Why is it that you want to read? Tell me that. If you turn to reading for the sake of entertainment or to acquire knowledge of some kind, you’re frivolous and lazy. But if you’re directing your reading to the right end, what else could that be than happiness? And if reading doesn’t secure happiness for you, what use does it serve?1Epictetus

Why Do You Want to Read ‘Better’?

I assume you already like to read.

Or, that you want to find ways to enjoy reading more, whether or not you already read.

Maybe you want to better remember what you read, or a more reliable way to select great reading?

I’ve written this post to help satisfy someone who desires any or all of the above.  To do this I’ll show how good reading is similar to growing plants, dancing, and good friendship.

But, before you try to learn from my ‘how to,’ or anyone else’s for that matter, I’d encourage you to ask yourself ‘why?’

Why do you want to read better?

For in reading as in everything else; without a good ‘why’ or supporting mindset no ‘how-to’s’ will stick, as time passes and your habitual behavior and mindsets overpower temporary whims like ‘reading better.’

So dig deep.

What does ‘better’ mean to you in the context of reading?

Why do you want to read at all?

Without personal reasons you can effortlessly, skillfully, and clearly articulate it’s hard to change your reading habits, much less any habit.

I read because it helps me better understand myself and others; it focuses what I recall about the moments, conversations, and places in my life; it helps me feel more connected to my family, friends, and the world at large.

I feel I am who I am and value what I do because of the subtle mix between what I’ve read, my life, and my friends.

If you think about it, reading is a kind of sacrificial activity, because it makes us die for a time to the other things and people in our lives.

Good reading returns me to the world in a state of wonder; it restores the beauty to day to day life while empowering and challenging me to become more self aware, respectful, and loving. I read to craft myself and my social relationships for the better.

I read to live well. I don’t live to read.

This is what ‘reading better’ means to me. What does it mean for you?

Table of Contents


The 10 Ways of Reading Better

  1. Read Multiple Books at the Same Time
  2. Read Books in as Many Chunks as Possible
  3. Keep Track of (and Celebrate) Your Progress through Books
  4. Read to the Rhythm of the Long Dance
  5. Create a Reading Digestive Process: “Spoil” Books, Journal, and Review Books
  6. Learn to Actively Ignore and Forget Boring Stuff
  7. Create Stage Directions (via Underlining and Highlighting)
  8. Try Ebooks (Even if You Love Books with Spines)
  9. Read Whenever You Can
  10. Find Your Literary Friends


The Danger of Reading Only to Become an Expert

Whatever ‘why’ or reason to read you choose for yourself is good so long as the sole goal is not the desire to acquire expertise status on the subject of your reading.

If you want to read because you want to see yourself or be seen as an expert you might want to reconsider; reading for expertise is ultimately self defeating.

Virginia Woolf knew this well:

[The expert] is a sedentary, concentrated solitary enthusiast, who searches through books to discover some particular grain of truth upon which he has set his heart. If the passion for reading conquers him, his gains dwindle and vanish between his fingers.

A reader, on the other hand, must check the desire for learning at the outset; if knowledge sticks to him well and good, but to go in pursuit of it, to read on a system, to become a specialist or an authority, is very apt to kill what suits us to consider the more humane passion for pure and disinterested reading.2

Virginia Woolf: a lady with damn good reading advice.

The only reading expertise that I think is worth cultivating is the ability to read the right things at the right times, such that they help you have more spontaneous, meaningful, and fulfilling relationships in your life.

Working on gaining any other kind of expertise dabbles in the necromancy of pedantry, which usually ends in reading books “written by the dead to be read for the dead.”3

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who will act as a guiding voice today, implicitly understood the danger of reading solely for the sake of looking like an expert.

As he put it:

Some meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books.4

The mistake of meek young men is the result of a kind of pedantry, which is an occupational hazard and undesirable trait in a frequent reader.

Pedantry creates a kind of semiconscious lust and fear for new books, stories, and ideas; which become as necessary to read as they are unfulfilling to finish.

Pedants imprison and flagellate themselves within within narrow and limited enclosures.5 Should their reading reading roam outside the paginated pasture of their expertise they will feel like a fool and be known as one by their kindred wiseacres; the goal behind reading for expertise is ritual combat with anyone invading one’s own intellectual fiefdom.

Pedant readers are in a zero sum arms race of mutually assured destruction. They stockpile arsenals of jargon and armies of ‘fun’ facts. They are tyrants of table talk who deploy their readings as spectacles, smokescreens, and cudgels.

Their vice, however, easily arises among anyone, reader or not, if it is not regularly, vigorously, and consciously opposed. Anyone -however formally or informally educated- can acquire the Sisyphean vice of a lust for expertise.

Sisyphus was cursed to forever roll a boulder up a hill. Whenever Sisyphus nears the top the boulder rolls down again. Sisyphus can never succeed in his task, yet he can never stop trying. Reading, or doing anything, for sole sake of expertise is Sisyphean because what we don’t know will always exceed what we do know. Don’t read like Sisyphus.

What gives reading value is what you do with it; not what or how much you’ve read.

In the poetry of the ancient Indian storyteller Visnu Sarma:

What is Knowledge, if in having won her, 

firm control over passions fails to follow, 

or rightful use of Intelligence lost;

if with Righteousness, Knowledge does not dwell, 

if She leads not to Serenity or Fame;

if to have Her is to simply bandy

Her name in this world-What use is She then?6

If you want to read better I suggest you set aside any lust for expertise; a reader would benefit from becoming more comfortable looking dumb.

If you think I’ve tarried too long on the subject of pedantry and should get on to the ’10 ways;’ I will momentarily, but I must defer you a little longer.

You see, reading is a powerful way to affect ones life for good or bad.

Reading doesn’t guarantee you will become a better person; it can just as easily make you a worse person if pursued in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons.

Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire. 7

It is why you want to read that determines whether or not reading is a good idea for you.

So ask yourself one last time, why do you want to read better?

Reading is just my preferred way of learning; it need not be everyone’s.

Learn however best suits you, whether that be through: movies, television, youtube, podcasts, audiobooks, conversation, direct experience(s), or whatever best empowers and challenges you.

I think the only truly wrong way to learn is to believe there is only one right way to learn for everyone.

If you think reading could be your preferred way of learning, or become another way for you to learn, read on; the ’10 ways’ now begin.

1. Read Multiple Books at the Same Time

The easiest way to read better is to enjoy reading, and the easiest way to do that is to learn how to read multiple books at the same time.  

If you read multiple books at the same time you have more fun while also reading each individual book “better.”

Reading is like eating.


A varied, nutritious, and balanced reading diet is key to your health.

It’s easier, and more enjoyable, to describe what something tastes like to yourself and others when you can compare it to other food; the same applies to books.

When you read multiple books at the same time you can’t help but compare them, which deepens your engagement and helps you better articulate what parts you like about one or dislike about any book.

Simultaneously reading a large quantity of books automatically improves the quality of the questions you can ask of the books, yourself, and others.

When you read books simultaneously any individual book is not an isolated event. Rather, each book provokes questions and answers which another book answers and questions in an endless dance.

Reading this way becomes a way of life rather than an activity that stops and starts upon isolated books.

2. Read Books in as Many Chunks as Possible 

I think good reading is like growing plants.

A reader wants a healthy mind as a farmer does healthy plants, and both need to regularly switch their crops. Because too much of one plant in one field for too long is bad for the soil and harms the plants themselves. Likewise, too much of one book or type of book for too long is harmful to oneself.


Unless we carefully, regularly, and diversely till our mental fields, we will fail to germinate with an improved conduct, character, or set of ideas.

Thus, I prefer to read at least ten books simultaneously; ideally the books are in different genres and on different subjects.

Rarely do I like to read a single book straight through, instead I prefer to savor books in as many chunks or chapters as possible.

I find that when you read one chunk of a book and then move onto another chunk of a different book it becomes easier to understand, enjoy, and remember what you read.

Reading this way also ensures that each book is part of a larger series of questions and answers from other books. This increases the odds that my reading permeates my mind and forms my day to day conduct.

In Emerson’s more metaphorical words, if we want to more effortlessly form our habitual mindsets and conduct through reading we may benefit from seeing ourselves as ‘the books book;’8‘our life is the text and books the commentary.’9


A young Emerson.

If you want what you read to become a part of your life -and change your day to day conduct- you can’t rush through books, especially ones you don’t want to put down.

Books need time to marinate and mix in your mind if they are to properly season your soul.

Thus, the more I like a book the more chunks I read it in.

More chunks means more engagement means more memories means more consciously chosen habitual mindsets and conduct.

Reading in chunks also makes less interesting books more tolerable and gives them a chance to arouse my faltering interest.

For example, If there’s a book I’ve lost my passion for reading I will read a chunk of the boring book between two chunks of exciting books.

One of two good things happens.

Either the boring book becomes tolerable, or I actually find something to like about it because of a question or idea the exciting books gave me.

Creatively combining different readings is key if your goal is the practical improvement of yourself.

As Emerson once said:

One must be an inventor to read well. […] There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.

When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion.

Every sentence is doubly significant, and the sense of our author is as broad as the world.10

The simplest way to read more effortlessly, skillfully, and ‘creatively’ is to read in chunks.

3. Read to the Rhythm of the Long Dance

Good reading is like good dancing.

When done well, both reading and dancing follow a rhythm.

I’ve found the reason I struggle with a book is usually because I’m trying to read it at the wrong rhythm. I’m either trying to read too much or too little of the book in any given sitting, I’m being a pushy dance partner.

How do you find the right reading or dancing rhythm?

Look to your partner.

What happens when a dancer ignores the size, flexibility, and strength of their dance partner? You get bad dancing.

The size, flexibility, and a strength of a dance partner suggest a dancing rhythm, just as the genre, intended audience, and style of a book suggests a certain reading rhythm.

Some writing can and should be skimmed, spoken out loud, performed, etc.

If you ignore the nature of a book, judge it by the wrong standards, or try to read it the wrong way you’ll be like a sloppy, careless, and dangerous dance partner.


Good dancing is a formulaic and spontaneous ritual between dance partners.

We dance and we read to create something special with someone special; to create something we could not on our own.

Here is Emerson on how to creatively dance through your reading:

Do not attempt to be a great reader. Read for facts and not by the bookful. You must know ownership in facts. What another sees and tells you is not yours but his.’

The reader is to take only what really suits them. Emerson tells us we ought to ‘learn to divine books, to feel those that you want without wasting much time over them. Remember, you must know only the excellent of all that has been presented. But often a chapter is enough. The glance reveals what the gaze obscures.’

When pressed for details on how exactly to do this, Emerson hesitated before saying: ‘Well learn how to tell from the beginning of the chapters and from the glimpses of the sentences whether you need to read them entirely through. So turn page after page, keeping your writers thoughts before you, but not tarrying with [an author], until he has brought you the thing you are in search of; then dwell with him, if so be he has what you want. But recollect you read only to start your own team.’11

We are all creative writers when reading, whether or not we ever pen words, for when we read words we create who we are, and shape our relationships with others and the world, if not also other works of art.

I find the easiest way to attune yourself to a book’s rhythm for ‘creative writing purposes’ is by experimenting with different sized reading chunks.

Just as there cannot be two lead dance partners in ballroom dancing you and a book cannot insist on two different rhythms. And since a book cannot change itself for you, we must change ourselves for our books. So follow the rhythm a book leads you with to find it’s natural chunks and dancing style.


Follow the rhythm a book leads you with.

When you read many books simultaneously in chunks your way of looking at reading switches automatically and unconsciously for the better. Slowly but surely all the books you read begin to feel like one book with many diverging stories within it.

Reading this way becomes one long dance composed of many individual chunks, songs, and dance partners.

In the long dance some songs and dance partners are more interesting than others; sometimes a side character, story, or song becomes your new lead; sometimes your lead abandons you; follow your intellectual feet’s urges.

Think, when a good dance instructor teaches beginners how to dance, she does not have novices always use the same partner; she has beginners switch partners frequently.

This ensures that the learned muscle memory is not just specifically triggered by one dance partner under specific conditions.

Frequent partner switching helps each dancer more quickly notice the flaws in their technique when compared to others, which minimizes the learning of bad habits while increasing the rate at which good habits are automatically acquired.

I think similar frequent switching is required for good reading, which is why I’ve encouraged reading many books in chunks simultaneously.

Good reading focuses on the long dance rather than bewitching single sirens who are as dangerous as they are attractive.

Listen to them, learn from them, but do not let them own you.

As Emerson put it:

Reading long at one time anything, no matter how it fascinates, destroys thought as completely as the inflections forced by external causes. Do not permit this. Stop if you find yourself becoming absorbed, at even the first paragraph.12

Odysseus listening to some Sirens.

You are the book’s book, be wary of a book you don’t want to put down; they can distract you from the long dance just as surely as they can draw you to it.

Without the long dance I always forget what I’ve read; the long dance is what binds my reading into a single thread…

Confucius said ‘Zigong, do you think I am the sort of person who learns many things and who retains this knowledge in his mind?’

Zigong replied, ‘Yes. Is it not so?’

‘No. I bind it together into a single thread.’13

You are wrong if you think you can’t remember what’s going on in multiple books.

If millions of people, likely including yourself, can cross the street and avoid car-death while keeping track of the notifications on their smartphones; you can remember what’s going on in multiple books.

But if you doubt me, here’s how you can help yourself remember what you read…

4. Keep Track of (and Celebrate) Your Progress through Books

Either keep a reading journal to track and celebrate your reading progress, or use a website like Goodreads.

I use Goodreads as a celebratory “reading journal” because it allows me to easily keep track of whatever page I’m on. Also, whenever you update your page it prompts you to post a ‘status.’ In the status I either summarize what I took away in my own words or find a passage that sums up the chunk.

In place of Goodreads a physical journal also works, and I’ll cover a great way to use this journal in the next section.

Keeping track of your progress helps you easily return to the long dance in a book.

Best of all, keeping track of your progress makes a game out of reading, and if you’re a competitive or self competitive type like myself this inspires further reading.

But, if you’re still worried you can’t remember what’s going on in multiple books there’s another reliable way to aid your reading recall…

5. Create a Reading Digestive Process: “Spoil” Books; Journal; and then Review Books.

When we eat food, we need to digest the nutrients in order for the food to be of use. Likewise with reading, we need ways to digest the nutrients, otherwise we will become backed up, overstuffed, or undernourished by the words we consume.

I think good readers create digestive processes for their readings.

One way I help myself digest my reading better is by “spoiling” a book by repeatedly reading a summary of it on Wikipedia. In the absence of a Wikipedia article I find reading a few books reviews works too.

Digesting and remembering things is mostly about repeating them enough in diverse contexts that regularly interest and matter to you.

You’re more likely to digest, remember, and make a book a part of who you are the more easily you can understand it before you even read it.

This is why when we want to learn a new language we start with its basic vocabulary.

Similarly, I think that when we want to learn from a new book, before we dive in to, it helps to know its basic ‘vocabulary;’ the outlines of its characters, ideas, and arguments. By learning these things in advance, we prepare ourselves to better digest what read.

If you’re interested in reading to form yourself, rather than just informing or entertaining yourself, worrying about spoilers is foolish.

I’m going to die; I’d like to make the most of the ways I spend my time. Spoilers matter less to me than sleepily forgetting parts of my own life.

Spoilers usually don’t matter if you’re reading to form who you are.

As another aid to digesting my reading and hypnotizing myself into better mindsets and conduct, I sometimes write reviews when I finish a book.

I’ll have more vivid memories of a book if I take the time to summarize it and the feelings it provoked.

Reviewing forces me to articulate my thoughts to someone else, which requires me to, at least mentally if not physically, go over and rethink the book again, and perhaps, again.

Books reviews are gifts you give your future self.

If this sounds like work, remember -reading is not a passive activity. It’s a sacrificial act that requires constant renewal in the form of your finite attention.

Words won’t read, digest, or turn into action themselves.

As a final digestive aid, I also use a physical reading journal.

When I first started journaling I tried to strictly organize everything in advance. I imagined over the course of years I would collect excellent passages on ‘great topics’ such as, religion, love, friendship, philosophy and so on.

This was sheer pedantry.

The arrogance of this method was stifling. Years later, my old journal remains mostly empty. Not until very recently have I started journaling again, but now with joy and ease.

I have Emerson to thank for this.

You see, in Emerson’s youth he made exactly the same pedantic mistake that I did, he also tried to journal with predetermined subject headings, and he also ended up writing nothing as a result.14

Since I’ve found and adapted Emerson’s mature journaling style for myself I find it is the most reliable way I digest what I read.

Here’s how the mature Emerson journaled:

[Emerson] explained his new system to Elizabeth Peabody, who passed it on in a letter to her brother, George:

He advised me to keep a manuscript book and write down every train of thought which arose on any interesting subject with the imagery in which it first came into mind. This manuscript was to be perfectly informal and allow of skipping from one subject to another with only a black line between. After it was written I could run a heading of subjects over the top -and when I wanted to make up an article- there were all my thoughts, ready.’

Emerson should have added -or perhaps Peabody forgot- that you have to index each journal in the back so you can find all the entries on a given subject without having to read through the entire journal each time you want to find something.15

A modified version of Emerson’s mature journaling style is what I use, and if Emerson’s style interests you, I urge you experiment with his way if you want a supremely satisfying way to digest what you read.

But, I want to be repeat myself here, you don’t need to use all, or even any, of my suggested digestive processes. Choose whichever suits you, modify them, or come up with your own entirely different digestive tools.

So long as you digest what you read it does not matter how you do so. All I can offer are the synthetic small and large intestines I’ve found useful. Trust whatever works works for your body.

By now, you hopefully see some ways you could digest what’s going on in multiple books. The natural next question is how to enter the long dance; in other words, how do we figure out what’s worth digesting and remembering in our reading?

6. Learn to Actively Ignore and Forget Boring Stuff

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all those words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of a trumpet out of Shakespeare, Seneca, Moses, John and Paul.16

When advising someone who asked him how to read, Emerson once likened reading well to quarrying valuable rocks and minerals from the earth.17This metaphor does a great job of capturing the unavoidable challenge of a vigorous reading habit: there is a tremendous amount of -often useless- raw material for us to digest. We need ways to separate gold from the mere pyrite.

This is why I think good reading is the art of selective forgetting.

I learned this from my freshman high school history teacher.

On the first day of class she gave all of us a sharpie and single page of info on Ancient Athens. She told us we had to decide which half of the page was more ‘important.’ The less relevant half was to be sharpied. This was fun.

After we’d all gleefully redacted some scholars labors our teacher told us we had to select the ‘best’ among the remaining paragraphs. Once again, the losing were to be obliterated via sharpie. Still fun. Finally we had to select the best sentence within the surviving paragraph. 

After all our pages looked like top secret briefings with only a sentence spared we to had share what passage we had each individually deemed ‘most important.’

I was astounded.

Almost everyone had chosen the same sentence. Why?

I think its because we all intuitively see the world in terms of stories. 

When we read, consciously or no, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, we look for a vivid story. We don’t think in terms of disconnected data.

When we read we look for what’s ‘important’ and stories are how we figure out what’s ‘important.’ So when you read; trust yourself to find the story, it will bring you to the long dance.

Good reading is the art of selective forgetting.

As Emerson put it:

The discerning will read, in his Plato or Shakspeare, only that least part, — only the authentic utterances of the oracle; — all the rest they reject, were it never so many times Plato’s and Shakspeare’s.18

7. Create Stage Directions (via Underlining and Highlighting)

Highlighting or underlining a text is how we quarry; it’s not a chore; it’s a violently fun way of deciding what to forget that keeps you on the rhythm of the long dance.

Below is an example of what it looks like when I’m truly in love with a text, dwelling deeply with it and annotating it to forget the boring stuff as best as I can; this is as good as ‘dancing’ and ‘quarrying’ ever gets for me.

This might look like madness, but there’s a predictable pattern to how I annotate.

Through all these different lines, brackets, and symbols; I’m mapping out the ideas on the page; creating my own ‘stage directions’ so that I can tell at a glance where individual ideas enter, leave, or return.

Creating stage directions wherever you read makes it easier to see the hidden story that shapes the long dance of your reading career; stage directions help you tease out whats ‘important.’

The rhythm of the long dance is only audible when you tune out competing noises; ‘stage directions’ act as personalized ear muffs and hearing aids.

I’m not suggesting you create stage directions with this level of detail all the time, I only do this when an author is speaking directly to my innermost needs as a reader. To always create intense stage directions would be as foolish as never creating them. Create stage directions that serve your needs, not mine, not a teachers, not anyone else’s.

As as favorite writer of Emerson’s, Francis Bacon,19 put it, different texts will require different reading styles from you:

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.20

Now that we’ve seen some ways to create a reading digestive process, stage directions, and attune ourselves to the rhythm of the long dance I need to say a thing, or three, about ebooks.

8. Try Ebooks (Even if You Love Books with Spines)

An ebook. Do you know the language she’s reading? I don’t!

An e-reader is a paperback sized object that can fit in a back pocket; it lets you carry a library on your person.  It’s awesome. But some people take issue with them. I used to be one of these people.

I once only read physical books, so I empathize with the complaints some lovers of physicals books make against their digital kin.

I don’t think either digital or physical reading is better in all ways, which one makes more sense for you depends on your desires.

I urge you to try both and determine for yourself what best works for you. There are some books I only read in print, and others digitally depending on my needs.

Since I’ve made the switch to primarily reading ebooks I’ve found there are only three drawkbacks to reading books digitally rather than in print.

  1. You can’t draw everywhere on e-readers screens. You can only highlight and annotate. Hopefully this will change…
  2. You can’t easily and legally share digital books you’ve bought. There’s DRM that makes sharing your digital library a pain.
  3. You can’t feel the ‘weight’ and wear of a digital book; it lacks a physical history and, therefore, a certain kind of seductive smell, appearance, and presence. This is the most subjective and yet serious complaint. I think that most people, myself included, who sometimes pine for print books are consciously or unconsciously lusting after this essentially erotic element about print books. Digital books can feel like absentee lovers if you grew up having affairs with spined books.

But, as a writer of nonfiction I scoff at these concerns, serious (or not) as they are. The ease with which e-readers can find words, passages, and ideas has revolutionized the way I read (and write.)

E-books let me digitally search for any key word or phrase I require; they make it easier than ever to forget the noise and keep track of the long dance.

I am unimpressed by those who claim that reading on a digital screen creates lazy, unhealthy, distracted readers with poor memories. I recall Socrates saying similarly negative things about the then ‘new’ technology of writing…


[Writing will not aid our memory, instead it] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. […]

[Writing] will enable [us] to hear many things without being properly taught, and [we] will imagine that [we] have come to know much while for the most part [we] will know nothing.21


I love o’l Socrates, and while he was actually working towards a much deeper point that this excerpt conceals (that I respect and cover here) his initial argument against writing is ridiculous.

While I freely admit to being a more skilled dancer and digester of readings in spined books, a certain Socratic skepticism over the ‘new’ technology is misguided.22

My skill with print books and difficulty with digital is not inherent to either medium. I grew up trained to read spined books, not digital ones.

I’m sure that with enough practice I’ll get as fluent with digital books as I am with the ‘new’ technology of writing. It’ll take years for me, but what skillful practice aiming towards effortlessness doesn’t require time, focus, and personal effort?

I think most arguments against e-readers and their digital kin -especially my own third one- are nonsense on stilts for Luddite sympathizers, such as good o’l Socrates himself. No one’s perfect, we all love what we’re used to.

In the future I imagine digital natives will be just as skeptical of the ‘new’ technology of their era, as our print natives are today, and the oral natives of Socrates’ era were. So it goes…

Most technology, such as writing or e-readers, is just a tool; one that can be used: by native or non native users, with or without skill, for good or bad.

Regardless of your technological preferences I can safely recommend that you…

9. Read Whenever You Can

Keep an e-reader, book, or books on you at all times.

Whenever you find yourself unexpectedly waiting somewhere you can then read rather than become anxious, bored or frustrated.

When other people are late I’m usually grateful; they’ve given me a chance to read.

Latecomers with their uncertain arrival times make my reading feel like an exciting affair of an illicit nature; they inspire me to read rapidly as I don’t know when others will arrive; at any second I could be ‘caught’ reading!

Reading makes for an excellent partner in bed too: I find that reading a chunk after waking up and before sleeping always feels good, even if I only read one paragraph.

In order to enjoy this kind of bite sized reading, you need to, as Stephen King put it: “learn to read in small sips;” because doing so gives you a few more minute long reading sessions snatched from tedium each day, which adds up to many more chunks a year.

The goal is to make reading your fallback position; a habitual mindset rather than something you make time for.

Because when reading becomes a habitual mindset, you’ll find all sorts of ways to slip more bookish affairs into your everyday life.

This brings us to the final and best way on how to read better.

Select the right books books to read.

10. Find Your Literary Friends

If you read the right books by the right people your mind is brought onto a level where you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.23Joseph Campbell

I have two ideas if you desire books that create the rapture of the long dance.

  1. You could subscribe to this blog and so get my book reviews by clicking here; if you’re curious what to expect when you read my reviews click here.
  2. Try Goodreads; it has an exceptional reviewing community.

But, these two ideas are insufficient.

Because both are just other people, who don’t know you, giving you reading advice. Good reading advice can only come from a friend who knows you well.

I pursue good reading like I pursue good friendships.

A good friend, and good reading simultaneously do two good and yet paradoxical things:

  1. They empower you to see the world more clearly from a certain perspective.
  2. They challenge you to see the world from a different perspective.

Only a friend can give you reading that both confirms you in the way you see the world, while also challenging you to see it a different and perhaps better way.

As Emerson once said of good reading, but could have also said of good friendship:

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.24

Good reading and friendship are a balancing act which returns us to ourselves while simultaneously suggesting who we could better become.

I learned a reliable way to create good literary friendships from Joseph Campbell:

When you find an author who really grabs you, read everything they have written.

Don’t say, ‘Oh, I want to know what So-and-so did’ -and don’t bother at all with the best-seller list.

Just read what one author has to give you; after you’ve read their way through their works go and read what they’ve read.

Reading this way opens up the world in a way that is consistent with a certain point of view.

When you go from the one author to another or select your reading from impersonal recommendations, you may be able to tell us the date when each author wrote such and such a poem…

But they haven’t said anything of lasting meaning to you.25

Don’t read something just because its popular, trending, or a classic, only someone with questionable desires befriends someone or some book for such pedantic reasons.

One of the silliest things you can do is read books that total strangers select for you, especially if it’s just because they are  ‘expert’ fortune 500 CEOs, or because they’re  selling you summaries of the ‘hottest’ books in a fancy looking box.

Commit yourself to good friends who know you rather than the whims of a crowd. Life is too short and unpredictable to read a life of ceaseless skipping from one sycophantic acquaintance to another. A few deep literary friendships is worth more than any shelf, bookcase, or library of acquaintances.26


Read as a dervish dances.

Good friends and good reading act like a mirror in which we can see ourselves reflected.

Choosing the wrong reading can be just as blinding, deafening, and dumbing as a friend who undermines, misleads, and eventually betrays you.

If you’re trying to avoid bad literary friends, consider listening to Emerson’s advice on what not to read:

Avoid all second-hand borrowing books –

‘Collections of —-,’ ‘Beauties of —-,’ etc.

If you have some books like these on your shelves I advise you to burn them.

No one can select the beautiful passages of another for you.

It is beautiful for him-well! Another thought, wedding your own aspirations, will be a thing of beauty for you. Do your own quarrying.27

I’m not saying that you can’t read any selections, summaries or reviews. After all, I just encouraged you to “spoil” books by reading such things.

My point is that it’s dangerous to trust random strangers selections, summaries, or reviews in place of actually reading the text or getting to know someone yourself.

Do the work in your reading and social life, and it is work, to figure out what selections, summaries, and persons you can trust, and how far you can trust them.

As readers we are surgeons operating upon our current self for the sake of our future selves and friends.

So select your reading as carefully as a surgeon selects their tools. The right tools for you will differ from others, so find out what you need for and from your reading.

A good reader reads, in this sense, only for themselves. As Emerson puts it, they always finds ‘passages which seem confidences or asides, hidden from all else, and unmistakably meant for’28 their ear.

There is no orthodox or ‘correct’ or way to read a text. No text is sacred, perfect, or mean’t for everyone. 29

Read carefully, read critically, read to form yourself.30

If you are struggling to find literary friends to dance with because the the long dance is proving elusive, try reading all the works of those that speak to you and then the works that inspired those works.

To sum up, if you would like a way of reading that connects you to others and is also intuitive while simultaneously self refining, use your reading to plant stories and ideas within yourself you wish to eat, dance, and become good friends with.

To Recap the 10 Ways of Reading Better

  1. Read Multiple Books at the Same Time
  2. Read Books in as many Chunks as Possible
  3. Keep Track of (and Celebrate) Your Progress through Books
  4. Read to the Rhythm of the Long Dance
  5. Create a Reading Digestive Process: “Spoil” Books, Journal, and Review Books
  6. Learn to Actively Ignore and Forget Boring Stuff
  7. Create Stage Directions (via Underlining and Highlighting)
  8. Try Ebooks (Even if you Love Books with Spines)
  9. Read Whenever You Can
  10. Find Your Literary Friends

Postscript: For Those Who Want Further Reading on Reading Better

Thanks for reading.

Please comment, criticize, or ask questions below…

Reading is all great and whatever, but I learn best when others ask me questions, so please, ask questions if you’d like I’ll take the time to (eventually) answer.

Also, if Emerson’s way of reading interests you I highly recommend Richard D. Richardson’s First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. I cannot recommend this book enough. For Emerson, reading was always about writing, whether that mean’t creating words on a page, or creating himself.

I might write a review on Richardson’s book focusing on the writing advice it gives, because it’s just as excellent as Emerson’s reading advice. If this interests you, or something else does, do let me know in the comments…

Finally, this is when I (again) invite you to subscribe to this blog by clicking here. Only fabulous footnotes exist after this point!