The Burning Question

A Focus on My Reading

I've been a Reader ever since I discovered I could read at age 5.  As a child and throughout my adolescence, I always had my nose in a book.  I checked out books by the stack from the library, and my favorite classes in school were always "reading" or "English" or "literature."  The college years were tough on me -- because while I had plenty to read, it wasn't of my own choosing.  I missed reading-for-pleasure -- and always looked forward to semester breaks when I could dive back into my piles of books.

And . . . this reading habit just continued as I became an adult.  I read books.  Lots and lots of books!


But one thing concerns me about my reading:  It seems like I don't have the retention that I used to.  I remember reading particular books, and I'll be able to recall key characters and plot points -- but I won't be able to go much further than that.

I know.  I know.  I'm getting older.  And my brain is getting full.  And my memory is not what it used to be.  And - after reading thousands of books in my lifetime (I estimated at one time that I've probably read over 3,500) - I guess it's not surprising that I can't remember all of them.  But still. . . I'd really like to remember more than I do.

So I've decided to . . . focus . .  on my reading this year.  Not reading more.  Not reading "harder."  Just reading more attentively. More mindfully.  With the intention of savoring - and, hopefully, remembering more details about the books I read.

I think it's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the books out there in the world -- especially when you're a Reader, and so many titles appeal.  (So many books, so little time . . . and all that.)  But I've decided to change three things about my reading habit this year to try to improve my retention and savor the books I read:

  1. Fewer books.  I know that it's "normal" in a goal-setting way to try to increase the number of books one reads in a year.  But I've decided to . . . just say no to quantity-based reading.  I'll still read a lot of books, sure.  (Because that's what I do.)  But I don't want to be driven by a number -- and I don't want to challenge myself to read MORE.  I want to choose fewer, high-quality books that really appeal to me this year.  And I'm not going to be concerned about hitting some arbitrary goal I set for myself.   (Disclaimer:  I still set a Goodreads Challenge for myself this year -- at 60 books.  Which is 15 books fewer than what I've typically read for the last few years.  I'll likely remove it altogether, though.  Eventually.)
  2. More time.  Rather than rushing through the books I read, I'm going to allow myself more relaxed time to read -- and build in occasional pauses for thinking-time.  Research (from one of my alma maters; Hook 'em Horns!) shows that hitting pause now and again while you're reading - actually allowing some time to rest and reflect on what you just read - can really help your brain connect the dots and synthesize the new information.  It turns out that giving yourself a mental rest and a little time to reflect on what you're reading really helps commit new material to memory.  (Here's a link to an article about the study.)
  3. Take notes.  I am not talking about outlining chapters here!  I'm just looking for a thoughtful way to ... pause and reflect while I'm reading.  Lately, I notice that I hurry to crack open my next book as soon as I finish my current book.  That can't be helpful in the retention department.  So I'm going to do a little writing to help my brain make sense of things.  I'm planning to write more thoughtful reviews on Goodreads, and I think I'll get back to "collecting" quotes and passages from books as I read.  I will probably even do a little journaling now and then as a way to think about and connect with the what I'm reading.

It's hard to pull back when there are so many books in the world waiting to be read.  But I'm going to give it a try!  Sometimes . . . less is more! 


To read more Three on Thursday posts today, hop on over to Carole's!



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Your post resonates for me. Like you, I began reading at a young age. My mother always read to us which was a treat. Your post is so thoughtful and definitely has worthwhile ideas. Thank you!


This is also so very true for me, and I thank you for putting the idea into such eloquent words and actions. My sister and I just had a discussion about books and both of us could only remember cover images and a few thin details about some of them (the book with the guy on top of the bus, the one where she finds a baby in a boat, or how about that one you always read under the covers with a flashlight?) My reading has slowed down because of a lack of time, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'm reading now because I'm interested in the book, not because it's just something to finish. I'm loving your focus posts!


Great points and ideas Kym. Like you, I used to bring stacks of books home from the library (I was the one who could barely walk home at the start of a school break because I'd have so many books to carry - lol), but I've never liked the goal-setting idea for reading. I want to read for pleasure, knowledge, fun, enlightenment, relaxation. Put a number on it and all those things seem to be spoiled for me. I found this was even true for me with Book Bingo last summer (and I was so looking forward to it!). I used to keep a journal just with quotes from books I had read...maybe I should consider doing that again.


I'm a voracious reader, too, and I don't retain a lot. I think it's partly because I read a lot and also because I read fast. (Dale reads much more slowly than I do but he savors and really remembers the books he has read - even ones from years ago.) I will say that writing reviews on GoodReads helps me to remember details about a book - sometimes when I can't remember much about a book I have read just looking at my GoodReads reviews prompts my memory and brings back the feelings the book left me with. I think your plan for slowing down and choosing carefully and really focusing on what you're reading sounds wonderful.


You make some very good points about reading and retention. I have always taken notes and collected quotes from certain books and those are the books I remember most vividly. Taking the time to deeply enjoy a book is truly a pleasure!


I really enjoyed this post. I keep my Goodreads goal at 60, even though I have read more the past couple of years--I want a goal that's doable for me, though, just like you said. Reading for ME. (and my reading groups)


This is a post that I will be thinking about for a long time. Some books really stick with me, every part. Others, I cannot remember the character names a couple of weeks after I have finished it.

I like the idea of writing down things. One thing I have been doing on my iPad/Kindle is to highlight text I want to remember. It is helping tremendously.

Now, I need something similar for audio books! XO


Books, I,too, have read books since being read to and learning to read.
My weekly walk to the library in Jr, High, coming home with as many books as I could carry, then sitting on the porch, reading and eating sunflower seeds, multitask at an early age. :)


Such a thoughtful post Kym. Our society is so obsessed with consumption and quantity. Lately I have reread a few of my favorite books and it is an interesting process. I notice things I missed in the first reading.


I put a few sticky notes on the inside cover of my current read so I can mark quotes or pages that I want to revisit. I like your approach.


The books I read for my group I savor, write notes in the front, look for key discussion points, etc. I like THE book in my hand for the group. I also like a book I can breeze through, something short, fun, easy reading. But, slowing down and paying attention as I read, marking important quotes, and remembering each characters name helps me with focus and memory. I didn't add to my reading goal and I can always change it, lower it if I need. I like seeing the books I've read for the year in the order I read them in. That's my main reason for having the goal.


After reading this timely blog, I decreased my Goodreads challenge number. I had been thinking about it lately and how it pushes me along, I didn't want a challenge, I wanted to read.
Reading is valuable to me so I also want to focus more and take little notes, which I have done before in a scattered way but adding the post-it note, to jot down pages or notes, is a very nice idea.
Yep, sometimes less is more.


I read more non-fiction - a lot is in areas where I'm "learning" something... and I have set a goal to read at least one fiction title a month...this year I plan to read/reread the works of Black authors: Maya Angelou; Toni Morrison; etc...I especially like reading about writing - the craft, art,, I shall continue to pursue that genre...I read to learn and for pleasure. I think we all need to take stock occasionally of what and why we read...thanks for sharing your thoughtful approach.


I worked with a guy much younger than me, once, and he would ALWAYS begin jotting notes when he started a new book -- little notes about places, sketching out a family tree, notes about relationships. I've always meant to try that myself. Lately, my book reading happens most often at night, generally :20-30 at most, and I'm often tired -- I'm sure I'd benefit from notes! Rusty reads a lot and frequently several books are going at once; he's been keeping track of the books he's read (and the movies he's seen) for years because he'd so often come home with stuff he'd already read (or seen)! I can't do that! I've rarely ever had more than one book going and, if I did, it was one fiction and one non-fiction. I have been listening to books much more and find that they really stick with me... maybe, in part, it's because I normally listen in :15-20 increments and have time to reflect. So now, I usually have two books going -- one audio & one pages.

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