In addition to direct experience (my favorite), I have always used reading as a means of immersing myself in any subject that attracts my serious interest. China and things Chinese have proven no exception.
So I have begun to build a research and reference library for myself, mostly by following my nose plus serendipity: local bookstores and book sales (supplemented by Amazon.com and other online sources) when in the States; Chinese bookstores when I'm there. The unsystematic result contains everything from pop-culture thrillers to serious works of scholarship, with poetry, fiction, biography, autobiography, and other forms mixed in.
The database below, to which I'll add regularly, contains the basic bibliographic information on the books I've read, plus my own notes and comments, as well as a sidebar on the words and phrases I've added to my vocabulary based on these readings.