How Do I Become a More Effective Reader?

Doris Lessing by Roger Mayne

Dear Literary Ladies,

It’s important for someone who wants to be a good writer to be a good reader, right? Do you have any thoughts on becoming a more effective reader?

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

Remember that for all the books we have in print, are as many that have never reached print, have never been written down — even now, in this age of compulsive reverence for the written word, history, even social ethic, are taught by means of stories, and the people who have been conditioned into thinking only in terms of what is written — and unfortunately nearly all the products of our educational system can do no more than this — are missing what is before their eyes.

Doris Lessing (1919 – 2013), from The Golden Notebook, 1962


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