These are habits of reading that I have ingrained - they come to some extent from what gives me joy when I read, and share my reading with others, to some extent from academic study as a literature major, and also from teaching, especially those for whom reading and its enjoyment were a challenge.
I look to four things when I read
Whether I am reading something like historical fiction, or an imaginative world, or even phantasy - each story has an internal consistency of event, actors, geography, and time. Growing up, the Tolkien trilogy was, socially, required reading. It had something of the place that the Harry Potter
series has for my grandchildren.
A compelling, dense, rich, and rewarding tour that never seemed to end. In more than one of the volumes, was the map of Middle Earth — even if I was not reading the next adventure, I could worry over the map. Great literature, not just popular literature, can be marked by its maps, such as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, an imagined county in a verifiable south in the United States.
Historic fiction relies on the maps and documents — James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, is true to the actual geography of upstate New York. I start with maps because we are all familiar with their visual representation of data.
I like to make visual sketches of the other aspects — events and a timeline go together well and a family tree is often a great way to diagram relationships. In reading a book, it may take only the time to turn from one page to the next chapter, but when the last page ends with people getting into a carriage, and the next chapter begins with them arriving — our perception of the story is different if the carriage ride was merely down the street, because they were of the class that could afford the luxury to ride, or was across a county, and was really the only feasible travel for that distance. What do people do with time? They think and mull things over. They might read or look out the carriage window. They might converse with the others in the carriage. Some or all of these things might happen and what we imagine goes on might change our view of the opening of the subsequent chapter.
Stories are all events, people, geography, and time. Also being diligent about these aspects, rather than sucking the life from the story, makes it all the more rich and our engagement all the deeper.