In our classes, students ask this question all the time. And of course, we have dozens of tips and techniques to offer. But the single best answer is also the simplest: “Read.”
Reading well isn’t something that can be learned in a few months. Like other complex skills – Brazilian jiu-jitsu is my favorite example – it takes years of practice. After all, there are a thousand moves to master – hearing an author’s tone, inferring from small clues, understanding how punctuation affects meaning, and so on.
Of course, if you only have a few months before a big standardized test, that’s okay – you still have time to make enormous progress. But if you’re aiming to improve your skills over the longer term, the most helpful thing you can do is to develop a reading habit.
With our students, the next question is often, “What should I read?”
Whatever you want. Really! Check out my bookshelf above. I’m in the middle of most of these books right now. As you can see, I’m pretty obsessed with boxing at the moment, so I tend to gravitate toward those books. But sometimes I’m more in the mood to chip away at a big novel, or to live in the world of a Raymond Carver short story for half an hour. Other days, I read about the history of Barcelona. (We’re moving there this summer.)
The only consistent thing about my reading is that I try not to let it turn into work. I don’t have to read anything. No one is keeping score. And when I read things that genuinely interest me, I end up reading much more and making all kinds of cool discoveries. And along the way – without even noticing – I become a much better reader.