading:
Read the first few paragraphs.  Often the first paragraph or two will contain a little story meant to whet your appetite; skip quickly through the little story.

Read the last few paragraphs if they’re short; just the last one, if not.

Read the first sentence of each paragraph. And maybe the last sentence.
While your eyes are skimming down the page, be alert to any Stand Out words.  These are words that relate to the subject.  They can give you clues about the general idea, or even specifics.
 7.  While you’re reading, pay attention to the structure.   To untangle long sentences, look for Agent, Action, and, if offered, Object.  Who did what to what?  Try this sentence:
The tired farmer, although a mainstay of the economy, a model of persistence and tenacity, and a symbol of hope to those who espouse a simpler lifestyle, today, in spite of his dogged efforts, faces some difficult choices.
Many a valiant reader would be tired herself about halfway through this thicket.  If you see a hard road ahead, latch onto the agent. In this sentence that would be the farmer.  Now skim across the word weeds until you spot a nice action for him:  Aha! “faces”….and, helpfully right next to it, the object
This seeking of the Agent, Action, Object activity will help power you through long passages, and if you feel later that you missed something, it won’t be hard to go back and find the missing pieces.
8.  Look for key words that direct the traffic for you.  Read along in whatever direction you and the writer are going, but look out for signal changes. Words such as but, however, finally, therefore, also, indicate a change in direction.  When you get better at this, you can mutter little summaries to yourself as you go – great for comprehension and retention.

9.  The speed-obsessed usually want to know how they can increase reading time.  One drill is to practice on easy material, reading at your normal pace for 2-3 minutes, then at a reallyfastpace for 2-3 minutes.  Repeat for a while. Eventually your reallyfastpace becomes your normal pace.

10.  Finally, when you finish reading, recite a review of what you read.  The first few times you try this you might be horrified to realize that you are not able to summarize your reading, or even – gasp! – to say what the main idea was.  Carry on.  With practice, you’ll get better.  With more practice, this will become automatic (well, easier).  And – not surprisingly, your comprehension and retention will improve because you’ll be in the habit of reading for that little test.
Above all, reading should be fun.  If you employ improvement strategies in your non-fiction reading, you should be able to gain some fiction-reading time.  

And that rules!


P. J. Grath said...

This is a lot of good advice from your friend, Helen. Some of Judy’s hints I’ve stumbled on myself, such as reading the first sentence of paragraphs in articles while skimming the rest; other of her ideas are new, such as stashing different kinds of reading in different places around the house. (That sounds like fun to try—especially for people who read in every room!)

My son is a fast reader and always has been. I have always been a slow reader and confess that I still prefer to read slowly when I am reading for pleasure. It is more luxurious. My slow/fast differences, however, do not fall into parallel with the fiction/nonfiction divide: I am currently re-reading a favorite book of memoir essays, Tony Judt’s THE MEMORY CHALET. It is nonfiction but nothing I want to race through, while I can the occasional “escape” novel in a day or two.

But more time for reading is priceless for those of us who love books, so thank you, Helen and Judy, for sharing these ideas.

Farshaw@FineOldBooks.com said...

You read too much to be a REALLY slow reader, Pamela. But I'm working hard to catch up with you!

Ester said...

Your blogs are getting better every time. I am glad to know that Judy is such a smart person and that you've kept the friendship for such a long time.

But you, too, are very smart, and your writing is excellent.

Johanna Silverman said...

Where was Judy when I was in school?!?! Humph!