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If you’ve been wanting to read more books but have struggled with getting started, here’s how to start reading again, find time to read, find books you love, and make reading a habit and a hobby.
In my little online bookish bubble, I take for granted that most of the people I interact with love to read. Reading is a hobby, a lifestyle, something we do daily. But when I poke my head out of my bubble, I realize that reading is not a habit for everyone–and that many of you are trying to figure out how to read more, make time for reading, and find books that you enjoy reading.
There’s no shame in having fallen out of the reading habit. It’s happened to me at various points in my life: school, sports, travel, family, moves, jobs–all of these things have played a part in my turning from daily reading. It didn’t mean that I didn’t still love reading; my attention had just turned elsewhere.
In some cases (college and graduate school), I simply didn’t want to read more than I already was. College is a time when many people lose the reading habit–even if they loved to read as kids and teens–and never pick it up again. It’s unfortunate, because college should encourage us to embrace the pursuit of things we love and want to learn about.
It wasn’t until I had kids and started thinking more consciously about how I wanted to spend my time and use my brain that I realized I needed to make space in my life for reading. Not only is reading the ultimate self-care activity, it’s easy to squeeze in for a few minutes at a time, it’s instantly relaxing, and the barrier to entry is low–especially with books just a few clicks away.
How to Read More Books and Enjoy Reading
Make the Time to Read
Here’s the hard truth: you have the time to read. If you spend any time at all scrolling on your phone or watching television, you have time to read a book. It’s less about finding the time to read than deciding to make time to read.
If your day feels jam-packed and you don’t think this is true, let go of the expectation that you need to read for long stretches of time for it to “count.”
I often read throughout the day, but not everyone can do this. You may need to set a time when you commit to picking up a book. A good time for many people is right before bed.
I rarely fall asleep without reading in bed for some amount of time. It’s calming, there are no other demands on my time, and sometimes it sends my dreams in interesting directions (one of many reasons I do not read horror).
It’s okay if you can’t stay awake for more than ten minutes! Read just a few pages and turn out the lights. It’s fine! No one is grading you. Like going to the gym, showing up is a big part of it.
The next time you read, you may get to a part that you can’t put down and read for 15 or 20 minutes–or more! (And crawl in bed a few minutes earlier if you find yourself staying up too late. Not that I would know anything about that.)
If you take a lunch break at work, that can be another excellent time to read. When I went to an office every day, I looked forward to that 20 or 30 minutes of quiet time away from my desk to read and regroup. It also helped with creating a reading culture at work. Try audiobooks if you have trouble reading and eating, or if you prefer to take a walk or exercise at lunch (more on audiobooks below).
Ditch the Numbers
Here’s another truth: you don’t have to read ten books a month to be a reader. You don’t even need to count how many books you read. If you read a book, you are a reader.
Goodreads LOVES to prompt us to set our reading goal for the year. Book bloggers love to talk about how many books they read in a year.
But you know what? I NEVER set a reading goal on Goodreads. I take a peek at how many books I’ve read at the end of the year, but otherwise I pay very little attention.
Because not all books are created equal.
Some books are just slower reads. If I ever want to get through some of the classics on my book bucket list, I have to ignore how long they take me.
Other books are LONG. And these long books tend to be my favorite (though they may not be yours–it’s okay!), so if I cared solely about the numbers, I would miss out on some great books.
It’s also worth returning to your real goal here: to LOVE reading. If tracking and stats are your thing, have at it (and I must add that I love Sarah’s tracking approach that helps her find recommendation sources and books she loves. Check out her spreadsheet if you love to keep track.).
But some studies have found that tracking leisure activities makes them less enjoyable. They start to feel like work. Reading fun books about dramas or families or dragons or wizards or romance should NOT feel like work.
My favorite approach to tracking–which is more about organizing my thoughts and reflecting on books–is keeping a reading journal. I keep several. Check out my Ultimate Guide to Reading Journals for Book Lovers and get started on your own.
Figure Out What Interests You
Take a moment to figure out if you love…dramas or families or dragons or wizards or romance. Or something else entirely. Ask yourself:
- What do you read about online? Sports? Human interest? Politics? Crime?
- What books did you love as a kid?
- What kind of movies and TV shows do you love?
It’s okay to love what you love. Smutty romance, pulpy horror, literary tomes, historical epics–it’s all fine! You can keep it to yourself or you can find a tribe of others who love the same things. Be honest about what draws you in and then…
Find Books You Love
This is really key to how to love reading. There are books out there that you will love. Your job is to find them.
Take those interests you listed above and look for related books. There are book lists all over the internet (and even a few here). Whether it’s a particular topic or a type of book, chances are you can find a list with suggestions related to your interests.
Follow your interests, rather than what’s popular or what you think you should read.
There are hundreds of buzzy books that come out every year. You don’t need to read them all. If a World War II saga is going to bore you to tears, don’t try to read All the Light We Cannot See, even though you’ve seen it everywhere for years.
Similarly, you don’t have to read classics if they don’t hold your attention or if they feel like a chore. If you were turned off to reading early by books assigned in school, forget them! You don’t have to figure out the themes, write a book report, or understand the historical significance–and you don’t have to choose books that others think are significant.
Just like no one is judging you for your reading interests, no one is judging you for the books you haven’t read (and if they are, they’re jerks.). No one can read everything, so don’t try.
Here are a few book lists to get you started:
Embrace the DNF
That’s “Did Not Finish,” sometimes used as a verb among us elite (heh) book bloggers. As in, “This book wasn’t working for me, so I DNFed it.”
Again: you are not being graded. If you are not riveted, or at least interested in what happens next, put down the book and try something new.
I sometimes have trouble with DNFing but I feel like it’s an important thing for people who are trying to start reading again to learn. Not enjoying the story? Put. the. book. down.
There are plenty of stories you WILL enjoy and you need to find them. It doesn’t matter how much time you’ve committed to a book. Forget the sunk costs… don’t sink more. If you’re at 75% and still don’t care, stop. Not every book works for every reader.
Always Keep a Book with You
Okay, this is the best part about reading in the age of mobile tech. Because keeping a book with you doesn’t have to mean carrying around that huge 900 page Ken Follett novel that makes your arms tired. E-books, my friend!
Here’s the thing: you may not love e-books. You may love sniffing physical books and collecting beautiful books and organizing your bookshelves and making book Christmas trees and whatever else you do with your lovely, lovely books (I’m not judging). But you probably don’t always want to or remember to grab your book as you’re headed out the door.
You DO probably remember to grab your phone.
I hereby give you permission to do two things:
- Read two books at the same time.
- Read BOTH e-books and physical books.
Did you just gasp and clutch your pearls? If so, for just a moment, release whatever purist reading notions you have and hear me out.
Your smartphone has access to several free mobile apps, including Libby and Kindle. If you’re not familiar, Libby is an app that connects you to your library and allows you to easily find and borrow books. Just like at your physical library, the number of copies are limited, but you can also place holds on books that interest you.
Now, if you’re not solely reading on your phone, or don’t also have an e-reader, it can be a little tricky to figure out just how long an e-book is. Because if you’re adding books to your phone as a take-everywhere back-up read, you probably want books that are a little shorter. Check out Goodreads or Amazon for page counts and try to pick some books that are 300 pages or fewer. Or, choose some short story collections.
But once you have a book or two chosen, you’ll never be without! Sitting in waiting room? Standing in line? Waiting in the car for your kids? Pull our your phone, SKIP THE SOCIAL MEDIA, and open up Libby or Kindle. Read your book. Five minutes here and there adds up.
Audiobooks count as reading! I swear!
Honestly, it took me a while to embrace audiobooks, because my life just didn’t seem to lend itself to them very well. I’m not a listen-while-doing-chores kind of person, unless I’m home alone. If my kids are home, I’m listening for them. But I AM a listen-while-I-exercise person, and a listen-while-I-drive (alone) person. I just had to find what worked for me. Now I listen to two or three per month.
If you have pockets of time when you’re alone and doing somewhat mindless things, try out an audiobook.
You may find that your listening taste differs a bit from your reading taste. I tend to go lighter for my audiobooks: young adult novels work for me, as well as light memoirs and nonfiction, and some light adult fiction. Anything too complicated or with too many characters to track doesn’t work as well for me in audio.
I’ve heard many other readers say similar things, but try out a few and see what works for you. You can usually listen to samples before borrowing or buying a book; it can be helpful to listen for a few minutes to determine if you like the narrator’s style.
Libby also works well for borrowing and listening to audiobooks (and it’s easier to tell how long they are before you commit). I recommend starting with Libby to find out what kind of audiobooks work best for you. Audible is also great, especially if you like longer audiobooks, or think you would listen to your favorites more than once. Give it a try and you’ll get two free audiobooks to get started.
One last tip: try speeding up your audiobooks a bit. I almost always listen at 1.25x speed, and sometimes faster, depending on the narrator’s speed.
Keep Screens Off While Reading
Contrary to my advice above to put books on your phone, I don’t actually think you should read on your phone all the time. Unless you’re reading on the go and don’t have an option other than your phone, put it far enough away that you won’t automatically reach for it if you look up or the story slows down.
I don’t say this because I think you’re weak or not a seasoned enough reader to resist the siren song of social media. I say it because even those of us who consider ourselves voracious readers sometimes have trouble pulling away from our phones and getting back to our books.
Its mere presence will pull you away from the much more satisfying experience offered by your book. Don’t count on your willpower. Just move it away from where you’re sitting.
If you do find that you’re into e-books, get yourself an e-reader. I LOVE my Kindle Paperwhite. It’s easy to toss in my bag for reading when I’m out and about (or traveling!), and it’s great for those heavy, extra-long books. Getting new books from Amazon is easy (you can try Kindle Unlimited free for 30 days), or you can send library books from Libby to your Kindle. Plus, there are no onscreen distractions.
Make Reading a Habit
I touched on this above while discussing making time for reading, but in addition to carving out the time, you need to make reading a habit.
If you find yourself grabbing your phone with no real purpose, grab your book instead.
If you’re waiting for water to boil while cooking, keep your book open nearby (e-readers are great for this).
Folding laundry? Turn on your audiobook.
Waiting for your kids at school or an activity? Bring your book and read for a few minutes.
The key to making reading a habit is training your brain to think ahead to those moments when you might have time for it. Once you do that, you take the small step of keeping your book nearby. When your book is close, you’re more likely to pick it up.
The more you’re able to make reading a habit, the more likely you are to make reading a hobby–not just something you’re trying to do because you think you should, but something you make a point of doing because you love it.
Find Likeminded Readers
This one is completely optional, because reading is definitely a hobby you can enjoy on your own–I did for most of my life.
But it can be fun to find others who are into the same types of books as you. Reading a book with a buddy or a book club ensures that you’ll have someone to talk to about that amazing twist–plus you might feel just the slightest (positive) pressure to finish the book if you know others are waiting on you.
Even if you’re not reading the same book, just finding others with the same taste can help you find new books. Follow a few people on Goodreads who rated books you love highly, and see what other books they’ve loved. Check out some book bloggers who seem to blog about the genres you like–they will always have new recommendations for you.
Spending a little time with others who are excited about books (either in person or online) will help keep you excited about books. Pretty soon your TBR (to-be-read) list will be exploding.
What are your best tips for people who want to get back into reading, or for current readers who want to read more books?
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