The Importance of Reading Sllloowlyyy

QOTD: Have you read The Hunger Games and/or seen the movie? If so, thoughts? If not, are you planning to join the hype? 

My reading and writing sanctuary this past summer at the Interfaith Chapel connected to the local hospital.

I used to pride myself on being a slow reader. When I was younger, I would read under the table during dinner and under the covers past bedtime, traveling across the world with nothing but my imagination to keep me satiated and my newly found friends to keep me company.I can’t swim in an ocean or even a pool to save my life, but I love nothing more than to swim in a sea of words.

It’s been months since I last read for fun. It wasn’t until I picked up my favorite magazine, Self,  a couple weeks ago and realized that my reading habits had completely changed. Instead of taking my time to read each page–from the Editor’s Letter to the recipes to the stories of cancer survivors–like I always used to, my eyes darted from left to right and I finished the magazine in less than five minutes. What’s more, I realized I didn’t really enjoy what I just read. 

Truth is, it’s difficult to take several reading-intensive classes and expect myself to soak in the textbooks like I would in a hot tub. Don’t get me wrong – I find my psychology and journalism textbooks fascinating (really, I do). But when I’m on a deadline to take weekly quizzes on chapters of over 100 pages, it’s not easy to find luxurious time for reading slowly. Instead, I resort to scanning the paragraphs, restating the main points to myself, and taking notes. 

And even then, I don’t always fully understand what I am reading. 

I miss being able to take my time and really staying focused–not just when it comes to reading, but also when it comes to doing assignments or eating meals. The lack of time in a day puts a constraint on everything that needs to be done, so much that all the fun gets sucked out of whatever I am doing at the time. 

Yesterday, I picked up a psychology literature review on cognitive entrenchment** that a friend had passed on to me. I occasionally have to read literature reviews for my research methods class, but those are always for the purpose of research. This time, I read all the way through with no music on, no snacks, and no journal for note-taking. In short, Erik Dane (2010) suggests that evidence shows individuals of high expertise within a certain field leads to inflexibility, such as when it comes to instructing novices or adapting new ideas into their systems of already rigid values and methods. 

It took over half an hour for me to finish the article, but I was surprised by my level of interest in the article. It was so relevant to real world models, like company hierarchies. It was a little difficult to read given the sophisticated language, but the meat of Dane’s article resonated with me and that was exciting–I really did understand what he was trying to say. I felt like I had learned. 

While comparing my past reading habits with my current conventions, I came up with three ways to merge them for the most affective reading experience (whether that be for reading textbooks or fantasy novels): 

1) Take notes and reflect after I read. If I am taking notes in between skims, it breaks my concentration. Plus, writing in between reading distracts me from actually absorbing the material. It’s more effective to take in everything at once before pouring out any thoughts I may have on paper. 

2) Read all the way through, then go back and skim. That way, the first time around I am able to understand the content and its full context. Then, when I give the chapter a second glance, the main ideas will jump out at me and further anchor down what I just learned. 

3) Apply what I read to real examples. Do you remember back when you were little, what you did when you finished a book? If you were like me, you’d knot a cape around your neck and pretend you were the pirate or superhero in that book, ready to take on the adventures that the world had to offer–right in your own bedroom! That’s essentially what I need to do, minus the cape. 

Whether you are reviewing the latest article on the Tar Heels’ win against Ohio or staying up late to finish The Hunger Games, it’s not about how fast you retain what you’re reading (unless you’re due for the 3 o’clock showing of THG). It’s about what the information you are given means to you and how you use it to better understand your current outlook on life.

How do you make sure your reading experience is of high quality? What is the last thing (book, magazine, article) you read that really made you think?

**Source: DANE, E. (2010). Reconsidering the trade-off between expertise and flexibility: A cognitive entrenchment perspective. Academy Of Management Review35(4), 579-603. doi:10.5465/AMR.2010.53502832.