Solve Your Retention Problem with Contextual Reading

by Jacob Abshire on November 18, 2013

Traditional books are quickly going out of style. But a few of us are hanging on to every page as if letting go would be the end of us.

If you just smiled at that, you are one of the few … You are a book nerd. Book nerds have a problem that I think I can solve. So if you are a book nerd, this will rock your world. Unsure if you are? Let’s see if you qualify.

  • Do you have frequent reading hangovers?
  • Do you identify with this?
  • Do you pack books and forget your clothes?
  • Do you admire your library?
  • Do you judge people by their book covers?
  • Do you bring a book with you everywhere you go?
  • Do you have a book you will one day write in your head?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you might have a problem. No, being a book nerd is not a problem. It is, however, the cause of a problem: retention.

Book nerds can’t get enough of books. It’s like Ring Pops to a kindergartener, only we see it more like nutrients to the body, and the brain is alive. (We’d make good zombies.) A steady diet of black-and-white consumption keeps our blood flowing. When we are not careful, we find ourselves juggling a handful of different books that vary in subject matter, literary form, page counts, chapter lengths, binding, color, weight, and thickness.

Even as sharp as your mind may be, you are not Albert Mohler—unless you are Albert Mohler. Your book subjects will eventually start blending together like downtown Houston highways until you don’t know which highway you’re on. So frustrating.

But rest assured, I’ve got a solution. I call it contextual reading.

Have you noticed how specific times of the year stimulate specific emotions inside you? When spring arrives, the air is cool and thin, the sun is bright, the trees are sprouting buds, and the flowers give off refreshing aromas. These experiences (and others like them) bring back some memorable thoughts and emotions.

We have these experiences quite often. When you walk into your church auditorium, there might be a measure of excitement or solemnity. When you walk into your bedroom, there might be a sense of rest or tiredness. You feel relaxed when you sit outside in a swing, and the wind chime blends with the bird’s song. When Christmas is nearing, you feel jolly—some of you.

Our environment triggers thoughts and emotions. These put our minds in certain contexts we can easily enter and exit. Take advantage of this. Designate contexts for book reading.

Put a book by your bed. Put one in your car. Set another in the kitchen. Place one on your desk. Hide one in the restroom (emphasis on hide). Keep a book in its context until you complete it, and then replace it. But remember to read it only when you are in the context.

Be wise about it. Put short books where you spend little time. Put easy reads where you meditate least. Associate literature with times of the day, people around, scheduled activities, or places in the house.

Make the kitchen your humor context. Make your bedside the poetry context. Use your office for academia, your swing for devotionals, or your car for history—whatever you decide—just associate contexts with some thread of book characteristics.

Contextual reading is taking advantage of your environment in a way that contributes to your reading retention by giving you a consistent context by which you associate thoughts.

Doing so will allow you to read through books more quickly and retain their subjects more accurately. You might even find it easier to talk to your friends about a book while standing inside the context where you read it—a rather awkward thing if you read it on the toilet—but it still works.

Take advantage of your context. Make it work for you.

You’re welcome.

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