Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How to Read More: Tips and Tools

Reading Shelf
As an English graduate student, I have a ton of reading to get through every week; academic articles, stories, novels, books, research, and many other minor things. I was recently talking to another student who was asking me how I manage. Talking with him for a while I realized that I have learned some secrets to getting more reading done! Not really secrets, but I do have some tips and tools that I utilize to get my reading done that I think everyone who wants to read more can use. I prioritize reading, make lists, use text to speech, listen to audio books, and annotate.

Prioritize Reading

First thing I do is that I prioritize reading. I have a wide array of texts to read regularly. I am not a speed reader, but I have studied speed reading and practice it when time is of the essence. By prioritizing reading I have trained myself to get into the proper mind set. I can always find time to game or check in on social media, but I would not get all the reading I have to do done if I did not make it a priority. I make lists of articles I have to read for class and have a due date for when I need to finish them. When I have something on my to do list, it is easier to get it done and I enjoy checking it off. When I have some free time I pull up the Kindle app on my phone and open my pleasure reading book, instead of Facebook. Sometimes I get on Facebook, I am not a robot, but since I prioritize reading over many other things, being on Facebook will make me feel bad while reading my article will make me feel accomplished.

Make Lists

I love the feeling of checking off an item from my to do list. I feel accomplished and I can reward myself with some slacking off time. Reading is a task on my to do list. I enter appropriate due dates for when I have to have something finished. I do not have a separate to do list for readings, reading is a task just like everything else I have to get done. Make it manageable. I enter an article as a task or a number of pages. For instance, this week I have three articles to read and each one is entered as a separate task that I can check off. I also have three books I need to read this quarter, for preliminary reading on my thesis. I maintain a separate list of everything I have to read for that and I enter book and page numbers into my to do list. Reading ten pages, one chapter, or one article is manageable. Reading a book is not something I can check off my list quite as easily. I use because it is simple to manage and available across all platforms. I compiled a massive list of the 100 best novels in English, which is a good place to find something worthwhile to read.

Text to Speech

For all the planning and prioritizing I do, I sometimes can only concentrate for so long. Some articles I have to read are quite useful but boring. For the times I cannot muster the attention span I use text to speech software. Another tip about text to speech is that it helps you edit your own writing. Reading a text out loud helps to hear any type of grammatical mistake as well as errors. It is built right into Microsoft Word and is available for free from many places. I use natural reader on my computer (available for both Mac and PC) and it is free.

Natural Reader has better voices on it than plain text to speech and you can purchase premium voices if you like. I enjoy Hazel, a British female voice, at three times the speed. I read along as it reads to me and I get the material through multiple senses at once, hearing and seeing. This helps me to retain more of what I am reading. Also, I have to keep reading, I can’t stop. Hazel is relentless, I have to pay attention to her. Even I can only read for so long and Hazel keeps me more engaged because it is a more active reading experience. On the Natural Reader website you can also paste anything you want it to read out to you if you do not want to download and install the free program. The free version does have pop ups that ask you to upgrade to premium but it is not necessary. I have learned to use the nuisance of the pop up to keep me on track. I reward myself with a short break after five or six pop ups.

If you have a Kindle Keyboard like I do, you can use it to have it read almost anything to you. The new Kindles do not have text to speech. I send articles to my kindle and read on there when I want to read and listen at the same time.
Custom Skin on Kindle

Audio Books

The main complaint I hear from people about text to speech is the robotic voice is hard to understand. I think Natural Reader helps out with this but for those that just can’t get used to it, there is the traditional audio book. These have been around for ages in the form of books on tape. Now they are a small mp3 file that almost any electronic device can read. I use Audible on my phone for when I am walking or driving to school. I always have my phone with me and it is convenient. Check whichever app store you use and it should be available. Audible has a great special that allows you to try the service for 30 days and gives you two free ebooks as well.

Try it out and see if this works for you. This is another way to get more reading done tailored more for on the go moments. They also offer free books available to download. Here is one I recently read, that I think has a lot of value in it. It came highly recommended and it is completely free right now as an audiobook.

 Recession Proof Graduate.

Project Gutenberg also offers free Audio booksThey have both text to speech and human reader versions.


After you read a lot you might begin to forget some specifics. As a grad student I need to be able to engage with the material and recall it for class discussions. The best way to engage and find particular passages is to annotate what you are reading. There is even a name for writing in the margins, Marginalia. To me annotate means to make some kind of note or mark in the text. If you find something interesting highlight or underline it so that you can find it later. I like to respond to my text and I write reactions in the margins. I write things like awesome, haha, cool, and useful. I also like to write down questions that come up as I am reading. I write them close to the text that inspired them. The more you write the better and be specific. Whatever system you use make sure you understand it. Don’t make it too convoluted or cryptic. You want it to be able to transport you to when you originally read the text and felt a response. I also write down important passages that I think I should remember in my notebook. Kind of like a reading journal. A reading journal is what some people use to keep track of everything they read in one place. Instead of placing marginalia in different text, they compile all their reading notes and comments in a reading journal. This can be a great habit to develop. Since school and work are both related for me, I have one notebook that I write class notes, reading notes, and work notes in. I have a little system in place to help me track my stuff. I recently found the Bullet Journal method and it works well for me.


Everyone has different habits and tricks to get more done. These are the ones that I have used for years to help me keep up with a heavy reading load. I would recommend you try them all out and see which ones work best for you. I personally use all of them and I find it is the best solution for me. If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line or tweet me. Thanks for reading and let me know if any of this helped!

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 Literary Awards

The year’s book award winners are a great place to find books to read and discover new authors. Check out the links and try some samples on your Kindle.  

Nobel Prize in Literature

The highest recognition an author can receive is the Nobel Prize in Literature. The award is given to writers for their body of work. Some notable past winners are: Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck.

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2014 was awarded to Patrick Modiano "for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation".

The award is open to writers from around the world. This year, Patrick Modiano, a French novelist was awarded the prize.

The Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prize for fiction  is “awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” There are also many other awards ranging from journalist to nonfiction. The Award was founded in 1918. Some previous winners are Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway.

The 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction goes to Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch.

The National Book Award

The National Book Award’s mission is to “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of good writing in America.” This book has a long and varied past and is one of the major awards given to American writers. This is another great place to find books to read and they do a lot of outreach to communities and in supporting public appearances by writers. Faulkner, Pynchon, Updike, McCarthy, and Franzen are some of the past nominees and winners.

The 2014 National Book Award for Fiction goes to Phil Klay for Redeployment.

The Man-Booker Prize

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original full-length novel, written in the English language, by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations, Ireland, or Zimbabwe, according to Wikipedia. This is a very big deal. This is the biggest of the English Language awards given. They have a long list which they announce very early on and then a short list is selected out of that.

This is a major award to follow because it includes many countries that speak English and covers a diverse range of topics. I discovered a couple of my favorite writers while reading these novels, Julian Barnes and J.M. Coetzee.

The 2014 Man-Booker Prize winner is Richard Flanagan with The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

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