The Art of Mindful Reading by Ella Berthoud

Ella Berthoud is one of the bibliotherapists at the School of Life in London and co-author of The Novel Cure. (I wrote about my bibliotherapy session with her in this post.) For her contribution to a Leaping Hare Press series on mindfulness – whose titles range from The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming to Mindfulness and the Journey of Bereavement – she’s thought deeply about how reading can be an active, deliberate practice rather than a time of passive receiving or entertainment. Through handy exercises and quirky tips she encourages readers to take stock of how they read and to become more aware of each word on the page.

To start with, a close reading exercise using a passage from Alice in Wonderland invites you to find out whether you’re an auditory, visual or kinesthetic reader. I learned that I’m a cross between auditory and visual: I hear every word aloud in my head, but I also picture the scenes, usually unfolding in black and white in settings that are familiar to me (my childhood best friend’s home used to be a common backdrop, for instance). The book then discusses ways to incorporate reading into daily life, from breakfast to bedtime and from a favorite chair to the crook of a tree, and how to combine it with other activities. I will certainly be trying out the reading yoga poses!

As I discovered at my bibliotherapy appointment, Ella is passionate about getting people reading in as many different ways as possible. That can include listening to audiobooks, reading aloud with a partner, or reading silently but in company with other people. She also surveys the many ways there are of sharing an enthusiasm for books nowadays, such as Book Crossing, book clubs and Little Free Libraries.

Although she acknowledges the place of e-readers and smartphones, Ella generally describes reading as a tactile experience, and insists on the importance of keeping a print reading journal as well as a ‘Golden Treasury’ of favorite passages, two strategies that will combat the tendency to forget a book as soon as you’ve finished it.

Some of her suggestions of what to do with physical books are beyond the pale for me – such as using a knife to slice a daunting doorstopper into more manageable chunks, or beating up a much-hyped book to “rob [it] of its glamour and gloss, and bring it down from its pedestal to a more humble state, a place where you can read it in comfort” – but there are ideas here to suit every kind of reader. Take a quick break between novels and use this book to think about how you read and in what ways you could improve or intensify the experience.

Favorite passages:

“As a bibliotherapist, I believe that every novel you read shapes the person that you are, speaking to you on a deep, unconscious level, and altering your very nature with the ideas that it shows you.”

“I often find that people imagine reading fiction is a self-indulgent thing to do, and that they ought to be doing something else. Much research has been conducted into the benefits of reading fiction, which deepens your empathy and emotional intelligence, helps with making important life decisions and allows your brain to rest. Research has shown that reading provides as much relaxation as meditation”

My rating:


With thanks to Leaping Hare Press for the free copy for review.


27 thoughts on “The Art of Mindful Reading by Ella Berthoud

  1. Sounds really interesting. I’m generally a very visual person but I think I hear the prose in my head as well. I used to deliberately mess up new books when I was a teenager! I’ve been thinking about mindful reading recently as I’m trying to re-read more; I get so much out of re-reading but it’s not always compatible with the other things I enjoy doing e.g. shadowing book prizes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ella is a big proponent of re-reading. She’s responsible for me going back to Little Women last year and writing the Lit Hub article about it. I struggle with it in general, though. I’d set aside 4-5 books for re-reading this year but haven’t gotten to any of them yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m re-reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder at the moment, great to revisit it. But yes, I’ve only re-read a handful of books this year – maybe next year I should do a re-reading 20 Books of Summer or similar!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like the idea of this book. I’m ambivalent about re-reading. Of course it’s a great thing to do, and many books deserve far more thn a single reading, but so much to read….. so little time. I’ll try to find and read this one anyway, at least once…..


  3. Hmm … beating up a new book to render it less intimidating? no, not for me. And re-reading? its a time factor thing – and my time is diminishing! along with everybody else’s allotted portion.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This book sounds (mostly) perfect for you! I have the same struggle working rereading into my stacks but right now I am rereading Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapesty (which begins with The Summer Tree – super appropriate) and they are both wonderful. I think this is the first time I’ve actually grasped all the details in the Kay novel actually (my third time). One friend of mine rereads more than she reads but, for the most part, others struggle as we seem to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe, as Laura says, re-reading needs to form part of a particular challenge. Then I might actually do it! I set aside 2 rereads for my summer project, but I’m not sure I’ll get to them. I’ve already substituted two titles and suspect I might be doing a lot more stand-ins.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL That’s funny. Probably! I remember going through a stage where I would borrow a nice copy of a book from a library just to get to reading something that I’d already had at home for ages (but a less appealing edition). It’s like…after you stare at something too long (in fact, or on a list)……*yawns*


    2. Alas, I do find that the moment I’ve listed a book for a challenge it starts to lose its appeal! I discovered lots more animal-themed books I had, including some I brought back from America, that are grabbing my attention more. If last year is anything to go by, my final list will only contain about 1/3 of my original choices.


  5. Sounds fascinating! I am neither auditory or visual in my reading, so I’m wondering if I’m kinsethetic – though can’t imagine quite how that works! I do remember when I first started having discussions with people about how I don’t see scenes as I read. Some people were very relieved that they weren’t alone, and others thought my reading was much the poorer. All v interesting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so glad you asked that, Simon. Now I know that I’m not a kinesthetic reader either. (Which is fortunate, as one must concentrate especially hard to spell that one correctly.)


    1. It’s so not me that I can hardly imagine having that sort of reader response. And of course, in this UK release it’s “kinaesthetic” 🙂 I usually write in U.S. English, though.


  6. How fascinating – I’m an audiovisual reader too. I can hear myself narrating in my head and often have strong visual images as I read. That said, I find it hard to concentrate on audiobooks unless I’m doing something with my hands and eyes – which usually results in not concentrating on the audio enough! On re-reading, I don’t do a much – it’s usually for book group, but I do often get more out of books on a second read.


    1. I’ve never tried listening to an audiobook. I can’t think of when they’d fit into my life, though I know for other people with a long commute they are perfect. If I ever did try one, I feel it would be the same as when I (rarely) watch TV — I have to keep busy with my hands, doing a jigsaw or skimming a newspaper. It would be such a different ‘reading’ experience.


      1. I often have R4 Book at Bedtime on when going to bed – more often than not I’m reading and not concentrating on the book! I made a deliberate choice not to have a screen open when watching lots of films this week – and I enjoyed them all more for that – but I had to eat and drink, and I groomed the cat – it’s so difficult to do nothing but watch.


  7. I’m pretty sure I’m not a kinesthetic reader (my hands don’t seem to move when I read). I’m guessing I’m an auditory reader but I’m curious enough to now want to get this book and do the exercises to find out. Though I might end up getting angry when I read nonsense about bringing books down to a level where they can be . Sounds like the same kind of rubbish I hear from the celebs who advocate clean eating…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think I’m an audio reader – yet I struggle with audio books. Maybe because others are speaking the words that I normally speak to myself in my head… All this is fascinating and I shall certainly seek out this book. I shall have to jump over certain parts though. Beating up books?! 😱


  9. Now I have to find some kind of quiz online to determine what kind of reader I am… I suspect auditory but not sure…

    I can’t IMAGINE taking a knife to a book! Wild! I don’t think books are sacred (I write in my books sometimes) but that’s just a step too far for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I remember Cheryl Strayed does it in Wild so she can leave behind the sections of books she’s done with. When you’re carrying your life on your back for months, I can maybe understand. But in normal life, never.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve been trying to read more thoughtfully and this sounds like a perfect book to give me ideas for how to accomplish that! I have to admit that her ideas for physically beating up books made me cringe, but I’d be happy to focus on the author’s other advice 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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