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{Reader’s Life} On cleaning out your head.

Cleaning our your head | | the book dr.

Anyone else out there addicted to input?

I’m showing my age, but I’ve always left a little bit like the robot Johnny #5 in Short Circuit who ran around tearing books as he flipped through them at blinding speeds muttering “input, input.” If you have not seen this cinematic gem, here’s a little peek.

It’s so easy to get trapped in the more is more mentality, even with reading. Spending lots of time in the bookstore has created mountains of books that want to be read. And people just keep writing more and more stuff that sounds amazing. It’s easy to get into a frantic busy mentality, even with an activity that is supposed to slow us down and take us deeper into ourselves, like reading.

It was for this reason that I cut my Goodreads reading goal for 2016 nearly in half. I was a crazy reader last year, cramming in books at every turn and not as available to the rest of my life as I wanted to be. It’s such a bewitching identity, isn’t it, being a reader? People murmur with appreciation about how much you’ve been reading and it feels good, doesn’t it?

But what is the point of reading all these mountains of books if we don’t allow them to sink in and really impact us?

There are so many books that I’ve read over and over again because they still give me something when I do. But one thing that has happened that I’m not proud of is that sometimes I read with a plan to “come back later and really get into it” later on. Writing this down feels embarrassing, and I wonder if I’m the only one who does something this foolish.

[Tweet “If you’re going to read a book, read it like this is the last time you’ll get your hands on it. “]

Life is too short to plan on re-reading later.

Here’s how to suck all the marrow out of each book, Dead-Poet Style:

  • As a traveler’s notebook junkie, my first tip comes from that world: Use one insert in your traveler’s notebook as a Commonplace Book. What’s a Commonplace Book, you might ask? Read this excellent post and find out. You could also keep one of these in any other manner of notebook, or even in Evernote, but I personally like the physical experience of pen on paper. Having quotes and bits of books I have loved close at hand lets me digest them and return to the ideas later, while letting go of the book itself.
  • Another journaling/notebook practice: After finishing a book, take a few minutes to write a little bit about it. What was the book about? Did you learn anything new? Any new actions you want to take as a result of reading it. (hint: this is not just limited to non-fiction. A novel can inspire to-dos like “get a flowy nightgown and spend more time lounging in it with tea, or “the next time I see a sunset, stop and look at it for at least 5 minutes,” or “try meditation” (my guy’s action a year ago after reading A Tale For the Time Being.) )
  • It’s ok to take a break before picking up another book: I have finally gotten to the point that if I finish a book in the evening, I won’t start another one until the next day. I used to try to press on and now I find that counter-productive. I’m going even further in the “let it breathe” direction and sometimes leave a few days between books, even though that makes me a little nervous. The longer you let a book marinate, the deeper it can sink in. 
  • Come up with a one-liner about the book: Once you’ve finished a book, done your journaling session, and seen if there’s anything you want to do inspired by the book, come up with a catch phrase about what it means to you. Sometimes these may not come until later, such as “The book that got me into running” or “new ideas about fear that got me pretty excited.” Sometimes the catch phrase won’t come until later, but having one will help shelve the book in your head and clean out your memory. Try it- think of a book you’ve read recently, give it a catch phrase and then imagine putting it on an imaginary shelf in your head. Doesn’t that feel good?
  • Keep a list of what you read: Even if it’s just in Goodreads, which is how I track my reading. Having a list so you know you can remember what you’ve read, really does make me feel more able to let it go when I finish and also to dive more deeply into it while I am reading, because the need to rate the book when I’m finished causes me to engage more thoughtfully. Plus, it helps to scan over the list a few times a year- I probably do this once a month or so- and then I can muse on what I got out of each book and have a little memory jog- sometimes I’ve completely forgotten some of them!

After using a few of these practices, I’ve been able to feel a bit less crammed with input. The antidote to input apparently is just some output. Even if it’s just for yourself, being able to digest a book a bit before moving on the next will help with that overstuffed dinner feeling that can come after being on a reading bender.

Anyone else have this issue? What do you do when you want to clean out your head and have the most rewarding experience reading a book- I’d love to hear your methods as well!

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