The Great "How-To" On Reading Comprehension (or how to read when you have no time)

The TV is back on the wall. Shame.  But I avoided a useless ER trip, so Yay?   

how to read fast comprehension help tips

I did fork out a fair chunk of change to be told my child is full of crap...literally full of crap, but hey, you win some, you lose some.  The TV rode in (magically transformed from dragon to knight on a white horse) to rescue Jim who had to work from home while I took the aforementioned kid to the Dr (with what I thought was appendicitis, but turned out to be an impacted colon). Thankfully it's nothing a bottle of magnesium and caution tape around the bathroom can't fix. 

I also added another boy to the brood for the week, which has worked out well (most notably it turned up the notch on hilarious conversations overheard and the amount of food consumed), but suffice it to say there isn't a lot of extra time for me to read the growing pile of books next to my bed.

Like any good (mostly) millennial worth her salt, I have read books on how to read books.  And my book stacks have baby book stacks.  So if your life is as crazy as mine and your Amazon and library lists are equally out of control, here is the cliff notes version of what some recent experts say and my own experience with their advice.

1. Books have grammar and not the punctuation kind. 

Thomas Foster talks about this in his "How To Read Literature Like A College Professor", but you also see it if you read blogs written by publishers, editors, and agents.  There is a grammar and structure to how the whole "written with words" world works (say that five times fast) and if you understand it, then your reading speed and comprehension automatically picks up speed because you can proverbially pick the cross-titch off the frame and look at the backside. It also sorta lets you see the motivations and humanity behind the author (for better or worse). I recommend reading the aforementioned book, as well as "Save the Cat" and any book on how to write non-fiction. 

My takeaway: Take a few books and really think about the structure and behind-the-scenes systems that go into making a book, and you'll find subsequent books are easier and faster to grasp. 

2. Speed reading may be pseudoscience, but it helps with the boring stuff. 

Tim Ferriss is the most recent hawker of speed reading, but he is by no means the first.  None of the methods truly work (for science or me) because they focus on the physiology of how your eyes and retina work. BUT I did find I could read super boring stuff a lot better without my eyes glazing over and my mind wandering. I do pause a lot as I think through things...especially difficult concepts or ones I'm unfamiliar with, so I don't think I'm the best candidate and a college student would find the theories more useful.  There's a nice summary of the basic speed reading strategies here.   

My takeaway: I think speed reading is a bit like being told spinach will make you strong like Popeye. It won't, but it's still good for you. The neuroscience peeps are undecided on speed reading, but I find it useful nonetheless. 

3. Write A Review and don't say "Love it" or "It Sucks". 

One of the best ways to transfer information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory is to be able to articulate to someone what you learned.  Even more important, doing something physiological and slow after you've done something mental and fast, is insanely beneficial for your brain and its ability to process, build connections, and operate smoothly.  Thus writing review accomplishes both of those things while also providing a good "reason" to do so (vs just writing it in a journal for the pure exercise of it).  In the book "Thinking Fast And Slow" Dr. Daniel Kahneman shows how our brains adapted to take in information a certain way and make instant judgments on it.  Slow thinking is harder, more meticulous and apparently more rational.  

My takeaway: Pick up a pen.  While fast reading and processing in this hectic age of information is a necessary and laudable skill, any way you can get yourself to also exercise and use "slow" thinking, will help concepts stick better and serve as a cautionary safety net.  

In case none of those are helpful, here are the honorable mentions (in no particular order):
Read lots of books at once
It's ok if some books take a few days and others take years
Figure out the central premise of each book by reading the contents and footnotes first
Realize that non-fiction can be more fictitious than fiction
Find books you think you'll disagree with, and read them anyway


And that's it, I'm off to disinfect the toilet and pay my library fines...we'll see if I actually remember any of this in a week.