I love how ‘immersive reading’ adds to your awareness of details afterwards. Probably a lot of what makes my friends think I am an absolute genius is down to immersive reading (and the rest is due to my being an absolute genius, of course).
But, what is immersive reading, you ask?
When you read a book, how actively engaged are you in that book? If all you do when reading is read, then all you get out of the book is whatever is in its text, augmented by whatever background knowledge you bring with you to your reading. But, if you take the book as a central thread around which to explore, not only do you stand likely to get more out of the book itself, but you might find that you learn a bit about the real world that you retain long after you forget much of the original book. This approach to reading is occasionally mentioned in advice to college students, but it works just as well for everyone.
Take, for an example, a novel I am currently reading, The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie. This book, which reads like a fantasy, is equally reasonably shelved as historical fiction. It is set during the High Renaissance, when bits of science were becoming well established, but only among the learned elite, so that a conjurer could still do ‘magic’ by use of science. The borders and people that form the fabric of this novel are otherworldly enough that for modern readers it certainly feels like high fantasy, and I am sure some readers are content to enjoy this book just as a genre-bending fantasy/historical fiction work.
But, a book like this lends itself nicely to a more active, ‘immersion reading’ approach. My reading of this novel will incorporate Youtube videos on the history and archaeology of places mentioned in the novel, videos on the High Renaissance in general, music from that era, and whatever else I come across that ties into this thread. I will be browsing Pinterest for images of people, places, and objects mentioned in the novel, making a pinboard for the book as I read. I might also add a few other books to my TBR that relate in some way to this book, so that in the near future I can revisit some of the subject matter from other angles. I also occasionally use my Tumblr blog to post about topics related to what I am reading, an ongoing reading journal that I ought to use more, I suppose.
All of these activities increase my understanding of what I read in Rushdie’s novel, but it also builds a web of knowledge and context that lasts in my brain after I finish reading. I may not consciously focus on it again for a while, but when I encounter future novels or anything else that connects to this web of information, it triggers my memory to bring up the whole web. Instead of just remembering vague information from Rushdie’s novel, I can access a decent mass of background context that I can use anywhere it seems useful. I need not memorize names and dates and fine detail, since I am not studying for an exam, but if I needed to take and pass an exam related to the High Renaissance, my background from immersively reading Rushdie’s novel gives me a context to fit names, dates, and fine details into.
For any subject having a context web already in your brain makes learning testable facts easier, because we remember stories a lot better than we remember isolated facts. If you are a student you can use this technique to make school easier. If you are in a class you struggle with, you can try immersively reading your textbook, one chapter at a time, finding videos, novels, and other materials on the stories and people mentioned in the text. It might not make memorizing trigonometry or calculus formulas, or those awful mechanisms in organic chemistry, but even in these subjects there are human stories behind every factoid in your textbook that can add context and make their subjects easier to relate to and remember. And, once you graduate and are back in the real world, this same reading approach can keep your brain active and add many layers of meaning and complexity to the world around you, whatever job you pay your bills by.