Have you ever read a book and gone back to it only to find that you felt like you had never read it before? Did it seem new to you? And as you read it through for the third or fourth time you probably said, “Wow! How could I have missed that?!”
Some people can “fly” through a book and then sit back to tell you the title, author’s name, how many chapter and what each one was about, the thesis of the author, and why they agreed or disagreed with the author…only having read the book once. God has not wired me this way, and, I would imagine, that many of you have not been either.
Here’s a bit of advice that I have found works for the rest of us: Decelerate your reading. In a culture that is running at 1000 miles per hour, seven days a week, it takes effort to slow things down. We sense an obligation to get through a chapter or two in the Bible each day, or to finish that book by the end of the week, only to start the next one and not be able to summarize, internalize, and think about how you can apply what you read before to your specific circumstances or situations. Not to mention, we read so fast that we couldn’t do that even if we wanted to. We just don’t give our brains time to catch up.
Slow down, have a pen/pencil in hand, to your time with the text, look up words, google historical persons or events that the author mentions and assumes that you know. Reading the text out loud also forces you to slow down and stay with the text. It helps in keeping your mind from wandering. If it takes you 15 minutes to really understand a paragraph, so be it. But I guarantee you that you will have gained more in those 15 minutes than you would have if you had read the entire chapter in the same amount of time. And there’s something about having a writing instrument in hand. It just wants to be used, and in turn, makes you go back to underline, to write down a question, and/or rewrite a concept in your own words. It makes you engage the text.
“Well, Jose, that might work for you. But I’m in college (or seminary) and I have deadlines.” In your case, I would recommend How To Read A Book By Mortimer Adler. (even if you’re not in an academic setting, I highly recommend it) You’ll find helpful tips that will revolutionize the way you read. But for the rest of us: slow down, make notes, ask questions and write them down in the margins, underline key points, summarize. And share it with someone. One of the best things you can do to help you retain what you read is to teach it to someone, even if they already know it. The exercise of sharing does wonders for your retention.