We’re already ten issues into this Reading in Public series, and I am feeling more inspired than ever. I still love sharing what I’m reading with you every Sunday, but getting to write about reading in a different way has reinvigorated both my writing and my reading life.
So far this series has primarily been reflections on my own reading process rather than a collection of “how to’s”—and I want to keep it that way! I don’t think there’s one right way to read and I certainly don’t think I’m better (whatever that means!) at reading than anyone else. I do find that because of my English lit and teaching background, I’m almost always thinking about how a book is constructed even as I’m taking in an immersive story. Making this type of thinking visible to myself and to you has been a lot of fun for me so far.
Today, however, I’m sharing more practical, applicable reading advice. This year, as inspired by Maryanne Wolf, I’m practicing the art of slower and deeper reading. Now, I’ll admit, it doesn’t always happen. Currently I’m vetting titles for my Paperback Summer Reading Guide and I am devouring books at an ungodly pace. But some of my best reading experiences of the year have been those in which I’ve slowed down and intentionally read deeply.
I’ve gotten requests both here and on Instagram to share some of the strategies I’m using to intentionally slow down and deepen my reading. I made a list of what’s been working for me so far this year—some of which has surprised me! And if you have other suggestions for topics, lists, or strategies you’d like to see covered as part of Reading in Public, leave a comment on this post or respond directly to this email. I’d love to hear from you!
Five practical tips for deeper reading
I don’t implement all of these for every book I read, even those I want to read deeply. I recommend testing each out individually or mixing and matching to see what helps you get more out of your current read.
Choose the right book. Not every book is meant to be read deeply and each reader may have a different idea about what books warrant this kind of time and attention. Consider what type of book you want to read deeply. Maybe you want to pour over the pages of the newest Emily Henry book, marking the most swoon-worthy dialogue. Maybe you’d like to carefully read a well-plotted mystery and make note of how the author structured the reveal. Or maybe you, like me, want to explore some literary fiction with an eye for how an author is using writing techniques to develop their themes. There’s no right answer here, but selecting the right book for what you want to explore will help you enjoy the process.
Read something short. Often when I think of slowing my reading down, I think about choosing a big book and reading it over the course of several weeks. But, for me, slowly reading something short is a better way to deepen my reading. A short story or novella (even a poem if I’m feeling ambitious!), can be read at a super slow pace and still completed in a reasonable amount of time. Plus, reading something short allows for rereading—the best way to get more out of a book. You can reread eye-catching sections, essential passages, or confusing elements without getting stuck spending too much time on a single book.
Read with a pencil in your hand. I enjoy annotating my books, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by the process and start overthinking it. This year, instead of framing it as annotating, I just read with a pencil in my hand. This way it’s there if there’s anything I want to mark, and I find that once I start marking up a book, I begin to see more that’s worth marking!
Jot notes on the title page. Okay, I know I just said I’m trying not to have any preconceptions or plans for my annotations, but this is the one exception. On the title page, I keep track of anything in the book I’d like to talk about with someone else. I find that to be the most helpful framing for determining what I think is important in any book—if there’s anything I want to ask another reader a question about it, gush over with someone, or theorize about with a smart friend, it goes in the front of my book.
Tandem read. I read a lot of audiobooks these days, and, honestly, it’s not the best format for deep reading for me personally. I’m not going to relinquish my audiobooks because I love them and it’s the only way I can fit in all the reading I want to do. But I’ve been trying to do more tandem reading—both audio and print—books I want to read more deeply (pro tip: check out one or both formats from the library). I’ll spend some time looking at the words while listening if I’m able (truly a fantastic reading experience that everyone should try!). If not, I try to at least read the beginning and end of a book in print. This helps me orient myself and notice the prose before I get lost in the audio narration. Reading the ending in print allows me to savor it and consider the choices the author made in concluding their work.
Read reviews midway through. I don’t like to read reviews before I start a book because it messes with my expectations and I want to make my own mind up about a book’s themes and merits. But sometimes, once I’m in the middle of the book and have begun to develop my opinion of the book, I’ll see if I can find a newspaper review. Reading another reader’s impressions and seeing what stood out to them about a book helps me focus my attention on the craft and perhaps even reveals things I might have missed. I still leave myself plenty of room to disagree with the reviewer, but after reading a review, I begin to feel like I’m engaging in dialogue with the reviewer—pointing out what they failed to notice or nodding in agreement with their perceptive insights.
I begin to feel like I’m engaging in dialogue with the reviewer—pointing out what they failed to notice or nodding in agreement with their perceptive insights.
Talk about your reading experience. Speaking of dialogue, one of the best strategies I’ve found for reading more deeply is to read with others. My book club is the best example of this (we’d love for you to join us!), but I’m also constantly talking to other readers about books. I don’t do a lot of formal buddy reads, but if I want to get more out of a book, I reach out to someone else who’s read it or encourage a friend to pick it up so we can chat about it. Reading with someone else is almost like rereading because you pick up on things you missed in your reading.
For more thoughts on deep reading, listen to this wonderful podcast episode, subscribe to Recipe for a Bookish Life, or pick up Craft in the Real World or A Swim in a Pond in the Rain.
Reading in Public deep dives are supported by paid subscribers to the FictionMatters Newsletter. If you enjoyed today’s topic, please consider forwarding it to a friend, buying me a coffee, or becoming a paid subscriber. Thanks for your support!
For questions, comments, or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to reach out by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or responding directly to this newsletter. I love hearing from you!
This email may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through the links above, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.
Loving this series! I resonate with so many of these reflections. I also use the title page for things I want to talk about (or notes for what I want to say in a review)-- and often I use blank end pages to make an index of themes / quotes and their page numbers. Plus, I’m an un-ashamed dog-ear-er haha.
Tips 3, 4 and 7 resonate with me. For example, I'm in two different book groups. For one of them, the more social one with longtime friends that meets in homes, has food and wine etc. I just read the book. For the other one, which meets at my synagogue and has a paid facilitator I read with pencil in hand I read more carefully that way. I use the title page or inside of the cover for vocabulary or historical questions. I always like to talk about the books that I really enjoy, either with friends or my adult children and when I take on a big challenging read I like to find a partner who will read it at approximately the same time. For example, I'm about to start Alessandro Manzoni's The Bethrothed with my son-in-law. I have more time to read so I'll probably finish first ... he is brilliant and knows many things I do not. I am looking forward to his insights.