How to Read 1: Who You Are and What You Read

Posted in Personal Development at 11:24 am by Haider

If you can understand what you’re reading now, you probably think you know how to read. But reading is much more than knowing how to pronounce letters and making sense of words and sentences.

In this series of articles, I would like to cover some of the requirements for effective reading, and how to get the most out of what you read.

The “How to Read” series will consist of 5 articles:

1- Who You Are and What You Read: Defining what kinds of reading material you should be reading, based on your personal preferences, and how to gain the most out of what you read
2- Reading and Understanding: How to better understand what you read, and the factors that influence your understanding beyond the words you read
3- Reading as Interaction: How reading is not simply input, but input that triggers processing to produce output
4- What to Expect: What benefits you should expect from reading
5- Practical Suggestions for Effective Reading: A look at all the factors for effective reading, and what practical steps to take at each stage

Reading Yourself

Before you even bother reading anything, it is important to know what kind of writings you enjoy reading, and which will be the most influential to you. All reading is personal. It should never be done for the sake of someone else. Reading is a very engaging activity. It demands total concentration. If you are reading for the sake of someone else, it is very easy to lose interest, and to look at the words without their meanings registering in your mind.

You have to ask yourself: What topics would you like to read about? What are the issues in your life that you would like clarity about? What kind of information are you looking for? What sort of inspiration do you seek?

The answers to these questions determine what you should be reading. In the least, they will tell you what kind of reading material you would most likely be interested in and pay more attention to while reading.

Of course, it’s possible that you are introduced to a new genre of books or become exposed to new information that you had never imagined to exist because of someone else’s recommendation. You shouldn’t completely dismiss other people’s suggestions, but should find a personal interest in what they recommend. This also applies when you make recommendations to others. Why do you think they should read what you enjoyed reading? What benefit can they get out of it, given their own interests and circumstances? Know what kind of writings others will want to read, and recommend accordingly.

For example, suppose someone hates the thought of thinking about the possibility of thinking about philosophy (yes, he hates philosophy that badly). To them, philosophy is used to torment people, and no good can come out of reading any philosophical works. You can’t recommend philosophy to such a person by saying: “I really liked this book on philosophy!” His initial reaction would be: “Good for you! Now keep the book to yourself!” But suppose the philosophy book you wish to recommend is about how the mind works, which is something this person will find useful. The way you’d present it would be: “This book explains how the mind works, so we can think in a better way, and be able to understand situations better and solve problems much more easily!

With this approach, you would have identified the benefits the person you are recommending this book to will expect to receive. Don’t give recommendations or go by recommendations to read what the reader wouldn’t personally find interesting.

Your Purpose

Having determined your interests, it is important to be aware of your purpose whenever you come to read any piece of material. Your level of concentration, and the amount of information you will be able to make use of, will be primarily dependent on your purpose.

I sometimes read books for information, but am disappointed because I don’t feel I gained much from the book. However, looking back at the book, I realise that it wasn’t intended to present the reader with information, but was written to inspire the reader. Inspirational books tend to stretch a simple story that would have taken five lines to explain to five pages, or even the entire book! If you are reading the book for information, the story will seem boring. Change the purpose you approach the book with, and you will change your entire attitude about the book!

It is important to define exactly what you wish to gain from reading before you begin to read. Having a clear purpose will mean that you are better able to notice the information you need, retain the information, are more willing to act on it and will find your reading session much more enjoyable.

When you read books or blog posts to be entertained, you would not get much information out of them after the reading experience. However, if you enjoyed the experience itself, then you would have fulfilled your purpose. A lot of reading sessions are deemed a waste of time because we don’t know what we were expecting to gain from what we read. Most of them are a waste of time, precisely because we have not defined our purpose.

The Value of What You Read

Having determined your purpose, and selected the suitable type of reading material, it is important to choose something to read that is of high value. You may be determined to read a book on economics, and select an informational book on the subject. However, the writer’s views are incorrect, or his style is boring, or the book lacks structure, etc. All these factors will play a part in how much you enjoy the reading experience, and whether you will fulfill your purpose or not.

Reading should never be an activity to simply pass your time. You should always seek to gain from what you read. If there is no value to what you read, then you might as well put the book down and stare at the wall. That way, you will conserve your energy and get just as much out of it as when you read.

Your selection of what books to read, by which author, for what purpose, etc. will help you make more informed decisions in the future, and, therefore, improve the chances of you finding the books that you enjoy reading and that will be the most rewarding to read.

See reading as a personal experience, determine what it will mean to you, and what you expect to gain from it and seek to gain as much value as you can from what you read.


  1. Computerchi said,

    April 9, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    Reading is difficult. I’d rather watch TV. I do read however, quite a bit too. But I do it because I need to. If I can get the information through other means I would go for it.
    I find that I grasp more information from a good documentary than from reading the script of the same program. Audio-visual techniques are more effective for me. I quite enjoy listening to eBooks rather than reading them. I also hate reading an entire page only to find that I was on auto pilot, finishing a fight I was having in the office in the morning.
    Age, fatigue, lighting, seating, noise, time, family, TV,… all are working against me too.
    The amount of reading keeps growing too. Emails, letters, contracts, reports, more emails, SMS, BlackBerry, Internet, some more emails, blogs, and then there is AFilsForYourThought, are all competing for me eyes and attention. Don’t tell me to open a book when I want to relax!
    Alas, I have to in order to keep up. If I do not educate my self then email would be my sole education. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”


  2. Haider said,

    April 10, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Salaam Computerchi,

    To start off with, reading requires a lot of effort on your part to concentrate on what you’re reading. You need to make sense of what you’re reading *before* you can be captivated by it. On the other hand, all other forms of communication are more passive. Reading is an extremely active process, which is why many people find it tiring, especially if they can’t easily get into the flow of reading.

    TV captivates you before you can figure out what the documentary is about: “Ooooh!! A lion! Let’s see some more!”

    Although I won’t be dealing with this issue in great detail in this series, and thank you for bringing the issue up, but you really need to select the type of information you read, according to your energy levels and mood. You can’t read a contract when you’re dead tired, but may enjoy reading a novel (or an inspirational story) at that time. You might even feel more energized or refreshed by what you read!

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