How to be a good reader?

A girl with a good appetite for reading and enjoying a book

Because most people have come to depend on television and radio for their news, for the past few decades some newspapers, magazines, large and small, have simply gone out of business.

This is leading to a reduction in the reading culture among our populace.

It is encouraging to see publishers of books, magazines and newspapers try frantically to cut across the audiovisual dominance of television and internet.

They entice us with more illustrations and fewer words. For the most part they cater to the sensual, the prurient, the sensational or whatever they feel will give them a competitive edge for every reader they can get.

But why should you want personally to develop a good reading culture?

Cultivating the art of reading


Do you want to mature to the full extent of your mental capacities? Do you reach out for the highest values in life?

Are you conscious of your social needs as well as your spiritual enlightenment? If you want to develop in such directions you must still rely primarily on the written word.

Words solidified in writing (print), unlike the fleeting image on the TV screen, they are permanent. We can pause as we read them. We can turn back to them.

We can meditate, ponder, draw conclusions from what they tell us, learn a lesson, stretch and flex our mental abilities in the process.

But without realizing it our mental reflexes may become flabby, even retarded, by long and continuous diversion to television. Our attention span may become abbreviated.

Television with its intensely concentrated scenes, fractured every few minutes by commercial breaks, may condition us to tire prematurely from prolonged concentration. Our intellectual staying power may become exhausted.

Publishers of books and magazines are aware of this. They know that solid columns of print unrelieved by visual aids repel the average reader.

The short, lively illustrated account is more apt to hold our attention. If a subject is long and involved, its prospects of riveting us are better if the material is segmented.

For instance, it may be broken up in one- or two-page layouts dominated by imaginative subtitles and pertinent excerpts or pointers boxed in the margins—along with visual aids.

Form an Appetite for Reading


Don't let anything keep you from a steady reading diet. When your mind pushes reading matter away, pull it back with your hand.

Force your eyes to consume the words as a nurse does when insisting that the child open its mouth and take the spoon. Immerse your mental processes in the stream of words until your intellect swims in comprehension.

Reading is communication. Are there not many great minds you want to communicate with? Some of the words and wisdom of the greatest minds in human history are caught and preserved in recorded words. Feast on them.

Dig Out the Meaning of Words


If you do not read with ease, don't give up. You can learn. Tackle the problem with gusto. Most likely your problem begins with you not being familiar with many words.

But how many of us are? In the English language there are over 1,000,000 words. More than a million words. The average adult uses only 30,000 to 60,000. Imagine what we're missing.

When the meaning of a word is hidden, think of it as a kernel encased in a shell. We crack the shell, we extract the nut and find that it is rich, delicious and nutritious.

Words are rewarding that way. Don’t throw one away before you crack the mystery of its meaning. Learning a new word excites imagination.

It inspires smiles you find yourself saying “It’s like this” or “It’s like that—like a diamond scintillating light in many directions.” Every new word lights up the intellect in some area never quite reached before.

What’s the first thing to do when you see a word you don’t know? A member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel says the first thing he does is try to guess the meaning from the way it’s used.

What would the surrounding words reveal if that word were missing? Already we are getting clues. But don't just guess or wonder. Crack the nut! Look up the word in the dictionary.

Let’s say you run across the word “catalyst”: “Harvey’s sense of humor proved to be the catalyst that relieved the grimness of that night for all of us.”
We have a good idea, just from the context, of what “catalyst” means. But would you feel confident in using the word just yet? Let’s find out exactly what “catalyst” means before we add it to our active vocabulary:

CAT′A-LYST, is a substance which either speeds up or slows down a chemical reaction, but which itself undergoes no permanent chemical change thereby.’—Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary.

Besides having a basic chemical connotation, “catalyst” is a good word to describe how Harvey’s humour ‘slowed down’ or eased or relieved a grim episode.

But what is underneath the meaning? What are the roots of the tree that produced the nut?

We find “catalyst” in the midst of a whole family of kindred words. Directly above it in the dictionary is the noun “ca-tal′y-sis.”

Among other things the dictionary tells us is that it is formed by joining two Greek roots, kata-down, and lyein-to loosen.

Thus, digging a word up by the roots educates us in many ways. It helps us remember words. It deepens our understanding of words we already know.

It opens up whole new families of words at a time. Speech authorities tell us this is the biggest reward from going to the dictionary, this learning the root meaning.

We find columns of words above and below “catalyst,” all starting with “cata” from the Greek kata, down. Here are a few:

Catachresis,” [kata, down or against, charesthai, to use] the “down-use” or misuse of a word—something we want to guard against.

Cataclysm,” [kata, down, klysein, wash] a deluge.

Catastrophe,” [kata, down, strephein, to turn] ruin, calamity, disaster . . . A world of words opens up just from one simple root.

Word power starts here. Extended meanings are gained by adding prefixes, front attachments, and suffixes, rear attachments.

Look at what happens to the word “form” when we add a prefix such as “con” or “in” or “re”; or when we add suffixes such as “er” or “ing” or “less.”

Spending time studying the introductory material in the front of a good dictionary is an education in itself.

And whether in school or out, you can gain reading power by developing a good dictionary habit, as illustrated here.

But you may ask, Is there anything worth reading nowadays?

Yes, amid all the welter of trash that crowds the news stands and book stores there is always something worth while to be searched out and read.

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