Reading critically

Reading is key to writing, thinking, and solving problems

Why is everyone always bugging us to read? Because becoming a powerful reader is the best way to become a powerful writer, thinker, and problem solver. When we read, we reach into the author’s mind—not to suck out her brain like a zombie—but to learn how she thinks.
    Only then can we compare her thinking to our own. Only then can we learn from it. Only then can we argue with it, be persuaded by it, and enjoy it. 
    So, how do we do it? How do we become powerful readers?

Dig in
How? When you come across a word that you don’t know, look it up. I ran into pleonasmyesterday. The point is gobble down its meaning and rush back to the text. The point is to spend time understanding the word and why it was chosen. Trace its etymology—its roots. Why? So you’ll be empowered to understand any word that shares those roots. See? Getting more powerful already after just one step.

Mark up
Now define the new addition to your vocabulary in your own words. Write it down in your text. Yes, I’m telling you to mark up your text by writing in the margins and in between the lines. Annotate your text. Make it your own. Why? Your annotations might lead to a whole new language. Did you know that monks annotating Latin textscreated the written form of the languages now used in Europe? So, yes, it’s very cool. Do it.

I’m sitting outside on my porch as I write this. Picture my porch. What does it look like? What vista does it look out on? If I tell you there are three trees poking up through the wooden floor of my porch—and they’re really are—what impact does that have on your picture? 

Think about what you’re reading. Does it make sense? No, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. Even vampires and zombies have their own kind of logic. 

If a vampire suddenly starts sucking brains instead of blood, how would that make you feel? Disappointed? Shocked? Cheated? Read with your whole self—that includes your feelings.

And if you don’t like what you’ve read, argue with it—not just in your head. Write it down.

Dear Vampire Author—Vampires suck blood, not brains—Yours truly, Me.
    Pretend the author is your best friend and you do not agree with him. Find the fault in his argument and point that fault out to him. Arguing with the author keeps you engaged. It’s what makes reading fun—and it’s how reading makes us more powerful thinkers.

Love’s not time’s fool. Really? Is that true? What does it mean? When you know all the words, but still aren’t sure of the meaning, that’s the time to ponder. Get some friends together. Expand your two-person argument between you and the author into a full-blown debate. See how you’re going to solve problems? See how you’re going to get inside the writer’s mind and find out how he thinks?

Do you really like something you’ve just read? Don’t just like it, write it down. Break it apart. What makes it cool? Here’s Sonnet 116 by Shakespearethat I like—if you need one to start with:
Love’s not Time’s fool though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   The image of Time as the Grim Reaper is cool, like a Zombie—only cooler.

Question what you read. Just because the author wrote it down doesn’t make it true. I used to play in the NBA. See that? Read any book from over ten years ago. You will be sure to find things to question. It is harder is to see how books being written right now include things that you should question, too—but they are in there, I promise you.

That’s right. You get to make up your own story. Stop at the end of one chapter. Write the next chapter on your own. But, remember writers try to surprise us to keep us engaged. What happens next must come from what happened before, but that doesn’t mean it should be boring. 

Read what?
Fiction, okay. You’ll do that on your own, but read non-fiction, too. History. Biographies. No sports stars or celebrities. Sorry. But you could ask, how did Viola Davis make history by winning an Emmy? Try something local or one of your parents’ heroes. My dad loved Quanah Parker, but I fell in love with story of his mother Cynthia Ann Parker. Why? Maybe because it starts with a heart-breaking kidnap.

This is the only way to get better at anything. Read every day—and not just one thing, everything that we’ve talked about here. Find friends and read books together. Then check in your power. Are you writing, thinking, and solving problems more easily? 


Robert R.

MA's math & writing, 5 yrs exp in K-12 sciences, math, English

100+ hours
if (isMyPost) { }