Reading a book is very much the equivalent of driving on the road. Some spots you stop at, some you roll on. Sometimes you meet a roundabout that forces you to go back to a line or passage that continues to reverberate in the mind. Some lines or phrases you meet with a bump of personal guilt at their truth. Some places you run into traffic as the writer for a number of pages appears to be droning on as if to snuff out the little light of interests he managed to keep burning. Some phrases you stop at to notice, like an interesting Ad on a roadside billboard. Sometimes you are interrupted or slowed down by the zebra crossing of tangential thoughts threading through the mind. Some places you hit the gas, perhaps due to parts that don’t sit well with your moral positions or out of a desire to see off a rather boring read.
But what happens if your approach to reading is lacking in these nuances, taking a more straight, direct, business-like one?
I would answer it for you: skin reading.
The kind of reading impatient and impervious to the papered mimesis of life. The kind that flings a frisbee to the bookend then proceeds swiftly to fetch it.
Not to worry, here are some antidotes to help you achieve deeper reading:
1. Taking Notes
For those in the getaway van, this is a strong pull out of the comfort zone (if it doesn’t register as a yank). For those who already do take notes, here are a few questions:
• Do you jot extra information that isn’t carried on the page? For example, inner dialogue in response to what is being read.
• Do you compare the writer’s rendition of a scene, thought or feeling with yours or do you simply adore the genius?
• Do you jot for reference, reverence, or both?
• Do you pause and reflect as you jot or do you slap them down and carry on.
• If you do reflect, are you honest with the destination of your thoughts? That is, willingness to be wrong despite how long you have believed a thing.
• How much of memory is sucked into the reflection of what you put down?
Parts of a book can be divided into places of pause and places of transition. Places of pause are those that often resonate with a truth of our individual lives, explain a thing we have but had little success with or refashion it in a way that surpasses our best attempts. Pages and passages like this deserve the meditative attention of pause. They should be archived, studied and shared.
2. Registering Your Reactions
Take note of your inner reactions as you read, probing them for insight into subtle attitudes that may have gone unnoticed. For example, noticing how your chest constricts when reading about marital rape may reveal an unconscious bias against women or prompt a need to protect their rights.
3. Giving the Author Authority (see that?)
Doing this helps to reshape your mindset about anything. Your mind is open to reception, hence, giving you time to avail yourself to inner conflicts and uncertainties. As you read, don’t struggle with the author in your mind. You are in their world and head, after all, hence, the arguments raised can be considered valid. Let them woo you, boo.
Books interpret the world and vice versa. It is often the case that some passages bear rereading to provide context or cushion to aid the processing of life events. By rereading, we drag new memories to bear witnesses to the incisiveness of a text, we bring new tools to exhume what may have previously been in hiding. By rereading, we dig in deeper than the last time; dropping practical experience into the book that spreads ripples, bringing the book alive.
What practices have you developed for deeper reading? I can’t be alone in this; let’s hear you out?