I recently read Elantris by Brandon Sanderson for the first time.
And though it was my first time reading it, it was not my first encounter with the material. I had listened to Graphic Audio's movie-in-your-mind rendition of Elantris, complete with sound effects.
Audiobooks and Franco
I think that plain old Audiobooks are an amazing format that let you do things with your hands while you are giving direct attention to a story. The Graphic Audio version adds immersive background noises and music and different actors voicing characters, all of which help to set the scenes for you.
While this is great for entertainment purposes, I was amazed by how little I remembered when I sat down to read it after listening to it a year or two ago. I have also observed that my retention for nonfiction audiobooks is also lower. Maybe this is okay if you do just-in-time reading, which a lot of people seem to talk about these days. But I tend to do just-because-its-interesting reading. I don't necessarily have a purpose before I start reading something.
One thing I have done that works if I want to improve retention is to listen to an audiobook repeatedly. While I don't get the benefit of reading words more slowly during an intense section as I do with with words-on-the-page reading, repetition is a good way to make sure I keep more of what I read. Sometimes I will even just repeat a chapter a couple times.
I don't tend to do it as much for fiction because, as written works, they tend to run longer than non-fiction and I like to repeat the whole book in the order the author presented. I like to re-live the suspense of specific scenarios.
Reading to Wind [Down/Up]
I have been reading just before bed as a way to wind down. You figure that reading a fiction work, like Elantris, would help to put your active mind into standby-mode. And it's true for the first half of Elantris, which unravels slowly allowing you to really get comfy with Raoden, Galladon, Sarene, and Hrathen.
I love Sanderson's characters. I love to soak up my time with them. They are people I would find inspiring. They're larger than life and his heroes are somewhat idealized. This is what I expect out of good art. Time with interesting and inspiring people is awesome just before bed.
And it would be relaxing but for the second half, which shifts the story into light speed and deep suspense. All of the original threads collide. Big reveals shatter your notions about certain characters. Your sleep will be delayed by your nagging curiosity about what is going to happen next.
Having finished my non-audio re-reading of Elantris, I find that I am in love with it. It was Sanderson's first book and I'm sure there are ways that it lacks the intricacy of his later works but I think it's a worthy read. I even recently bought a copy for a friend.