Whether you’re burning through page-turners, laboring over heady tomes, or anything in between, this winter is the perfect time to finally catch up on the books that have been stacking up on your nightstand. Reading done right is one of the most intellectually rewarding pursuits we can engage in, miles ahead of binge-watching crime dramas and lightyears beyond playing games on our phones. As we settle in for another long Western Pennsylvania winter, there’s no better way to grow our minds than by devoting our time and ourselves to our books. These three ways to get more out of reading this winter may make your literary pursuits more deeply enriching than before.
National media can appear to have a flattening effect, but the richness of regional American literature belies the very idea of an Anglo-American monoculture. By concentrating on your best local authors, from the canonical to the emergent, you can reassert your sense of place and profoundly appreciate writing that speaks of and to your corner of the world. Californians can pore over the novels of John Steinbeck, while Chicagoans can dive headlong into Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren, and Studs Terkel. For New Englanders, there’s the work of the Transcendentalists to the poetry of Robert Frost to contemporary authors like Elizabeth Strout. Locally, you could explore new books from Pittsburgher Jacob Bacharach.
Start a Zoom Book Club
Reading is an inherently solitary experience, a one-way transmission from writer to reader. If you hunger for more than this linear communication, get your friends together to remotely discuss a book of the month. By sharing observations and insights, you can have a richer experience, gain perspectives on the reading you wouldn’t have had yourself, and bridge the social and the solitary.
If a novel piques your interest, or if you’re enjoying a book but having difficulty grasping unfamiliar idioms or cultural mores, you could read beyond the boundaries of the book. The books of the Bible, taking place across centuries of the ancient Middle East, become easier to understand when you read more about the history and geography of the region. We hold the great works of Russian literature in high esteem, but many nuances of 19th-century Russian culture lie beyond Western understanding without doing additional reading on the subject. Synthesize your outside reading with the topic itself via good notetaking, which is always one of the best ways to get more out of reading. As long as you’re not borrowing a library book, feel free to take notes in the margins as you go.