Five Strategies for Reading Nonfiction

How I manage to read some non-fiction with a busy life, and where my system fails.

This is a question I’ve gotten a few times lately and thought it might be good to address.  I work full time plus most of the year and the family keeps me pretty busy too.  However, I still read a lot of non-fiction.  How do I do it?

1.  I always have a book with me everywhere I go.

This might seem obvious since I’m usually working in libraries.  But basically, I always have at least three books going.  One in my car (usually the least interesting), one for my lunch breaks, and one to read before bed at night.  Sometimes these are short stories, but mostly it’s nonfiction (because I neglect chores and sleep if wrapped up in a good book).

2.  I take full advantage of any bulk reading time.

We travel a good amount, so that is the main place where I have lots of reading time.  Days that I have off work but the kids still have school are golden, precious moments.  Usually more thought goes into the reading list for a camping trip than my wardrobe.

3.  Sometimes I read and reread until I finally get it.

Memoirs and popular non-fiction are usually faster reads (then I just have to remember to review them).  But if a book is longer, less well-written, or just denser or in a field new to me, I might have to re-read sections or whole chapters in order to have any coherent thought on the book.  With my books, I can take my time …library books are different.

4.  The more you read, the better you get at it.

I always tell my classes “Read above your level, read below your level, and read about what interests you.”  Rereading is good for increasing comprehension.  So is reading something that feels a little too difficult for you.  And if you are reading on a subject that interests you, it won’t feel as tedious.

5.  I still have failures.

Now that I schedule most posts, this doesn’t show up on the blog much.  But if you look at my 100 Indigenous Books page, you can see some.  I purchased The Right to Be Cold in June 2017 and began reading it right away.  In August we went camping and I didn’t take that book with (because books in good condition don’t stay that way on a campsite).  Unfortunately this coincided with the not-so-interesting part of the book, and I got into a slump.

I’m sad to admit that The New Jim Crow has been toted around since June.  I’ve actually read almost half of it, but feel I haven’t absorbed it properly.  It’s too good for car reading, too complex for lunch, and too upsetting for before bed or while traveling.

Clearly, my system isn’t entirely working.  I’m doing well reading popular nonfiction and memoirs.  If chapters are short enough I can read about one book a week following this system, but it doesn’t work for any books that have long chapters, complex topics, academic writing, or that total more than 400 pages.

How do you fit non-fiction into your life?  Any tips?

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

5 thoughts on “Five Strategies for Reading Nonfiction”

  1. I try to work in non-fiction as I do fiction … I’ll just read bits at a time and if I’m in the mood I’ll read more, and if not, I might put it aside until the next day. I also tend to read 3-5 books at a time, which helps. Sometimes I make a non-fiction book my “8:30” book, which means I’ll read that book until 8:30 when I usually dive into a fiction book I’ve been reading. I tend to stick to more memoirs and nothing too educational, so I have to figure out how to read more books like that still. But I’ll keep all your pointers in mind! Oh, and having a non-fiction on my kindle and taking my kindle with me helps, too. Some non-fiction books are so huge that it’s hard to take them with me, but my kindle makes it manageable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’m glad you mentioned the kindle! That was my go-to for many years. I also like your idea of using more fun reading as the reward for working on a non-fiction book. Unfortunately I find it really difficult to read fiction in pieces, the first time around I usually have to read it all at once when I have a few hours to myself. Otherwise if the book is too good I will just keep reading no matter what else I’m supposed to be doing.


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