Reading In the Age of Distraction

It seems to be a common refrain these days, that people just don’t read anymore. All over the internet I hear people bemoaning the death of reading, and perhaps it’s true. But if we’re online reading about the fact that people don’t read anymore, aren’t we, in fact, reading?

Not reading is simply not part of my reality. I read daily, almost hourly. I read approximately 45 books a year, and I hold myself accountable to that volume with monthly posts of book stacks on Facebook and Instagram. I read for at least thirty minutes every single night before bed, out of real, printed paper books. I read every kind of book imaginable – fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, memoirs, YA, classic, graphic novels. I have been subscribing to TIME for the past twenty years, and read every issue when it arrives on Thursdays. And my kids read too, devouring piles of books that we check out from weekly visits to the library. In fact I can barely get them to do anything else but read. Perhaps I’m an anomaly. Perhaps my whole family is an anomaly.

But the place where I don’t deviate from the outcries of the death of our literary society is the lack of meaningful action taken AFTER I finish reading. Sure I read a lot, and easily take away the key points of every argument and every story. But after a while the details all blend together, and it becomes difficult to remember the details of any one piece of work. Over the past year I began to take the first steps towards resolving this challenge of retaining more of what I read.

Write In the Margins
You can go back to books from my childhood, as early as Bridge to Terabithia and A Wrinkle In Time, and find notes written in the margins. It’s a practice that served me well through high school and then college. But in my adulthood I discovered this amazing place called the library. And I stopped the marginalia. I recently decided it was okay to write in library books, as long as I use pencil. So I started up again, and the rewards of this active reading practice have been amazing.

Transfer Marginalia to Notes
At some point, the library starts asking for their books back. To keep track of all those wonderful notes, I created a Google Drive folder to store notes from the books that I read. I also created a commonplace book for articles that I read. These two strategies seem to work well together for keeping my notes organized and accessible.

Share What You Read
Much of what I read can be turned around and integrated into my teaching. By teaching what I read, I am further working with that content and solidifying my understanding of those ideas. I also share what I read through social media, starting conversations around different books that I know will be of interest to my followers in each space. Parenting books and fiction resonate with my Facebook friends, instructional design and teaching books with my Twitter followers, while art and design books attract the interest of my Instagram audience. Sharing in this way creates conversations, both online and face-to-face, that help me to continue exploring the concepts in the books I read.

I’m not worried about losing my interest in reading anytime soon, nor am I concerned about losing those important brain connections that enable me to process the written word. But consciously working to take notes, organize those notes, and share the ideas from my reading will certainly go a long way towards making those reading experiences more meaningful and more lasting.

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