If you’re like me, you love to read. And, like me, you may want to be a much more active reader than you’ve been in the past. By “active reader” I refer to a reader who seeks ways to interact with the book and its author.
I’ve been a reader all my life, but spent much of that time as a passive reader. I’d read a book and like it (or dislike it) and that would be it. Over the years I’ve sought more ways to be involved in the book world and more opportunities to share my love of books with others and to help out the amazing authors who give us great books to read.
Through this process I’ve found ways to be an active reader. I share five of them with you today.
1. Keep a Reader’s Journal.
I can pretty well guarantee your reading journal won’t look the same as mine. Perhaps you prefer an electronic format; Kindles do allow for underlining and note-taking. Maybe you’d rather a binder or a smaller notebook or something I haven’t even considered! Whatever the format, what exactly appears within a Reader’s Journal? Well, it houses thoughts on a book, notes about characters or settings or big events, quotes from the story, reactions to the writer and whatever else comes to you as you read.
My own Reader’s Journals—being guarded by my littlest fur baby, Tolkien, in the photo above—began “formally” in 2008 around the same time I started my first book club and joined Goodreads. I say “formally” because I remember jotting a few reactions to books or copying special quotes from books in my personal journals when I was a kid.
These notebooks, however, are completely dedicated to books I’ve read. When I start a new book, I open up my journal and jot down the title, author, publisher and copyright date as well as the start and finish dates of my reading it.
I like to leave some space for character and setting details on the first page—this is particularly helpful for books with multiple important characters. I also copy quotes as I go, choosing sentences I feel are important to the storyline or are particularly well-written. Sometimes I choose lines that are just plain funny. Whatever the reason I choose the line, I always include the page number (or percentage) after it. I’ve also gotten in the habit of jotting down chapter numbers as I go since it makes it easier to go back and reference or check something.
I’ll jot down important plot points or reactions to particular scenes. These notes help me when I write a review after I’ve finished reading the book. My journal isn’t always neat and frequently includes notes scribbled in the margins. Sometimes I jot questions about what the author is doing or guesses about what will happen, too. Neatness doesn’t really matter, of course, since the journal is just for my own reference.
I have considered using a binder so I can move or insert pages as needed, burt I really prefer the flexibility of a simple spiral notebook that is already bound together—no pages to fall out when I fall asleep reading and drop my notebook on the floor! Since I do sometimes bounce between books, I have started using the Notes app on my iPhone to keep up with some of the books. It’s handy, but I greatly prefer pen and paper. Writing ideas and inspirations compose one final type of note that often ends up in the margins of my Reader’s Journal.
A writer cannot help but be inspired by other writers, and I frequently discover ideas or clarity about a work in progress while reading another’s words.
2. Share what you’ve read.
Keeping a good Reader’s Journal helps greatly with this step; however, this is probably the simplest way to be an active reader and should be the one you choose if you only want to commit to one task. So, how can you share? Well, you have a number of options; so let’s check them out!
Talk about your favorite reads.
First of all, books should pop up in your daily conversation. (If not, you’re not talking right!) When they do, tell a friend or acquaintance about a book you recently (or not-so-recently) enjoyed. If they sound interested after you give them a little synopsis and tell them what you liked about it, jot down the title and author for them or text or email it their way. Especially if you’re like me and my friends, you guys won’t stop with mentioning only one book, and you’ll both find it hard to remember them next time you’re at your local library or bookstore. If you happen to own a copy of the book your friend would like, offer to loan it to them!
Bring books to your social media followers.
Sharing is where social media is an amazing tool! Liked a book? Tweet about it, post about it, snap a photo of the cover and share it! Let people know. Readers make the best marketing team for any author.
You see, every single author—traditional or self-published, does not matter—has to market his or her own work. A lot. The world’s a big place, though; and your favorite writer could sure use some help. It takes exactly 30 seconds of your time to post on one social media outlet. Thirty seconds to share a book that either inspired you in some way or simply gave you some much-needed enjoyment in your stressful life. So, for the love of books, share, good readers!!
Join like-minded readers.
Join or start a book club and let the share-fest commence! Book clubs come in many forms, so find what works for you. I have fond memories of two in-person monthly book clubs I started with some ladies in two different states. We always had snacks and wine and may have gotten off topic a time or two, but we always grew as readers and friends by experiencing books we may have never picked up on our own.
Now I’ve started a different type of book club that I hope you’ll join with me. It’s one I’ve wanted to start for a while—an online club with no set book. Each Monday afternoon I post in my Facebook group a Pelican Street Book Club post for anyone to comment on throughout the week. We share books we’ve read, ask for and give book recommendations and just share our love of reading! I’ve already added to my to-be-read list since we started. I’d love to see you there—be sure to like my page to get notified when I post on Monday afternoons!
I’m sure your local library has book clubs you can join or you could find one through Yahoo groups. You can also find genre-specific groups (mystery, Christian fiction, biographies, etc.) or clubs with certain reader demographics—women only, men only, stay-at-home-moms, teens, kids, etc. (I encourage you to get your kids involved with book clubs, too. Never too young to be a passionate reader!)
One extra little tip to check into, especially if you’re starting a traditional club where you all read the same book: our public library in N.C. had “book club kits.” They had a list of certain books you could choose from and the leader would check out the number of book copies their group would need. Plus, some of these lovely club-in-a-bag helps included discussion guides and other goodies! I put together little folders for our group there to keep all our notes together. Fun times!
3. Write reviews of the books you read.
Take your sharing up a notch with reviews! These do not have to be long. You don’t have to follow any particular format. if you want, you can even keep it to only choosing the number of stars you’d give it. Although, the more details you give, the more future readers will benefit…and the more that author will appreciate your efforts. Also, think about when you’re deciding what book to read next. If you peruse book reviews to help you out, are you going to put much stock in a brief review that says only “The book was good” or “I didn’t like it”? No!
You want to read a review long enough to give you a feel for whether you trust that reviewer or not and to help you understand what exactly they liked or didn’t like about the book in question. I like to give a brief synopsis first and share exactly why I liked (or didn’t like) a book. I never give spoilers (though Goodreads has an option to click if you do include spoilers so no one—like me—gets upset) and only go into major details of characters or settings on occasion.
“Where can I post these reviews?” you may ask. Glad you did! My absolute favorite website for all things reading and books is Goodreads. (I may have to dedicate an entire post to the glory that is Goodreads!)
You can also post reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million and other sites where you may purchase books. I haven’t started posting in these places yet, but I will. It really helps authors to have reviews. And, if you’re going to write a review for one, you may as well take the extra two minutes to copy and paste to as many places as you can. (Scolding myself here!)
Now, I have to add that I know you’ll find books you just don’t like. You should always give an honest review, but you should do so in a constructive and caring manner. That author—if still alive—will most likely read your review. If you thought the book sucked, fine; but think through WHY you thought that. Could you have been having a bad day? Did you choose a book that’s really not your cup of tea? Perhaps the main character reminded you of an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend you never wanted to think about again? Perhaps the story was actually good, but lacked a good polish from an editor—something I’ve seen numerous times, which is why I’m so passionate about the services I offer.
Too often I’ve read reviews which verbally assault the author in a derogatory and demeaning manner without providing any useful critique for future readers or for the author. Don’t be that person, please.
In fact, if you’re uncertain about a review on a book you disliked, email it to me. I’ll look over it for you and give you my honest thoughts. We need honest reviews, and authors (whether they readily admit it or not) actually want that, too; especially if they’re more than a one-book-and-done kind of person. They want to improve. They want their stories to reach as many people as possible in the best light possible.
4. Request books for your library or add them to wish lists.
Cursed with a teensy-tiny book fund? You’re not alone! You may never know it from the many, many crammed bookshelves in my house; but I actually spend very little money on books. Most of the books I do buy come from library sales, secondhand shops like 2nd & Charles or garage sales.
While I feel like a caped hero when I give a hand-me-down book a new home, I also feel horrible for not buying every book I get excited about or pre-ordering books from all the authors I follow. (Hint: another great way to help out an author…be the first in line, literally!)
So, here are two things you and I can do when book funds run low.
Check in with the librarian in charge of ordering books for your local library.
This person should be one of your favorite people! Share with him or her about new books that give you the warm fuzzies, and you may just find them on your library’s shelves!
Create a book wishlist on Amazon or another site.
When someone asks what to get you for your birthday or Christmas or Tuesday say, “I’m delighted you asked!” and send them a link. You may just get a few things you actually want, and your loved one may decide to order a second copy since they know what great taste you have!
5. Chat with your favorite authors.
Pretty much every author (or his or her book) has a website and/or Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, etc. profile(s). Visit them! Follow them! Interact with them! Share them! Especially if you really loved an author’s writing and/or wrote a review, they WANT to hear from you—honestly!
Let me share a little secret with you: very few authors bring in the mega bucks. Most of them—regardless of publication route—write for the love of the story and the excitement of sharing it with someone who may just enjoy it, too. As I’ve already shared, pretty much all of them have to market themselves and their books—a very exhausting and time-consuming task—and many of them also have day jobs and families and social obligations.
Trust me when I say they WANT to hear from you! Notes from readers mean so much. When a writer tweets or posts a question or ends a blog post with a question, they’re wanting to have a little virtual conversation with you. When their email address appears on their website or they have a contact form, they hope you use them. Even Stephen King and J.K. Rowling—two of the biggest of the big authors today—have been known to interact with fans via social media. Rowling even showed up to a little book club meeting when they were bold enough to invite her!
You see, writing can be lonely. Not only that, writing a book can be one of the scariest undertakings out there. When a writer takes a chance and transfers the worlds, peoples, conversations and events in his or her head to paper and sends it out into the world, that author has bared a bit of his or her soul to the planet. They’ve willingly made themselves quite vulnerable.
Also, writers know how many millions of reading choices you have. They will want to thank you for giving some of your valuable reading time to their book baby. And, they want to know what you thought about it and how their words affected you. You never know; your message could hit their screen right when they need a bit of encouragement the most.
So, be an active reader for an author today and chat them up! Tag them in posts on social media. Interact with their accounts. Invite them to your book club—you never know who may accept! Let them know their hard work and the courage to share their story with the world doesn’t go unnoticed. Share their books with your friends and post thoughtful reviews for their future readers based on notes you jot down while reading. Buy their books as often as you can or encourage others to buy them. Send an author some love today!
Are you an active reader? What are some other ways we can be more active in our reading?