How To Gain More From What You Read

Having a book change your life may seem like a rare occurrence. The first time it happened to me, I was in the 10th grade. For anyone who has had such a life-altering experience with a book, it’s obvious that a story can be so much more than a story — from a blog post to the next great American novel, a text has the power to affect a reader.

Consider your first “wow” text. It could have been a novel in school, an article from a friend, or simply a used book that didn't look like it was worth much more than the 50 cents it cost. Many times, there is some type of understanding that comes from a book that's not printed explicitly on the page. It might hit a reader at the last period or even six months later, but suddenly it seems as though there is a new way to see the world.

This isn't to say that everything we read provides an equal impact, but it does somehow affect our views. The first step is to realize that you, the reader, are an integral part of the understanding process.

When approaching an informational text, I tend to glaze over the content that I already know to speed along the process and spend my time more efficiently. Many times, this may be referred to as activating prior knowledge.

Rene Descartes said, "The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest men of past centuries." Just as a reader may activate prior knowledge when reading informational text, a reader must not ignore the thoughts, feelings and ideologies that accompany the knowledge.

The trick is to realize your complex thoughts, feelings and ideologies. This requires constant reflection both while reading and not reading. It requires effort to build upon prior knowledge by recalling other materials you have read, conversations in which you may have taken part and personal thoughts you may have navigated. The only constant between all the experiences and information you have encountered is you.

Authors produce works based in personal thoughts, feelings and ideologies. So, when reading, there is a contact between an author's prior knowledge and your own. If the reader dismisses a text as false, his or her prior knowledge has added to the decision -- to the reader, knowing what is false and why is just as important as discovering what is true.

Literary Theory philosophically wrestles with how literature can be understood. A text can be read as a psychology, political commentary, historical insight or a transformation of reality itself. A good reader doesn't have to be a literary critic, but knowing that there are multiple ways to read effectively may expand the possibilities of one can glean from a text.

Get more from everything you read by challenging yourself to craft thoughtful responses to passages. Many times, a great read will pose a question. Your answer could be life changing.

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