Reading the Extreme: 10 Tips for Amping Up your Reading Game! by Ann McCallum Staats
Hey, you there! I dare you. Yes, you. I dare you to become an extreme reader. And no, I’m not talking about laminating a book to bring it underwater while you feed the sharks. Or suggesting you strap it to your torso so you can take it with you when you go skydiving. Reading the extreme means to go deeper, farther, faster, or more keenly into your reading life. My dad once told me that if you can read, you can do nearly anything. I believe him.
Despite writing my latest book, Thrill Seekers: 15 Remarkable Women in Extreme Sports, I’m no cave-diver, skateboard Olympian, or high-octane racecar driver. I’d never heard of wingsuit flying, ultra-running, or highlining. Through my research including reading, interviewing, and some hands-on investigation, I came to understand not only what these sports are, but a little about why these adventure athletes embrace their sports with such whole-hearted passion. I’m still no professional skydiver, but I was inspired by my research to try a tandem skydive myself. It. Was. Amazing. I also rode along in a Formula-type car at the Richmond Raceway and did an amateur scuba diving lesson where I saw a real stingray winging its way into the murky blue.
The challenge—and the joy—of becoming an extreme reader is to read to voraciously, ferociously, and like your pants are on fire. Here are ten tips for becoming an extreme reader.
- Push past your comfort zone. Read books that are hard or long or that discuss uncomfortable subjects. Lots of difficult words? No problem. Skip over those or use context clues to find the gist. One thousand pages? Fine. The more pages a book has, the longer you get to savor it. And uncomfortable subjects? Absolutely. How else are we going to think and grow?
- Read in every genre. Try your hand (eyes) at poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, sci-fi, or historical romance. Be adventurous. Stand at the library shelf, close your eyes, and grab the first book your fingers brush against. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Perhaps you’ll be acquainted with a newfound love. Maybe you’ll discover what you don’t enjoy. That’s good to know, too.
- Choose authors from across the globe. How does place affect voice? How do different nuances expand your vision of the world? In what ways does cultural context enhance a story? What do you embrace about that culture and place?
- And in that same vein … Find U.S. authors from different backgrounds. How does their perspective differ from yours? How does this make you feel and think differently? How does diversity help you think better?
- Read in different places. Read at the mall. In the bathtub. At a museum. Read outside. Find a tree and a branch and use that for your reading armchair (And p.s., why do kids do this, but not so much adults?).
- Pick up books for every age. Immerse yourself in the lyrical text and luscious illustration of a picture book. Read a book on gerontology. Choose a mystery with whodunnit characters and furiously fast-turning pages. Laugh out loud at a funny middle-grade expose of life in sixth grade. LOL.
- If you can, read every day. Maybe it’s 10 minutes when you’re waiting in the dentist’s office or have 7 minutes to boil a pot of spaghetti. Maybe it’s that sacred 15 minutes before bed. Some days maybe there’s time for more (Those are precious days). Take reading moments, long or short, and hold them dear. As is true with every great endeavor in life, finding the time and prioritizing the activity is critical to success (In this case, that success being elevating oneself into a reading athlete).
- Read for a purpose. If the reason is for reckless abandon, own it! Fold down the page corners of the book you can’t get enough of. Bend the spine so you can hold the book in one hand, maybe hanging onto a playground swing with your other. If you want to really immerse yourself—absorbing or analyzing—bring along a pen to mark things up. Pause and think.
- Talk about it. Shout to the world because such treasure is meant to be shared. Maybe you’ll start a book group. Perhaps you’ll walk and talk about it with a friend. What resonated so deeply that you can’t stop thinking about it, knowing you’ve changed and that the new knowledge will forever shape your actions going forward?
- Fuel up. Never let a shelf get too barren, a backpack too empty. Stock up and stack up. Have books at the ready. Scour booklists and bookstores. Check out the maximum at your local library. There’s always the option for renewal, right?
Finally, reading is an exercise of the heart. The laughs, the grins, the trembles, the stones in our throat … these are the things that make us feel truly alive.
Go on, then. I double dog dare you. Become an extreme reader.
Ann McCallum Staats holds a BA in Education from the University of Victoria, BC, and an MA in Education from the University of Maryland. She is the author Thrill Seekers:15 Remarkable Women in Extreme Sports as well as seven children’s books, including The Secret Life of Math, which won ForeWord’s Gold Book of the Year, and the Eat Your Homework series. She is currently an ESOL high school teacher and a member of SCBWI as well as the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, DC.