5 Ways to Slow Down and Smell the Metaphorical Roses While Reading

I have long struggled with teaching myself to slow down while reading and give myself a chance to smell the metaphorical roses of the reading experience. I truly think there is something to be gained by spending a little more time with the nuances of the stories. Everybody reads and thinks at different paces, but if you need a little help slowing down every once in while here are 5 tricks that have helped me in the past.

Keep a Commonplace Book

I started keeping a commonplace book because a professor required it of me but even after graduation, I haven’t stopped. A commonplace book is like a real-life Pinterest where you can organize quotes you like from books into whatever categories you like. I find that when I’m looking for particular sentiments or just really beautiful sentences within a story and I have to categorize them, it forces me to think more deeply about how the quote I chose fits in the grand scheme. Sometimes the meaning of the quote changes completely when it’s taken out of context from the story. Thinking about how the individual sentiments and sentences fit into the grand scheme of the book always makes me slow down and appreciate the authors skill.

Keep a Character List

I am currently reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It has been an excellent book so far but it follows several generations of a family and the kids are all named after the parents. There are so many books similar to this with a large cast of characters and it can be a little confusing if you read too fast and don’t pick up on who you are reading about. This is where a little notecard keeping track of who is who can help you. It can even be used as a book mark and it will help you to slow down and think about the impact each character is having on their world.

Find or Start a Book Club

If you feel like you are zooming through books way too fast find or start a book club that only reads a couple chapters of a book a week. Sometimes the very idea of having to talk to people about a single section of a book is enough to slow down a bit and carefully consider what you’re reading. Nobody wants to be the person that shows up and can only talk about the end, which no one else has gotten to yet because they spent time with the assigned chapters. It will be like having an accountability buddy for slow reading.

Look for Words You Don’t Know

If you are an avid reader it is really easy to use context clues to figure out the general meaning of an unfamiliar word. So easy, in fact, that often as long as we understand the sentence we never stop to figure out if we actually understand the word itself. Keep piece of paper either in the back of the book or use it as a book mark and every time you come across a word you haven’t seen before take the time to write it down on the piece of paper, look up the definition, and write that down as well. Not only will this improve your vocabulary, but it will help you develop a better understanding of the voice in the book that’s using the word. The words we choose to use say a lot about us and the characters we’re reading.

Pick up the Art of Annotating

If you can afford to buy your own books and can get over the idea that they can’t be marked up then annotating is a great way to slow down and think about and interface with the text. You can write down random thoughts you have while reading, questions, predictions, or you can highlight passages that feel important or particularly well done. The activity of physically engaging with the text often gives you time to step back and think about various aspects of the story in a deeper and more meaningful way.

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Emma Allmann: In addition to learning how to write creatively at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Emma Allmann spends her time lugging books along with her on outdoor adventures. She uses hiking, running, cross-country skiing, and climbing as time to discover new and interesting things to write about. She has had a play produced at the Marcia Légère Student Play Festival and writes about the books she reads on her blog, I'm Right Here Because I'm Not All There. When she's not reading, writing, or adventuring she can be found making a list of good names for ice-cream. Twitter: @Emryal