I read a post by Doug Wilson the other day that has given me a large measure of freedom and relief when it comes to my reading habits.
You see, I have become concerned about how little I retain of my reading, and so I have begun to sketch some brief notes or outlines on some of my reading. But that surely does slow me up, and sometimes, when I have the time to read, I shy away from the books I'm taking notes on. At other times I feel a bit overwhelmed because I'm behind on my note-taking.
I realize the last paragraph seems absurd to some of you, but there it is.
Apparently, however, Doug Wilson is at least familiar with my kind, for in a post on becoming a writer he wrote the following:
Read like a reader, and not like someone cramming for a test. If you try to wring every book out like it was a washcloth full of information, all you will do is slow yourself down to a useless pace. Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it. You have my permission to forget most of it, which may or may not be reassuring, but you will forget most of it in either case. Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading, you will not be able to remember. The most formative years of my life were the first five, and if those years were to be evaluated on the basis of my ability to pass a test on them, the conclusion would be that nothing important happened then, which would be false. The fact that you can't remember things doesn't mean that you haven't been shaped by them.
Reading in the last few days has regained its old delicious flavor.
Another comment from the same post also encouraged a couple other reading habits of mine that I sometimes wonder at, reading widely and reading several books at the same time.
Read widely. Reading shapes your voice, and if you want a wide, experienced voice, you have to get out more. Reading in one genre only is a form of literary provincialism. The timbre of your voice will be affected in good ways by every place you have been, bookwise, and so you should make a point of reading novels, histories, collections of poetry, comedies, biographies, theology, and plays. And don't be a afraid to have twenty books going at once.
Read the whole post here.