Tim Parks’ Guide to Reading

When perusing the online version of The New York Review of Books last week I came across an interesting article by Associate Professor of Literature and Translation at IULM University Tim Parks, recommending his tools that every reader can use in order to get the most out of their reading experience.

Personally, even before I begin reading a book, extensive research has been done prior to picking up the reading material, so that I am not wasting my time on something I know I will dislike. This is one of my idiosyncrasies, and not the point of this post.

Before divulging into his tricks of the trade, Parks makes notes that in no way, shape, or form will these suggestions work for everyone, as every reader is reading from a “different place.” Whether it be from an academic standpoint or for pleasure, Parks understands that reading is all about the enjoyment. However, he also believes that reading is “an active skill” and there are tools that can make the experience more enjoyable.

Following this quick advisory, Parks begins dissecting what it is readers should be looking for when they pick up a book. Firstly, he believes that every reader should look at a book as an experience, and the more you experience books, the better you will become at enjoying the art of reading. This idea, I believe, is most important for the developmental stages of a reader. Though I do still enjoy a Young Adult (Y.A.) fiction novel every now and then, I’ve realized that the subjects I read in my younger years have shaped what books I gravitate towards in my adult life. When I first fell in love with reading at the age of 11, it was because of a little-known book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K Rowling. Rowling made reading engaging, not only because she wrote characters to which I related to, but also because she was able to weave a realistic experience with fantastical elements. Now that I am 23, I tend to gravitate towards adult fiction with the fantastical elements reminiscent of my childhood because that is what pulls in my interest.

Secondly, Parks believes that in order to get the most enjoyment out of reading material questions must be constantly asked throughout the book. What is the value or merit of the work? Is it something that offers something to the genre, or the literary world? Parks says that he dislikes when books are written for “opportunity sake” rather than for the “authenticity” of the idea being put forward. When I read this statement I immediately thought of E.L. James 50 Shades of Grey. Though the novel is a best seller (makes me question our societies idea of a good book), I feel that its publication was solely due to readers demands for more “Twilight-esk” fiction rather than for any other purpose. I understand where Parks is coming from, and though I don’t believe that every piece of literature I read has to offer something to the literatures reputation, I do think it should offer more to the reader than just emergency toilet paper.

Parks also believes that in order for a reader to experience novels in its entirety, one has to understand what the author wanted them to take away from the work. What is the relationship between the character and their settings? What are the characters motivations? Within those motivations, what are the consequences for the characters and their worlds? Each of these questions should intersect with one another leading to a coherent narrative.

Finally, Parks recommends that if all else fails, people should go into a book with pen in hand, ready to mark pages with notes that resonate with them personally. Though this could work for some, I feel that marking any book, whether it be with a pen, highlighter, or bunny ear is blasphemy! Books are sacred, and I personally try to treat every book I own as though they are the only printing of that novel. Think of my bookshelves as the Library of Alexandria, pre-disaster, and me as the keeper of knowledge and culture.

Personally, if I had any recommendations for readers on what works best for me when trying to get reading in are:

  • Read at night before bed. This is generally the time in which people disconnect from the digital world and need something to help them wind down for the night.
  • When reading a novel with historical elements, write notes down, on a separate sheet of paper mind you, to investigate later.
  • Take “Chicklet” novels at face value. You are not reading the Iliad, so don’t expect it to be life changing.
  • Have multiple books on the go, even if you aren’t good at multi-tasking. I say this because when I get to a slow part in one novel, I’ll jump over to another to get my fill of action, and then return to that slow part to appreciate its value within the narrative as a whole.
  • If you find a genre that you enjoy, plug that title’s name into the search bar of Amazon, or any related online book retailer, to see what book recommendations could curb your lustful appetite.

In the end all I can say is, whether you use Parks’ recommendations or mine, just read. Reading is important, it allows you to explore worlds, act out desires, and understand history. To quote George R.R. Martin, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”


Works Cited

Martin, George R.R. (2013) A Dance with Dragons. New York, NY: Bantom Books.

Parks, Tim. (2014, December 18). How I Read. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/dec/18/how-i-read/

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