Reading Is Hard Work, As It Should Be.

Sometimes it can be a leisurely activity, but I always find my self underlining, copying passages into my commonplace book, and annotating pages.

This is because I read to become. To become more educated, cultured, articulate, understanding, and ultimately, I read to become a better writer.

I am not satisfied with reading an exquisite sentence once.

I want that sentence etched into my mind. I want that idea accessible to my tongue at any moment. I want the pleasure of carrying these words in my heart forever.

The books I select are usually above my reading “level.”

I circle the words that I don’t know the definition of.

I note references or facts that I was not aware of.

I underline passages that I found moving or well-written.

I reference my atlas when I encounter cities or regions I am unfamiliar with.

All of this causes me to read very very slowly. (And makes me unable to “read” audio books.)

I’ve come to understand that I am not alone in my struggles. In 1974, Eric Ambler wrote about a similar experience in his introduction for “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” He was inspired by Watson and Sherlock and wanted to become more like them. Who wouldn’t. Unfortunately for him, there was no internet at that time, so every curiosity needed a librarian and hours of searching to find an answer. (Feeling blessed to not have to deal with that.)

It took me a long time to read and I relished every moment.

Eric Ambler, Introduction to “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

I also take a long time to read due to interruptions of research and note-taking. I stopped trying to increase my reading speed at the expense of comprehension and “data acquisition.” 🤓

Instead I am focused on making my annotation system more efficient. I am currently developing a color-coded sticky tab system that simultaneously keeps me in a reading flow and documents the information I want to file in my “index.”

If you know this struggle, please share your annotation techniques, I’d love to hear about them!

And if you’ve made it this far, thank you. Here’s a little treat I hope you will enjoy.

“But the problem with readers, the idea we’re given of reading is that the model of the reader is a person watching a film, watching television. So the greatest principle is that I should sit here and I should be entertained. And the more classical model has been completely taken away. The idea of a reader is an amateur musician. An amateur musician sits at a piano has a piece of music which is the work made by somebody. Someone they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely. And they have to use their skills to play the music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist, and the artist gives you. That’s an incredibly unfashionable idea of reading. And yet when you practice reading and you work at a text,  it can only give you what you put into it. Its an old moral but its completely true.”

Zadie Smith, from a 2006 interview with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW.

I transcribed it from this interview, lol, I highly recommend listening to the entire thing!

1 thought on “Reading Is Hard Work, As It Should Be.”

  1. […] She said, (quoting from memory), “Put effort to really understand what a writer is saying. Look up the words you are not familiar with. If you don’t know the definition of the word the writer is using you could easily misunderstand the entire argument.” (More thoughts about how to become a better reader here.) […]

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