Thursday, July 3, 2014

How I Read

"Whatever your reading practices, becoming aware of them is a first step to reading strategically" (48).

The above is from The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers by Bruce Ballenger. (Guess what one of my classes this summer is?) It is in the conclusion of the first chapter, and got me thinking about 1) how I read, and 2) how my reading habits change depending on what I'm reading.

For that matter, how I read has been changing with my recent return to school. It used to be that I would always give things a close reading the first time through, determined that I would understand everything as I go. But depending on the subject and writing style, this isn't always possible. I've been trying to train myself, with limited success so far, to sometimes skim texts before reading them more closely. This can give me a basic idea of what the writer is saying, which helps me figure out the details during my second and more thorough go at it.

I've also been learning to use a highlighter, and to write in my textbooks. This is something I used to be 100% against, but started relaxing sometime after I started marking up my beloved copy of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. (It now has several years worth of notes and questions in the margins, and even several colors of highlighter.) It was last term that I finally figured out highlighting textbooks and making notes in them not only helps me return to important points later, but it also helps me focus when studying. I'll note down about interesting ideas, points I like, questions I have, and it sometimes lets me vent frustrations. An example of this last perk was when my queer studies textbook referred to Wicca as a pre-Christian religion.

Being able to write in my textbooks seems important enough that, rather than continuing to borrow my brother's copy of the latest A Writer's Reference by Diana Hacker, I bought it for myself after one week of class. Used, of course. Those things are expensive.

A page from the Hacker book

Yes, I seriously highlighted "Use a pencil instead of a highlighter..." Hey, it seemed like an important point Hacker wanted to make, so I figured I should highlight it.

Lastly, I tend to read fiction differently than non-fiction for school. While this normally isn't practical when reading a novel, I like to read short stories twice. The first time to just enjoy it, and the second time bearing in mind that it's for school. And although this method usually isn't convenient time-wise when studying novels, I did reread Mary Shelley's Frankenstein last term so that I could highlight sections that were important to a final paper I was writing on it.

I'm sure I'll continue to think about how I read throughout this term. Maybe I'll find new tricks for taking in material, and maybe I'll get better at that skimming before closely reading texts thing.