Reading is like eating a Reese’s: there’s no wrong way to do it. How you read is shaped by a lot of factors, like your schedule or your commute. It goes deeper than mere environmental factors, though. How you read also depends on your own personal preferences, how you engage with the books you read, and what you hope to get out of the experience. And since both your circumstances and your self change over time, how you read also evolves. I’m certainly not the same reader I was just five years ago.
Here is how I read at this point in time. Feel free to let me know how you like to read as well.
When I Read
Whenever I can, really. I used to live in New York City, which meant that I had a built-in hour and a half to two hours each day where I could read on the subway while commuting. One of the hardest adjustments after moving away from the city was that I lost my best reading time, so I had to find ways to fit it in.
Reading before bed has been a habit of mine going back to childhood, and I’ve reclaimed it since leaving the city. But since I have a husband and I don’t want to keep him awake, I tend to do either an ebook or an audiobook at bedtime. I save the light for physical books that I’m really into or want to finish.
For physical books, my best time to read is either lunchtime or in that period after dinner when we haven’t all settled on the couch to watch something on TV together. And even if we’re watching TV, I bring my book with me in case I can get in a few pages during a show I’m not that into.
How I Bookmark
First, I never, ever dog-ear the pages. Only barbarians do that.
For a long time, I used index cards as bookmarks so I could take notes as I read. The notes could be anything from a thought of mine to a sentence or quote I liked and wanted to remember. This worked great when I had a commute to use for reading, but in my current arrangement, where I find time to read when I can, it reached a point where reading felt like too much of a chore. And to be honest, out of the hundreds of books I took notes on, I’ve only referred back to them maybe five times. I do miss using this bookmarking method, so I will probably go back to it someday. I think it helped me read deeper, and it definitely helped me pick up on themes or certain things an author would repeat.
Right now, I use and reuse bookmarks from my favorite bookstores.
Mark it Up
I almost never underline or take notes in a physical book. It’s similar to my aversion of dog-earing pages: it feels destructive. But also, it feels personal in a way–I don’t want to lend out my notes if someone wants to borrow the book. I’m much more likely to do my index card trick–and if someone wants to borrow the book, I slip the index card out before loaning it out.
The only time I do make marks in a book is when I know (or feel) it’s one that I will refer back to. For instance, I’ve marked up my copy of The Catcher in the Rye.
I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks over the last year and a half, which has transformed me as a reader. I’m able to read a lot more, for one thing, and it expands the content I can engage with. For instance, I do a lot of nonfiction books by audio. Maybe it’s that I started listening to podcasts, which are overwhelmingly nonfiction, but that’s how I like to take in nonfiction books. I also sometimes choose to give books I DNF’ed a second chance through audio because it feels like a more forgiving medium that lets me power through things more easily.
The flip side of that ease is that I’m not always the most engaged reader when listening to an audiobook. I can get distracted and sometimes have to rewind. I don’t think audio is a good way for me to be an analytical reader, but it’s a very utilitarian form.
I prefer physical books. They demand a lot more of my time and attention, but for me, they are the way to go. If I want to do a deep read, physical books are the only way for me to go.
I went through a phase where I read a lot of ebooks because it felt like I could always have my book with me as long as I had my phone–similar to how I listen to audiobooks now for ease of use. But I’ve had a steep drop-off in my ability to get through ebooks in the last year or so. I don’t like that it’s more difficult to flip through compared to a physical book (meaning, if I’m holding a book in my hand it feels easy to flip back to something that was mentioned a chapter or two earlier. In an ebook, I’m more likely to say forget it rather than maneuver around). I also think it’s a form of screen exhaustion: I spend all day staring at a laptop for work and staring at my phone for work and social media and games, so I just don’t want to look at a screen anymore when it comes to reading.
Buy or Borrow?
Almost always, the answer is borrow. I just don’t have the budget to buy every book I want to read, plus I think it’s important to support your local library. I also have limited shelf space, and if I end up not liking a book it feels like it takes up space I could be giving to something else.