How to become a smarter reader, according to Boston Book Festival’s founder

For one thing: Do you belong to a book club?

The Boston Book Festival.
The Boston Book Festival. –Boston Book Festival

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The Boston Book Festival, celebrating its 10th year in 2018, will bring 285 authors to Copley Square on Saturday, Oct. 13. They include James Beard Award-winning food writer Michael Pollan, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary historian Stephen Greenblatt, and New York Times best-selling author Madeline Miller. Also taking part in this year’s event are former Secretary of State and author John Kerry and actress and author Justine Bateman.

Founder Deborah Porter said that, last year, between 25,000 and 30,000 people attended the festival, which allows attendees an opportunity to discover new authors and meet writers they already know through panel discussions, interviews, workshops, and readings.


“We’re a sports town,” Porter said. “We can generate so much excitement around the Red Sox and the marathon and the Patriots. I wanted that kind of excitement to be generated around authors and books and ideas.”

Attending events like the book festival, where you can meet and listen to authors, is a good way to do so.

It’s also a great way to become a smarter reader. As she gears up for this year’s event, Porter offered the following four tips for increasing your reading IQ.

1. Read book reviews

You could judge a book by its cover — or you could read a book’s review. Porter is partial to the ones in The New YorkerThe New York Review of Books, and Bookforum.

“The reviews will help me decide whether a book is something I would be interested in,” Porter said. “It just gives you a really good idea of what you’ll get when you read a book and whether it’s for you or not.”

2. Ask friends for recommendations

Porter said to make a habit of surveying your friends for book ideas — and then to read those books even if they don’t seem your style.

As an example, she explained that a friend suggested she read Katherine Faw’s “Ultraluminous.”


“It’s not something that I would have been drawn to,” Porter said.

The cover of the book shows the lower half of a woman’s body wearing only underwear. She’s holding a gun, and the name of the book and author are scribbled across the woman’s body in what looks like black marker.

“If I had seen it sitting on the shelf at the Harvard Book Store, I would not have gotten it, based on the cover,” Porter said.

The novel follows a year in the life of a woman who works as a high-end prostitute for men in the financial profession. As it turns out, Porter found it quite interesting.

After she read it, she asked the friend who recommended it how he discovered it. He told her he found it through a review in The New Yorker, which listed the book among its favorites of 2017.

“It’s an example of a book that I never would have read,” Porter said. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and read things that you wouldn’t ordinarily read. I think that’s part of being a good reader.”

3. Attend author events

Events such as the Boston Book Festival offer an opportunity to hear hundreds of authors in one day. But throughout the year, you can find many chances to meet and hear authors, Porter said.

“All the independent book stores do a lot of author talks,” she said.

These include Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, and Porter Square Books, just to name a few.


Hearing an author’s insight into his or her own work elevates your reading, according to Porter.

“It enriches the experience of reading the book when you have that author’s voice in your head,” she said.

4. Join a book club

Discussing a book with a group of people is beneficial to readers in several ways, said Porter, who has belonged to various book clubs over the years and recently joined a new one.

“It’s a great way to experience books through other people’s eyes,” she said. “And to really be forced to articulate your own thoughts about the book.”

Because readers come from many experiences and backgrounds, a book club exposes you to the insights and perspectives of your fellow readers — points of view you may not initially have been aware of, according to Porter.

Porter said folks also should toss out the notion that book clubs are just for women.

“Usually, you think of book groups and women,” she said. “I know a number of men who are in book groups and find it fabulous.”

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