Fine Print: Learning How to Read Well

"We read to keep ourselves fully alive and alert to the world."

Appears in Spring 2010 Issue: The story
March 1st, 2010

When I graduated from college, I was completely burnt out on books. Exhausted from four years of plumbing the depths, I felt as if someone had wrung the juice out of my brain for good.

But one day, riding the subway to work, I read two profiles in The New Yorker: one of former U.S. president Bill Clinton, and the other of haute couture designer Valentino. Two more different influential individuals could hardly be found; yet, they had one important characteristic in common: both are voracious and widely-ranging readers. Valentino apparently lives in a house stacked high with books, while Clinton can converse on practically any topic as a result of his book obsession.

Convinced, I picked up a book again (The Hours, by Michael Cunningham), then another, and before long, I was hooked. Since then, I've become an intentional reader, the kind of slightly obsessive bibliophile who makes lists of books to read, and always travels with two books, just in case I finish one before the day is over.

Developing a reading practice has served me well. First, and most obviously, intentional reading expands my mind, acquainting me with ideas that I'd never otherwise encounter. It also makes me a much better conversationalist, and has the side benefit of letting me instantly identify people with whom I will likely "click" based on the books they like. As I absorb the sentences penned by experienced writers, I learn how to become a better writer, too. And reading, of course, provides me with an enormous amount of pleasure and relaxation. To quote Thomas Jefferson, these days, "I cannot live without books."

As a student, recent graduate, or seasoned professional, you know all this; yet, chances are, you are unsatisfied with your reading habits. Television and video games, or chores and homework, or life and family get in the way.

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