To get this out of the way – I’m dyslexic. I’m also a voracious reader. This year I’m on track to read 52 books and listen to 52 audiobooks. Obviously reading, becoming engrossed in a story, expanding my brain with new ideas and old histories is important to me. But why do I pursue this as a hobby if my dyslexia makes it so difficult?
DULCIUS EX ASPERIS
That’s a Latin phrase meaning “sweeter after difficulties”, which also serves as the motto of the Scottish clan Fergusson. It also serves as the reason I read so much , or at least try to read as much as I can. Over so many years of reading, I’ve come up with a number of tricks and techniques to read quickly and retain what I’ve read. Below I’m going to share three of them, probably the three most important ones I’ve discovered.
What isn’t included in this list is any technical help. I don’t have a font that helps me – although Open Dyslexic is nice, it’s not my go to on the Kindle. But I know it has helped many other dyslexics in my family to find reading more enjoyable. I don’t have blinkers or blinders to focus my eyes, or use a ruler or any other speed reading tactics. The list is more of three stances I take in regards to reading, and locking the information in my brain.
I Don’t Have A Comfort Zone (Anymore)
Back when I was a scraggly 90s teenager, I read primarily licensed fiction. Star Wars and Star Trek, BattleTech and Forgotten Realms. If it resided at the end of the science fiction shelves in Barnes and Noble or organized by series number rather than author at Powell’s, I read it. Interspersed were a few other works of fiction (Forrester, Chandler, Steinbeck) and the Big Three of Science Fiction (Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein) with some Ray Bradbury tacked on.
Have you noticed that most of that list is scifi and fantasy?
This changed in college, due to an economic downturn and the local (to me) Tower Books going out of business. I had money burning a hole in my pocket, and here was a store full of 75-90% off sales. Why not try something new? For the first time I was reading biographies, Non-European or American histories, self-help and exercise guides, business books and natural science. I was introduced to poetry of John Dunn and my favorite poet of all time, Koon Woon.
Since then I’ve dropped licensed fiction, kept up with science fiction, and tried to read as far and wide as possible. This year I’ve read some personal development and self-help, naval histories and true crime, classic fiction and brand new bestsellers. Having that range of voices, experiences and backgrounds to refresh my brain is a joy.
I Don’t Waste My Time
If someone were to look at my Goodreads shelves, they’d see a pyramid of reviews. 3 stars on the bottom, a middle layer of 4 star books, and the pinnacle 5 stars, the books I’d recommend to anyone at any time. What wouldn’t be seen are the 2 and 1 star book reviews. Because I don’t finish those books. Why would I? It’s a waste of time.
Within the first hour of an audiobook or first 20 pages of a physical or ebook, I know whether or not it is worth finishing. Worth Finishing, I’ll note, is subjective. It’s not a value judgement on the author, usually, but a value judgement on what their words say to me. I spare them the “horror” of the 1 or 2 star review, and spare others hearing me bitch about reading a book I don’t enjoy.
Life is short, there’s billions of books to read, there’s no reason to spend more time on a book when you don’t like the characters, voice, style, content or theme. So I don’t waste my time.
I Don’t Stay Silent
My poor wife. All she wants to do is get ready for bed, or read to the kids, or edit photos, or just have a relaxing dinner out. And hear I come with scads of notes from the latest books I’m reading, ready to share.
It’s exasperating. “It’s 2am! Why are you telling me this now?” she asks, soothing a twin.
“Because I just read it! I don’t want to forget,” I say, feeding the other twin.
Honestly, that’s on me. I need to work on my timing. If it’s interesting and not a massive interruption, she’s a great and engaged audience.
If I read something that’s interesting, insightful or just triggers a thought progression in me, I have to share. There’s been times I’ve taken over Thanksgiving meals or family dinners to relate points about radio during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, or A.B. Guthrie’s prose, or wine counterfeiting. Hey, it beats complaining about who cut me off in traffic today. These are books that have energized me, and I want to share that energy like a runaway nuclear plant. It’s that teaching part of my brain, it engages more with a subject every time I share it with someone.
So now, to spare my wife, I’ll be sharing a lot of bits with you all, the readers of this blog. You’re welcome! and also Thank you!
Get Out There
Those are my three methods of staying engaged while reading and locking in what I’ve read. You can see, it’s not a trick or series of exercises or a gadget that helps the most, it’s actively sharing the interesting books I read from a wide range of subjects. I expand my knowledge base outward and upward, and avoid books not worth my time. Give these techniques a try and see if you end up reading and retaining more!