How to Improve Reading Comprehension

Reading more books is not just about consumption – it’s about digestion. When Alberto Manguel recounts A History of Reading, he reminds us that the prophet Ezekiel is the first record we have of reading being compared to digestion. That is really what we aim for when we read: we want to get to a point that our reading comprehension is providing us the best nutrition. Not just in our selections, but in the nutrients that actually make it to our brains and bury into our memories. We accomplish this by improving our reading comprehension and I have one reading strategy that surpasses every other trick up my sleeve when it comes to comprehension.

To improve your reading comprehension of everything you read, have the physical book or the eBook in front of you while you follow along with the audio version.

Find the same translation or edition of your book.

Stock up on several pairs of ear phones.

Shop around to find audiobooks.

Keep your reading tools ready.

It is time avid readers are honest with one another about how they read so many books. The article starts off reminding readers of the familiar fact that President Theodore Roosevelt read a book a day, but more interestingly, talks about how Mark Zuckerberg reads a book every 2 weeks. How, though, can mere mortals turn more pages?

The answer in the article is speed reading and training your eyes to move faster across the page. There is a time and place for speed reading, Darwin’s, Origin of Species, for example, was a required text in my graduate program for a course on Victorian literature. Can you imagine taking a walk in nature and writing down everything you see in nauseating detail? This book changed the world, but it was boring, and there was plenty to gloss over.

Normal books, though, ones I choose to read for personal, professional, or spiritual development, aren’t books I want to “get through.” I actually want to enjoy the turns of phrase, the ideas, and the worlds my imagination creates. Why would anyone want to rush that?

Even though I don’t want to rush it, I, a mere mortal, often have a hard time reading just like everyone else in our distracted generation. I set these lofty book goals, but I’m just as tired as you after chasing my teething toddler around during the day and comforting him in the middle of the night. My 30 pages a day reading challenge is really a challenge most days. This week I needed help, so I picked up my reading crutches.

Even though I own a physical copy of White Teeth by Zadie Smith, and read the first 50 pages on my own, it felt slow and difficult to read. So I decided to download the Audio version from Audible. Instead of forsaking the physical book completely, I read both at once.

Have you ever tried listening to a book while reading it at the same time? It’s pretty awesome, especially when your brain is tired. I typically speed up the audio version, because when you’re giving your brain the same information through two senses, instead of one, you can take it in faster. You also retain a lot more of the story or information. I can still highlight my text as I read, take notes in the margin, and appreciate how the author uses such beautiful language. Somehow the whole reading process is easier, even though I am likely to read more in one sitting than I typically would if I was alone with my book.

I just want to be honest with you this week. I love to read, but it’s not always pretty. Most people claim they don’t have time to read, and that might be true, but I suspect it has more to do with the sheer mental exhaustion they feel at the end of the day. And this feeling, I can empathize with completely. If you’re tired and find yourself having a hard time picking up your current read, consider borrowing my reading crutches. You won’t need them forever, but they will help you until you get back to your enjoyable reading season.

If you don’t have an Audible membership yet, you can get your free trial here. Audiobooks really will change your reading life.

What about you? Do you have any reading crutches? What do you do when you’re exhausted from a long day? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks to battle your tired mind.

4 thoughts on “How to Improve Reading Comprehension”

  1. Pingback: How to Achieve Your Goodreads Reading Challenge – Book Oblivion

  2. Great article. I’ve never tried listening to a book and reading it at the same time. Now I’m going to have to give a try. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I love Audiobooks but for some reason have always considered them ‘cheating’ when it comes to counting a book as read – it’s lovely to know that I can be a bit more relaxed with myself..! Never thought about reading and listening at the same time but this is an excellent idea!

  4. I used to think that, too. I give my students “permission” to read that way and encourage it. I feel like it’s still a win for books. For a lot of people, they’d never read if they didn’t listen to audiobooks and after figuring that out, I started to change my mind about how I felt about it.

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