I am a HUGE book junkie. Not a lot of fiction, but business and professional books on widely ranging topics that shed light on aspects of our humanity. I love the smell of a nice thick book, the kind that you can grasp easily in your hand. If it is new you can smell faint wafts of the ink used for the cover. If it is an old book you get a richer more pungent odour of loamy wood. I like the feel of a book, the weight of it hinting at it’s promise to deliver material of substance; running my fingers across the cut edges of all the pages, sometimes so perfectly cut you marvel at the blade that could deliver that precision. More than the tactile sense I get from books is the potential that lies within their pages; knowing that I could be enlightened, educated, have my perspective shifted or mind blown wide-open is tantalizing to me. Every book I read has something important to tell me, sometimes it is something quite profound and at other times it is incredibly practical.
When I look at my shelves of books (I like to read paperbacks so I can mark up the pages and leave sticky notes in them) I count many enjoyable hours of reading, yet when I lay my hand on the spine of a book I have read and try to recall something more then a generic summary of the material, often I can’t. Were all those hours of reading and margin scribbling a waste of time? Not necessarily, but I did realize that for me to become really conscious in my reading I needed to take it “off the page”. Consciously reading is any reading you do when you are immersed and focused on the material you are consuming. It can happen in any medium, although it is more challenging to do on-line when there is a sidebar of flicking images and random pop-ups accompanying your material. My habit of underlining, writing in margins and using brightly coloured sticky-notes is a part of conscious reading. I am leaving myself a “breadcrumb” trail to follow later when I want to access something I have read. Sadly, going back to these amazing materials happens less often than you would think, but that is a product of my nature…lead with curiosity and then go with your gut. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for referencing materials (even when they have formed a significant part of my intuition). Which brings me to the second aspect of conscious reading, being self-aware…my approach to reading was only taking me so far and I know this because the third part of conscious reading is to understand your purpose in consuming the material.
My purpose in reading a book is to have it inform me, and in so doing, applying in some tangible way what I have learned…to take what I chose to invest significant time in reading (a few days, a week…months) and apply it consciously in life. There are many pieces I read where this is not the goal; daily news, popular media, etc. are things I read too, but I am not expecting to take them with me into my life. It’s nice to be informed and it’s fun to be entertained, but rarely does this produce wisdom that fire up my synapses helping to burn new neural pathways in my brain.
So, how then to take what I learn “off the page”? Once I put my mind to it, there were many ways to do this. My favourite so far is the “one simple thing” approach, which is to take one simple thing I have learned and apply it as soon as possible. This enables purpose, as I am not trying to process, synthesize and apply an entire book’s worth of knowledge. When I do this I am recalling more about the books I am reading, and referencing them (going back into their hallowed pages) to confirm something or round out my thinking. Another approach is to see if there is accompanying “book club” discussion questions, which provoke thought and take reading from a passive exercise to one that involves the application of it’s concepts and key ideas. Joining a book club is also a great way to take this into a fresh context that supports learning. If something less “assembled” works for best for you, sharing what you have learned with a friend, chatting about it over coffee, sending out a favourite quote or suggesting the book if it is a shared area of development/interest also offers opportunities to solidify what you took away from the material. I am always amazed at the depth of my re-call when I am doing this in service to “giving back” to an interested party.
My journey with conscious reading wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t involve a community component; something that deeply calls to me is to contribute to others in areas of shared interest. The best way I have to do this in today’s arena of social media is to share what I am learning through my website, continually putting up what I have learned from the books I have read for others to reference – allowing others to see if it holds merit for them (http://www.chhr.ca/resources.html)
How do you like to take what you have read “off the page”?