There was a time in my life as a literature and writing student when having to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Karenina in a two week period was difficult but doable. Granted I had probably been given amble time to read the great masterpieces but I was working close to 30 hours a week with a full course load of 22 credits on top of a very busy and chaotic personal life. How did I manage to skim (because I’m sure I must of skimmed a few chapters along the way) through my readings and receive an A for class?
That is the question I’ve been asking myself lately as I try to bring myself back into world of reading after a decade or so hardly a touching book. While I’m no longer a student paying for a degree, I am very much a student as a home-educator, mother of a young family, and a Christian seeking to understand the world around me.
Shortly after my first child was born, I approached my husband with the idea of going back to school to earn a Masters degree. I was, like most new moms, feeling stuck in the monotonous boredom of motherhood and wanted to “do” something with my brain. As usual my ever so sensible husband came to the rescue by pointing out it wasn’t so much the degree I was after, it was the “learning”; of which can easily be obtained by reading.
And so here I am seven years later surrounded by three children with piles and piles of books waiting to be read out loud, including 395 pages for the Mother Culture I have recently started with Catherine.
“Never be without a really good book on hand. If you find yourself sinking to a dull commonplace level, with nothing particular to say, the reason is probably that you are not reading, and, therefore, not thinking . . . Do not think this is a selfish thing to do because the advantage does not end with yourself . . . The more you study on your spare time, the more there is in you to bestow upon your pupils.” Charlotte Mason
Much like the never-ending pile of laundry, reading can be managed. Notice I said “managed” not “finished”, because truly when are we ever caught up with laundry? The moment the last pair of socks are folded and put away neatly in a drawer, a pile (or two or three!) of dirty clothes has already accumulated. Thus it goes with reading. Once you’ve finished one book, two or three (or a dozen) more appear often by well intention friends who declare “oh you must read this one” and so on. But unlike the laundry, reading is a gift that does keep on giving.
First thing first, let the laundry pile fester while you take stock of your reading. Let’s say you’re wanting to read several lengthy books in a period of four weeks but you’re overwhelmed by the mere volume of pages laid out in front of you; thousands of pages.
- Start by looking at the table of contents in each book. How big are the chapters? Is the book divided up by sections? On a piece of paper write down the title of each book, the chapters you feel you can read in four weeks and the total number of pages for the combined chapters.
- Keep a pile of index cards with you for notes and use one card per chapter. (Try to limit yourself to one for your own sanity and time management.) Write down any names, dates, important/relevant information on the card. If the writer mentions a date or name of a person multiple times in the chapter then you take note, otherwise just keep reading and try to absorb the story.
- The first several chapters in a book are always the hardest to read. Like an athlete who needs to warm up a wee bit before heading into a full workout, become acquainted with style of the writer and the flow of the book. This to me is the hardest part of reading and I find I usually make the most notes early on. Those early notes are usually the most beneficial to me later on when I am more involved in the book and frankly don’t have the patience to stop and jot down a note here and there.
- Knowing how many pages you are aiming to read in a given time period will help you know how much reading you will need to fit in each day or week. For example, in the 2017 Spring Term of Mother Culture there are a total of 395 pages in the 6 books. Let’s say you have exactly 4 weeks to read these pages. Start by doing a few calculations; 395 pages divided over 4 weeks will give you about 99 pages per week which when divided over 7 days per week will give you about 14 pages to be read each day.
Once you’ve divided and conquered your books, you’ll feel more able to manage your reading. Little by little, page by page, chapter by chapter you’ll make you’re way through and before you know it you’ll have actually finished a book!
A few more tips
- If you don’t know a word, you don’t have to rush off to the dictionary like you were told to do as a kid; just keep on reading. Chances are you can figure out what the writer is saying without having a perfect SAT score.
- Unless you’re just completely at a lost ignore the endnotes, the footnotes, side-notes, and all the other notes in between. You can return to those later once you’ve accomplished a significant portion and understanding of the book.
- Just keep on reading and enjoying the process. More often than not, I don’t get a full understanding of what I am reading until l I’m about 3/4 of the way through. I’m just slow like that. But this is how I managed to read War and Peace in two weeks and get an A in the class. I was able to fully absorb the novel without too many interruptions. Note taking is a wonderful tool in aiding our memory on specific details but it is really what we are able to retell in our own words that will stick with us in our memory. Every couple of chapters, find a willing audience (husbands are lovely for this) to listen to your “story” of the book(s) you are reading. Narration works wonders; just ask Miss Mason.