How I Read

I think it’s interesting to hear about other people’s reading habits, so here’s a post about mine!

What I like to read: A little of almost everything. I was an English major in college, which helped broaden my perspectives, but I’ve always loved a wide range of books. I find that reading slumps happen for me if I read too many of the same type of book in a row, so I switch genres between almost every book, and I find myself most excited about stories that are nothing like anything I’ve read before. If I really had to pick, I think the genres I come back to most often are thriller, historical fiction, and dystopia.

Buying vs. borrowing: This is a bit of a toss-up for me. I love bookstores and libraries equally. I would appreciate being able to own every book I read, but I just don’t have that sort of income at the moment, and sometimes there are books I read that I know I’ll never want to even skim through again so I don’t mind dropping them back off in the library drop box. I tend to buy books that I can see myself reading more than once, or that I know will be harder to find available to borrow, or are simply too cheap to pass up, and also long books–especially classics–that I don’t want to feel rushed through by adding a due date and a stack of other borrowed books. I have a list of potential books to buy, and if I come across one at a good time for a good price, I pick it up. If I’m ready to read it and haven’t bought it yet, I borrow; then I can buy it later if I decide I want to reread.

How I choose what to read next: There are several lists in several places filled with books I want to read. I keep separate lists for books on my shelf that I haven’t read yet, and for books I know I can borrow from my limited (but accommodating) library or my friends. Lately I’ve been checking through my lists at the beginning of the month and creating a TBR that feels like a plausible goal–a practical mix of borrowed and owned books that fits my mood. I like to read new releases, but I also feel like I’ve fallen behind and there are a lot of older books I still want to read, so usually I prioritize books I’ve borrowed, then decide further by genre. Even before I began planning my month’s TBR, I would keep track of at least two books ahead of whatever I was actually reading, and unless it’s a series I just can’t stop reading between books, I usually try to pick something that’s pretty different from my current read. Variety helps keep slumps at bay. But, ultimately, no matter how well I plan and how specifically I schedule my reading time, how I choose what to read next most often comes down to my excitement level for a book at any given time. It’s important to me that I let myself read what I really want to, and that I don’t force myself into something that’ll turn me off of reading for a while. Reading shouldn’t be a chore.

Where I read: I can read literally anywhere, anytime. If I have a book with me, at least 30 seconds of down time, and enough light to see the words, I’ll probably be reading. It bothers me a little to be able to hear conversation well enough to make out the words, because it’s hard for me to tune that out, but I can if I must and any other sounds become white noise that fades easily into the background. Preferably, I love to have hours alone in a quiet environment with blankets and pillows to read comfortably, but I bring a book with me everywhere I go and I will read 10 pages here and there if that’s my best opportunity to read for the day.

How I read: one book at a time. I will sometimes start a second book if it’s easier to bring a different book along with me than the one I’m already in the middle of, or if I have to read a certain book for school or something but also want to read something of my own choice on the side. Never more than two, though, and I always finish everything I start. Actually there are two books I’ve started in the last couple of years that I’ve put on the back burner, but they still have my bookmarks inside them and I will still get around to them. I don’t quit books indefinitely. I try to read every day, almost always at the end of the day. Some days I’m too tired by then, and other days I read also or only in the middle of the day, whenever it fits in my schedule. I prefer physical books, all the time. I do read snippets online, if there are free previews available and I can’t wait to have the physical copy, but I don’t like reading whole books electronically on any sort of device. I’ve never given audio books a real try, but I’m not in a hurry for that, either, because I already know I don’t like listening to other people read. I don’t like the words I’m encountering for the first time to be influenced by someone else’s impression of them–I want to read them at my own pace with my own inflections in my own voice (or mind-voice), because it’s my own experience. I think ebooks and audio books are great literary advancements, and I’m glad they’re out there in the world, but I prefer holding actual paper and seeing the words for myself while I read. I drink a lot of water while I’m reading, but mostly because I drink a lot of water all the time. If I’m eating a meal alone, I like to read while I eat, but otherwise I don’t have much of a connection between reading and eating. I also mark quotes I want to save for myself as I read. I like annotating sometimes, but I don’t like reading previous thoughts on a second read-through and I don’t like loaning out books I’ve written in, so I don’t do that often. I use post-its to keep track of sections I want to save quotes from, and jot down on the post-it whether I want to use it in a review, share it with someone specific, or just keep it for myself, and then I deal with those tasks at the end of the book and remove the post-its.

How fast I read: (and how long it takes me to finish a book) depends on a lot of things. Primarily, my schedule dictates how much reading time I have, and then my reading pace determines how long it will take me within that time. Some books, like typical YA books, thrillers, or plot-heavy books I read about a page a minute. Character-driven books, historical fiction, fantasy, classics, etc. take me twice as long or even longer. I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly fast reader, but I’m persistent. I don’t shy away from long books, but I usually prefer not to read several of them in a row. I won’t pick short books just to help myself finish a certain number of books in a week or a month or a year. Quality over quantity. I will soldier through the good ones instead of worrying about the numbers.

Finishing a book: is always rewarding. Sometimes I can immediately pick up another book and be reading something new within seconds of finishing, but other times I need to get up and move around and let it settle. And on rare occasions, I have to lie back and look up at the ceiling and give it some thought before I can move on to anything else at all. I often–more often if I loved the book–skim through the “extra” stuff once I’ve finished reading a book: the author bio, bonus content, previews of sequels, even the acknowledgements or author’s notes. There are some really interesting and pertinent things in there sometimes. Once I’ve read all the words I’m going to read and jotted down any quotes I wanted to save, I immediately mark the book as finished. I add it to my GoodReads challenge if it applies, and to the list I keep personally of all the books I’ve ever read. I rate the book, and open up a new post to jot down immediate impressions and ideas for a review if I’m going to write one. I make note of whether I want to read more books by the same author, or whether I want to look into reading more on that book’s subject. Then I slide the book back into its slot on my shelf, or stack it on the bottom of my borrowed books pile so that the unread volumes are ready to be picked up from the top. As soon as I’ve put a finished book aside, I pick up my next book and a bookmark for it, so it’s ready whenever I am.

Why I read: Because I love it. It’s fun. It relieves stress. It makes for interesting conversation. But mostly because I believe that reading gives us information about the world. We learn new ideas, and new perspectives. Character actions and motivations can help us understand real life motivations and personalities. They let us feel emotions we might not experience every day. I see books as a sort of coded how-to manual for life. You may have to sort through lies and manipulations and metaphors, but there are answers in there, and I want to find them all. Also, words are beautiful. Books are my favorite art form. I want to create art like that, and what better research can be done to prepare me than reading what others have already created, seeing what sorts of techniques people are drawn to, and applying my own impressions of others’ works to mine? I read because it makes me feel happy, connected, and inspired. I read because I want to be able to write in a way that will inspire others. I read because that’s what my brain feels like it was built to do.

What’s your reading process?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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