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HSLDA - For the Parents: Self-Educating with Books

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

As educators, we know that self-education is important, too. I am hoping this summer provides more time for reading, both to educate myself and for fun.

Here are some tricks I have discovered to squeeze more books into my busy life:

1. Schedule a monthly book chat with a friend. Find someone else who likes to read and put a date on the calendar to discuss a book over coffee or tea. When I know there’s a fixed deadline to read a book, I find ways to fit it in because I don’t want to disappoint my friend. These book chat accountability times are also meaningful because they provide an opportunity to deepen friendship and drink more espresso. It’s a win-win!

Larger book clubs are also great if you can plug into one of those. I have participated in a classics book club and also one that is focused on reading books about other cultures. In the latter one, we just finished reading Born a Crime, which was fascinating.

2. Audiobooks. I cannot overstate this. I invariably am listening to audiobooks while I do daily, weekly, and seasonal chores. I once painted a whole room while listening to Francis Schaffer. The piles of laundry are much more engaging when there’s a thought-provoking—or even better, a riveting—book to read.

You can use Audible and pay money, but there are other apps that libraries use to make their digital content available for free. I use the Libby (formerly Overdrive) app and never pay for audiobooks. After a while, you can learn to increase the speed on audiobooks. Double-time means twice as many books!

3. Always have more books than you can actually read checked out of the library. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you always have 3-4 books on your shelf waiting, you will always have something else to turn to when you are done with a book. I notoriously renew books and return books unread, to simply request them again from the library. This means there is always something interesting to read.

4. Use the headers of nonfiction books to skim more. A Biola University professor who finishes a book every day once told me: “You don’t have to read every word of a book to know what the author thinks.” I have learned that books in the self-help or even the spiritual genre lend themselves to skimming to gain the author’s thoughts. These books are generally well organized and have clearly marked headers. It’s easy to get an idea of what the author is talking about, and then read the topical (first) sentence of each paragraph to understand what the author is saying. If you want to dig deeper, you can then take the time to read every word in a particular section.

5. Use Goodreads. Goodreads is a great app to see what your friends are reading and get recommendations for books to check out. I also organize lists for future reading, what I am currently reading, and what I have read already. I enjoy seeing which of my friends have also read a book and what they thought about it.

One note on reading quickly versus reading slowly: Sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting to read a lot of books because it’s fun and I love all the challenging ideas and all the good stories. I like lots of content and lots of information.

Reading quickly can be good, but some books should be read slowly. In fact, reading slowly is often better.

Here is what Karen Swallow Prior says in her book On Reading Well:

Read slowly. Just as a fine meal should be savored, so, too, good books are to be luxuriated in, not rushed through. Certainly, some reading material merits a quick read, but habitual skimming is for the mind what a steady diet of fast food is for the body. Speed-reading is not only inferior to deep reading but may bring more harm than benefits: one critic cautions that reading fast is simply ‘a way of fooling yourself into thinking you’re learning something.’ When you read quickly, you aren’t thinking critically or making connections. Worse yet, ‘speed-reading gives you two things that should never mix: superficial knowledge and overconfidence.’ Don’t be discouraged if you read slowly. Thoughtfully engaging with a text takes time. The slowest readers are often the best readers, the ones who get the most meaning out of a work and are affected most deeply by literature.

The goal is not a race to read the most books, but to be an intentional reader. Maybe the tips outlined above will help you to read more. But ultimately, we should also be reading some of our books slowly and deeply.

Happy reading!


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