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Become a Mindful Reader

Practice
Book with pages shaped as a heart

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Reading – it’s one of the first things we do in life, sitting on our loved ones’ laps and enjoying the soothing voice of a parent explaining the world through pictures and words. What begins as a jumble of marks, black against white, conjures colors, monsters and beasts, emotions, laughter, and tears. Eventually, the process of changing squiggles into words becomes as natural to us as breathing – and just as necessary.

As a bibliotherapist, I embrace and rely on reading. My job involves looking at the entire person – their life, their tastes, their passions, desires, hopes, dreams and any issues they may have. I then prescribe the ideal books for them to read right now – according to what is happening in their lives at the moment, what new paths they might be taking or what major life events are happening to them. I aim to give the right books to the right people at the right time in their lives, and therefore I take reading as a pastime very seriously.

I believe that every novel you read shapes the person that you are, speaks to you on a deep, unconscious level, and alters your very nature with the ideas that it shows you.

The benefits of reading can be seen not just in terms of what you learn, but also of their impact on your mental health – even your physical health is affected by reading. A recent study has shown that readers of fiction live on average two years longer than non-readers. When you read, your heart rate slows, your eyes ‘saccade’ across the page, back and forth, which is a movement that creates a stress-reducing meditative state in your brain. Studies have shown that when the brain is in a reading state, it is very similar to the state that the brain attains when practicing meditation.

Recognizing what kind of a reader you are will help you to deepen your reading experience. It is illuminating to examine your reading process, and think about the way your brain experiences the transference of meaning from the series of letters written on the page into words that awaken your senses visually, orally and kinesthetically.

Are You an Auditory Reader?

If you are an auditory reader, you would benefit from spending more time reading aloud, or being read to. Try reading aloud with your partner, your children or your friends, or in a group. Sit by a fire of a wintery night and share a story with some good dialogue and opportunities for using your voice in different ways. You can practise your accents, opening up a world of exciting voices, and also vary the pace of your reading – deliberately speeding up and slowing down for dramatic effect.

Are You a Visual Reader?

If you are a visual reader, you should choose books with a strong visual theme so as to enter most fully into the fictional world. When you read your next book, immerse yourself fully in its visual world. Ponder every image for longer than you normally would. If the writer describes the snow that has crept in through a chink in the door, relish that image for a couple of minutes. Picture exactly what it would look like, adding in the missing elements – how big is the cone of powdery snow, what would the footprints look like on the floor and what exactly would a snow-mist look, feel and taste like? Extend your visual insights into your other senses, and allow yourself to enter the scene even more fully.

Are you a Kinesthetic Reader?

If you are a kinesthetic kind of reader, there are a few ways that you can enter into your reading more intensely. Walk around while reading the book. (This may seem odd at first, but try it. It is something you can do! Just look up every now and then so you don’t crash into a table or tree). Go and read in an unusual place – in a park, in your garden, on a swing where you can rock yourself gently as you read.

In my view, books are improved by the marks we leave on them. If you doodle on the page while reading, and the doodle relates in any way either to the thoughts you are having about the book or to the place you are in when you are reading it, this will help you to remember more about the reading experience, not just what you were reading, but where you were when you were reading – what you felt, touched, smelled, and even thought during that particular reading moment.

Having established what kind of a reader you are, now spend some time ‘deep reading'. When you look more closely at each passage you read, you can sink more deeply into the words and the ideas and images they evoke, so that you are more and more lost in the author’s vision. You can apply this mindful technique to all kinds of reading – it will be particularly powerful in poetry, literary fiction and all artistic forms of writing.


You may also enjoy:

Reading Between the Lines

Delightful Lessons from a Sacred Summer Reading List

Adapted from The Art of Mindful Reading by Ella Berthoud. Copyright © 2019 by Ella Berthoud. Reprinted with permission of Leaping Hare Press. All rights reserved.


Ella Berthoud is a bibliotherapist at the international School of Life, prescribing literary cures to readers everywhere. She is the co-author of The Novel Cure and The Story Cure, and read English Literature at Cambridge University. Ella regularly gives talks on reading ailments and mindful reading at bookstores and festivals across the UK. She lives with her family in West Sussex, England. 

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