How to get more from the books you love

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We’re often bombarded with suggestions about what to read.  On television, celebrities reveal favourite books on Between the Covers or Richard and Judy: Keep Reading and Carry On. Newspapers from the Guardian to the Daily Mail round up dozens of ‘must-reads’ each season, while social media is home to a growing army of influencers with suggestions to share.  Here at the Big Book Review we love a good book recommendation as much as anyone, but we also believe that how you read is as important as which books you choose.  So here’s our list of six tips to help you get more from the books on your shelf.

  1. Read slowly

Most book lovers have a growing ‘to-read’ pile; a visible reminder of all the titles they haven’t finished.  With over 600 books published on a single day last year, it might seem tempting to plough through pages as quickly as possible.  However, you can transform your reading experience by accepting that you’re never going to be able to read everything, and by deepening your relationship with your favourite texts.

Rather than racing through novels at speed, try identifying particular sentences or passages that stand out to you.  Think about why they work, and how the author has used language to create the effects you enjoy.  Then try marking up key moments and coming back to them later.  Is the effect the same when you read them again?

  1. …and then re-read

You can read a book for a second time, but you can never experience it in the same way twice.  When you know how a novel ends, your understanding of the opening chapters will change.  Suddenly you might see how an author is setting up twist or revelation.  You may notice details that you missed completely the first time around.

However, there’s another reason why re-reading a book can help you see it differently.  Our understanding of stories is formed both by the words on the page and by our own life experiences.  Re-reading a book we read years ago means we approach it as a different person.  We may find ourselves re-evaluating characters or understanding their choices differently.   This in turn can help us understand how we as people have changed.

If you’re planning to re-read a novel that you have read a while ago, why not take part in our Novel memories study?

Take part one, then re-read the book and complete the second part.

  1. Read aloud

When we think about reading today, we probably imagine a solitary activity; we usually enjoy a novel silently, or listen to an audiobook with our headphones on.  However, for much of history, only a minority of the public were literate. Most people experienced books by listening to them, and authors such as Austen or Dickens would have written in the knowledge that their words would be spoken.

Reading aloud can help you hear patterns in the language that you may not notice if you read silently.  Not only that; the act of reading to somebody can change your experience.  By becoming an actor as well as a reader, you may find yourself identifying with characters in very different ways.

  1. Vary your reading routine

What kind of reader are you?  Do you always have a crime novel in your bag for your commute?  Do you devour literary fiction last thing every night?  Or do you only find time to read a single novel on your summer holiday each year?

Making an effort to vary your reading routine can also change the way you think about different kinds of writing.  Snatching fifteen minutes at lunchtime might not get you very far through War and Peace, but its plenty of time to appreciate a poem or short story.  The more you experiment with reading in different times and places, the more you may find yourself seeking out different kinds or reading experiences too.

What’s more, our research has thrown up intriguing hints that the place where you read has an impact on how you remember it.   All the senses – including smell and taste – play a role in memory. The next time you take a trip, why not dig out literature about the location you are travelling to – you may find you experience it in a very different way.

  1. Talk about the books you read

The only thing better than finding a good book is sharing it.  Talking about literature can help you discover meanings and interpretations you would not have found on your own.  Why is that?  Is it simply because everyone reads differently?  Or could it be that kinds of readings that groups generate together are different from the readings that people come up with on their own?  Either way, discussing your favourite story with others is bound to help you discover new depths.

One way of finding like-minded readers is through a local book group.  If you don’t know of one already, your library can probably put you in touch.  On the other hand, if the thought of discussing books aloud makes you nervous there are plenty of book review websites such as Goodreads or LibraryThing that let users share reviews.  You can post anonymously if you prefer– and other participants’ contributions can be as entertaining as the books themselves.

  1. Try writing back

Finally, why not use a great piece of writing as inspiration for your own creative efforts?  How about drafting a sequel to a favourite book, or telling a story from the perspective of a different character?

Many writers find that emulating their favourite authors is a great way of honing their own creative skills.  And remember, you don’t have to share your attempts – unless you’re ready to, of course.

If you’ve got a suggestion of your own for how to get more from the books you love, do let us know in the comments, or by using the hashtag #NovelPerceptions on Twitter.

Image by Fran via Unsplash.

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