Like everyone else, I’d like to read more.
I used to be a voracious reader. I’d often finish entire books in a single sitting, much like I later learned to devour boxes of Triscuits in a single afternoon. In elementary school, I fought my parents to read at the dinner table (and always lost), and even learned to read in a moving car — a skill which I’ve since, sadly, lost. But as I grew up, my reading habits changed.
My family got cable television when I was in middle school, and I got my first laptop in high school. As I got older, I spent more and more time behind a screen, and less of it with my nose in a book. By the time I got to college, the amount of readings I had to do for my classes was so large that I barely read more for pleasure. By the time I graduated, I was only reading one or two books for fun per year, and they were usually non-fiction that were somehow vaguely related to my schoolwork. (In case you did haven’t picked it up yet, I am A Big Nerd.)
Flash-forward to October of 2017, about a year after I graduated from college. I was visiting my parents in my old hometown for a wedding, was having a bit of a personal crisis. My godmother Kristen — who herself always encouraged me to read more — had recently passed away, and I was feeling lost. In a fit of inspiration and frustration, I went to the library and checked out a stack of self-help books, and read six of them that weekend.
No, the books didn’t fix my life — but they did remind me how much I once loved reading. When I went back home after the wedding, I decided to make reading a priority again. It took some big changes, but a few key habits helped me bring reading back into my life, and I haven’t looked back since. I read 9 books in January; if I keep up that rate, I’ll have read 108 this year (though, of course, that’s no guarantee. I could become a Kardashians addict by then). If you want to do the same, here’s how.
Read more by choosing books that seem fun, not impressive
One of the major pitfalls I faced each time I tried to get back into reading was the I’m A Smart Person trap. Most of us associate reading with many other desirable and intellectual hobbies that fancy smart people do, like listening to NPR and knowing something about wine. I don’t actually want to listen to NPR or know what exactly chardonnay is, but I want to be the kind of person who does: a fancy smart person who reads for fun. This egotism is what usually drew me back to reading in the past. I didn’t necessarily want to read; I wanted to be a person who reads. Because of that, my ‘get back into reading’ picks were almost always terrible.
Literarily, I’m sure they were great books — but I wouldn’t know, I never managed to actually finish them. As a new or returnig reader, it’ll be hard to commit to a book that overwhelms you. Don’t start with War and Peace because it’s what smart people read and you want to be smart. Just read something fun. The first book that I read for fun last year was The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha, which includes doodle diagrams every chapter or so. And you know what? I really enjoyed it, and it got me back into reading again. No regrets. Tolstoy can wait until you’ve got your habit down.
- Focus on the books that you’ll enjoy reading, like commercial fiction or a genre you already enjoy in TV or movies.
- Think about the books you used to enjoy; what genre were they? Give that a shot.
- Don’t focus on impressing others with your books. Reading is valuable as a pastime, even if the books themselves aren’t masterpieces. Grow the habit before you build the library.
Make your reading time special
Speaking of habit, set aside reading time for yourself, and make it special. When I was getting back into reading, I would sit for hours in the same position on the couch, not bothering to get up to eat, stretch, or shower, like some sort of desert-wandering nomad who hadn’t encountered the written word in a decade. This, obviously, is not sustainable, because sometimes you will need to pee or someone else will want to use the couch.
For me, the biggest issue with these reading binges was that I started to forget that you could read while being fully dressed and not having a leg cramp. To fix that, I decided to lean in the other direction. I now make reading time in the early mornings, when I lie in bed and watch the sun rise, and in the evening, while I am surrounded by candles and music plays over the stereo. (Can you tell I don’t have kids?) Make reading feel like a relaxing experience, whatever that means for you. Would a Real Housewife take a bubble bath in the atmosphere you’ve created for your reading time? If not, try again.
Read in the lost minutes
At the same time, reading can be done anywhere, at any time. How many minutes in a day do you spend checking Facebook, then your email, then the news, and then Facebook again, just because you don’t want to get to work? How often do you zone out on the subway, imagining you’re a superhero? How many lost moments do you spend in the bathroom on your phone? Statistically, way too many.
Here’s a secret for you: you can spend all that time reading. If carrying a book in your place feels encumbering, try an eReader or a tablet. Bonus points if you use the Kindle app on your phone; it’ll look like you’re wasting time on social media like everyone else, and no one will be the wiser.
- Try to read in the minutes while you stand in line, wait for a movie to start, or sit in the subway.
- Try to listen to an audiobook while in the car or on a jog.
- Focus on making reading easy and accessible; an eReader or smartphone can do the job.
Cut out TV and social media
I recently wrote a blog post on how giving up nightly TV time changed my life. This is one of the most significant ways that I bought myself more reading time. If you’re interested in cutting down your time behind screens, you can try limiting your TV to one episode per session, cutting out TV except for weekends, or setting a timer on your laptop and phone to restrict your time on social media. It might seem a little Spartan, but I bet the ancient Spartans spent less time than you do watching Netflix.
Keep track using GoodReads
Now that you’re hooked on reading and hungry for the constant validation of social media, I’d like to introduce you to my friend GoodReads. If Instagram is that cool girl in your class who always looks better than you, and Facebook is your creepy ex who you thought was your friend but you now realize is low-key spying on you from your backyard, then think of GoodReads as your cool aunt who always asks you what you’re reading.
GoodReads doesn’t have the smoothest interface of any social media platform, but it’s fun to use. The site lets you track your progress in various books that you’re reading, organize your books by “shelves” you can categorize by topic or theme, and keep in touch with other friends and their book reviews. The best thing about it to me is that it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something every time I update my place in the book I’m reading. Also, unlike your creepy ex, Facebook, it’s not likely to sell your information, and if it does, the worst thing your health insurance company will know about you is that you un-ironically enjoy Nicholas Sparks novels (which, in fairness, may not be great for your heart).
Bonus: Move the Kindle app to the spot where you keep Facebook on your phone
This last tip is a bonus trick for those of you who are going to ignore all my previous advice. Download the Kindle app and put it in the place where your Facebook app currently is. For the next few weeks, every time you go to open Facebook, you’ll accidentally open Kindle instead, which will open to the page you were most recently on in whichever book you were reading. Once you get used to the new placement of your Facebook app, switch them again, like a game of cat-and-mouse where the mouse is your guilty pleasure and the cat is something that will actually improve your life.
No matter how much you currently read, these tips should help you double-down on your efforts and get a little farther in your reading goals this year. I’d love to hear from you in the comments: how do you get yourself to read?