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. 

Why Outrageous Election Memes Are Actually Good

Science magazine recently published a fascinating article about an enormous battle in the bronze age. It caught my wandering eye of Saruman because we doubt and do the parental “mmhmmm dear” when it comes to what the ancients wrote about themselves (I’m pretty sure Ancient Egypt’s “NFL” was called “WCETB” or “Who Can Exaggerate The Best”) so finding physical evidence to validate such claims is kind of a big deal. But what does this have to do with Trump vs. Hillary? It’s that people have been fighting for a very long time.  

To parents I'm sure this is obvious. This morning I optimistically checked the tide chart and threw everyone in the car for a spontaneous tide pool hike. I error intentionally on the side of not thinking through the ramifications of such actions so that I don’t talk myself out of it, but suffice it to say I was paying the consequences (willingly) when three hours later I ended up back at home with four soggy kids and a vehicle that’s slowly turning into its own ocean eco-system of sand, seaweed and something that smells suspiciously like rotting crab. Give it a few more weeks and our Mazda will be in contention for the world's smallest pacific island. As such, it is hard for me to differentiate one super special, one-of-a-kind, one-rock-to-rule-them-all from another. In the mayhem I misguidedly shut down one of my sweet angel children multiple times thinking he was asking for ice cream when he was really asking for anti-theft protection. His brothers capitalized on my distraction, joined forces and claimed power of the one true rock to rule them all.  

...And that’s how I ended up with my own Bronze Age battle on my back porch. You can’t shut someone down consistently without frustrations building up like a pressure cooker.

There are no perfect sides. Every opinion this side of heaven is a pie graph of partly true and partly flawed. I’m not even sure it’s a bad thing that we usually see the insanity of another person’s political opinions but not our own. Human brains can’t help but try to fix things, build things, and improve on things, so disagreeing is the biological chisel in the toolbox of modern thinking.  

But if it helps... next time you feel your blood pressure rising as you research other countries to move to if either one of the political candidates becomes president… remember that this is how history sorts itself out. Don’t try to shut down, police or parent the rhetoric war going on right now because discourse (even if it’s Nazi/Doltist/Fascist/Marxist/Imbecilic etc) is better than World War II. Ideas have to go through the gauntlet and stand on their own merit.  Embrace it! It’s a good thing and join it if your conscience dictates.  

...at the very least it might give future historians something to do.

 

A Mom's Minimalist Guide To The Beach

  Frankly I knew it was inevitable. Life is always a Faustian trade of evils (or joys...depending on how rose colored your glasses are). When the two older kids left for their very Parisian-esque rural outsourcing of summer (see   Bringing Up Bebe  ), I was tempted to think of all the amazing things I was going to accomplish. It’s hard to get anything done when you’re doing your best impression of zookeeper/professor/therapist twentyfour-seven for nine months of the year and I was much looking forward to the break.      Well I got it. Truly. From  everything   . No violin, no sports, no therapy, no school meetings, no staying up until midnight trying to grow rock crystals on a toothpick. I traded the busy life of four kids where I couldn't keep the house clean, but did accomplish important things (like how to take a booger out with tissue), to a the slower easier life of two kids where the house stays clean but not accomplish anything big. Mainly because you belatedly realize the younger two are stuck to you like glue without their built in entertainers and playmates. But going backwards in family size (temporarily) does have its fair list of perks. The laundry stays only one or two loads behind, the kitchen is almost always in a mildly presentable state (the fruit flies are suing for breach of contract), and the house actually gets vacuumed regularly.    But I was kidding myself to think I could get any big mind-blowing projects accomplished. Thus it was with great difficulty I let go of my pipe dreams and resigned myself to sleeping in every morning, putzing around the house teaching my preschooler how to fold washcloths before finally going to the beach or pool.     I would like to say that I’m so organized that going to the beach is a painless affair, but instead it’s the opposite, I’m so unorganized     going to the beach is a (mostly) painless affair. Of course I’ve got “science” to back up all of my justifications for this, and I thought I’d share them in case someone else is looking for a way to spend more time having fun and less time trying to get out the door.      Disclaimer:  (If you are one of those uber prepared types that has a ziploc baggie for your ziploc baggie, then please close your eyes and don’t read this.  The world needs more of you and less of me.  In a Darwinian experiment I’m the first to die out i.e. I’m more than grateful for the times I’ve been helped by the preparers)      Don't bring sunblock or snacks and only bring a limited amount of water (or none if you know there's a drinking fountain)     I say this somewhat tongue in cheek because I do actually have a thing of sunblock that stays in my beach bag, but it usually takes us the whole summer to get through it. And the logic is this. Your body is an amazing machine that knows when it's hungry, tired, and had too much sun. Things like pretzels, doritos and sunblock override this built in safety mechanism which means you end up at home exhausted bloated, overly slathered with chemicals and cranky from the combination of artificial cheese flavor and that sunburned spot behind your knees you missed. Trust the human body to go “ugh, I’m really hot and hungry and I swear I can feel cancer cells forming on my body right now.” That’s when you know it’s time to load up the kids and head home. On the plus side, this usually means everyone gets their naps (or have gotten their naps), and you have time to plan dinner, paint your toes and eat bon bons.  (     here is a harvard medical publication advocating the health benefits of moderate sun exposure).           Don't bring a picnic blanket, chairs or umbrella      In the book     “Blue Mind    ” Wallace Nichols talks about the science behind going to the beach or even just being in water.   Dopaminergic pathways, neuro plasticity, auditory cortex physiology, textural and vestibular input are all scientific ways to say the ocean is really good for you. The chemical makeup of the salt water, the minerals, the ebb and flow of the waves, and the sand are all incredibly soothing and healthy for your brain and body. I like to think of a little beach trip being like a soft reboot. Between all of that and the vitamin D, I also try to take my kids to a deserted beach when they’re under the weather. But back to the packing list… most of those things don’t work if you’re sitting on a chair, on a blanket, under an umbrella, with water shoes, rash guard and sun hat on. If you have kids who are low threshold on the sensory spectrum then they likely won’t want to budge out of the little fortress of protection against the dread elements and will take any suggestions to the contrary as torture of the highest degree with you as the grand inquisitor. It may take awhile, but they'll be happier in the long run. (note: ignore this if you have kids with severe processing disorders)        Don't load and unload the car      There’s no scientific theory behind this one, unless it’s Newton’s first law of motion (An object at rest remains at rest until mommy decides the towels are starting to smell). I use a big green plastic container from IKEA and that’s where the sand toys, floaties and towels live in the back of the car. The baby carrier also lives in the car so literally all that needs to be done to go to the beach or pool is getting in the car and leaving. (which if you have kids, you know is a feat in and of itself)         Do  pack a magic sand eraser      There’s only one gimmicky item that’s made it into my super lazy...er minimalist beach container and that’s a     bamboo swaddle blanket .    I discovered this black magic entirely by accident last summer.  West coast sand has these gold flakes in it that stick to skin like glitter (which isn’t nearly as pretty as it sounds). Anyone who has tried to get four kids rinsed and sand free before they get in the car, knows it’s on the same level as completing a triathlon (one armed with a wet cat zip tied to your leg). Once, in desperation I yanked the blanket off the weakest member of the tribe in an assuredly futile attempt to get at least some of the caked wet sand off…. and Lo and behold it worked! So the swaddle blanket earned itself a permanent spot in the beach bag. I have considered getting myself a booth at the county fair “Step right up and let me show you the one and only MAGIC SAND ERASER for a low low price of $49.99 today only!!”. If however you decide to get yourself three for that price on Amazon, it does have to be the bamboo one. The cotton ones don’t work as well for some reason.      And that’s it. Simple! Easy! (I’m kidding, we all know it’s never easy). And sometimes I do pack all of the foods and huddle under my friends umbrella and lust after all of the cool beach stuff everyone else has. But hey do whatever you gotta do. (and if you’re a preparer and you’ve made it to the end of this, then here’s a Valium and some wine, thank you for loving me).      

Frankly I knew it was inevitable. Life is always a Faustian trade of evils (or joys...depending on how rose colored your glasses are). When the two older kids left for their very Parisian-esque rural outsourcing of summer (see Bringing Up Bebe), I was tempted to think of all the amazing things I was going to accomplish. It’s hard to get anything done when you’re doing your best impression of zookeeper/professor/therapist twentyfour-seven for nine months of the year and I was much looking forward to the break.  

Well I got it. Truly. From everything. No violin, no sports, no therapy, no school meetings, no staying up until midnight trying to grow rock crystals on a toothpick. I traded the busy life of four kids where I couldn't keep the house clean, but did accomplish important things (like how to take a booger out with tissue), to a the slower easier life of two kids where the house stays clean but not accomplish anything big. Mainly because you belatedly realize the younger two are stuck to you like glue without their built in entertainers and playmates. But going backwards in family size (temporarily) does have its fair list of perks. The laundry stays only one or two loads behind, the kitchen is almost always in a mildly presentable state (the fruit flies are suing for breach of contract), and the house actually gets vacuumed regularly.    But I was kidding myself to think I could get any big mind-blowing projects accomplished. Thus it was with great difficulty I let go of my pipe dreams and resigned myself to sleeping in every morning, putzing around the house teaching my preschooler how to fold washcloths before finally going to the beach or pool.

I would like to say that I’m so organized that going to the beach is a painless affair, but instead it’s the opposite, I’m so unorganized going to the beach is a (mostly) painless affair. Of course I’ve got “science” to back up all of my justifications for this, and I thought I’d share them in case someone else is looking for a way to spend more time having fun and less time trying to get out the door. 


Disclaimer:  (If you are one of those uber prepared types that has a ziploc baggie for your ziploc baggie, then please close your eyes and don’t read this.  The world needs more of you and less of me.  In a Darwinian experiment I’m the first to die out i.e. I’m more than grateful for the times I’ve been helped by the preparers)

Don't bring sunblock or snacks and only bring a limited amount of water (or none if you know there's a drinking fountain)

I say this somewhat tongue in cheek because I do actually have a thing of sunblock that stays in my beach bag, but it usually takes us the whole summer to get through it. And the logic is this. Your body is an amazing machine that knows when it's hungry, tired, and had too much sun. Things like pretzels, doritos and sunblock override this built in safety mechanism which means you end up at home exhausted bloated, overly slathered with chemicals and cranky from the combination of artificial cheese flavor and that sunburned spot behind your knees you missed. Trust the human body to go “ugh, I’m really hot and hungry and I swear I can feel cancer cells forming on my body right now.” That’s when you know it’s time to load up the kids and head home. On the plus side, this usually means everyone gets their naps (or have gotten their naps), and you have time to plan dinner, paint your toes and eat bon bons.  ( here is a harvard medical publication advocating the health benefits of moderate sun exposure).

 

Don't bring a picnic blanket, chairs or umbrella

In the book “Blue Mind” Wallace Nichols talks about the science behind going to the beach or even just being in water. Dopaminergic pathways, neuro plasticity, auditory cortex physiology, textural and vestibular input are all scientific ways to say the ocean is really good for you. The chemical makeup of the salt water, the minerals, the ebb and flow of the waves, and the sand are all incredibly soothing and healthy for your brain and body. I like to think of a little beach trip being like a soft reboot. Between all of that and the vitamin D, I also try to take my kids to a deserted beach when they’re under the weather. But back to the packing list… most of those things don’t work if you’re sitting on a chair, on a blanket, under an umbrella, with water shoes, rash guard and sun hat on. If you have kids who are low threshold on the sensory spectrum then they likely won’t want to budge out of the little fortress of protection against the dread elements and will take any suggestions to the contrary as torture of the highest degree with you as the grand inquisitor. It may take awhile, but they'll be happier in the long run. (note: ignore this if you have kids with severe processing disorders)

 

Don't load and unload the car

There’s no scientific theory behind this one, unless it’s Newton’s first law of motion (An object at rest remains at rest until mommy decides the towels are starting to smell). I use a big green plastic container from IKEA and that’s where the sand toys, floaties and towels live in the back of the car. The baby carrier also lives in the car so literally all that needs to be done to go to the beach or pool is getting in the car and leaving. (which if you have kids, you know is a feat in and of itself)

 

Do pack a magic sand eraser

There’s only one gimmicky item that’s made it into my super lazy...er minimalist beach container and that’s a bamboo swaddle blanket. I discovered this black magic entirely by accident last summer.  West coast sand has these gold flakes in it that stick to skin like glitter (which isn’t nearly as pretty as it sounds). Anyone who has tried to get four kids rinsed and sand free before they get in the car, knows it’s on the same level as completing a triathlon (one armed with a wet cat zip tied to your leg). Once, in desperation I yanked the blanket off the weakest member of the tribe in an assuredly futile attempt to get at least some of the caked wet sand off…. and Lo and behold it worked! So the swaddle blanket earned itself a permanent spot in the beach bag. I have considered getting myself a booth at the county fair “Step right up and let me show you the one and only MAGIC SAND ERASER for a low low price of $49.99 today only!!”. If however you decide to get yourself three for that price on Amazon, it does have to be the bamboo one. The cotton ones don’t work as well for some reason.  

And that’s it. Simple! Easy! (I’m kidding, we all know it’s never easy). And sometimes I do pack all of the foods and huddle under my friends umbrella and lust after all of the cool beach stuff everyone else has. But hey do whatever you gotta do. (and if you’re a preparer and you’ve made it to the end of this, then here’s a Valium and some wine, thank you for loving me).