How I Started Reading More

It’s not about discipline.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

At the start of 2020, I decided I wanted to read more. I was in grad school and working at a campus library part-time, and kept hearing people talk about all the books they were reading. But I hadn’t read a book in months.

Classmates, library patrons, and people on the radio were talking about the new books that were coming out in 2020 and how great they were. My friends were actively diversifying their bookshelves, and I wanted to contribute to the conversations.

I love reading. Or, I thought I did. Why was reading so hard?

So at the start of 2020, I made it a new year’s resolution to read. I initially set the goal for 50 books but realized with my workload it would be more realistic to settle for two books each month.

Of course, 2020 wasn’t a typical year and my goals didn’t completely work out. It was discouraging seeing so many people reading so many books when I found it difficult to focus on reading anything for more than a few minutes.

When I realized the year was almost over, I quickly read a couple of children’s chapter books to bump up my final total for the year at 20 books. This isn’t too far from my goal, but I didn’t feel good about it.

A New Reading Goal

At the beginning of 2021, I decided I wanted to keep trying to read more; however, I decided against setting a numerical goal for myself. It didn’t work last time, and it just made me feel bad for not reaching it. I know that an open-ended “read more” goal doesn’t fit ideal goal-setting guidelines but I didn’t want it to be too structured or feel too much like an assignment. (I really appreciate what Heather Quarles writes about the relationship between goal setting and reading in her story about learning to enjoy reading.)

Be an Open Reader

I grew up with certain expectations of what defines “good” books. These are fiction, probably award-winners, have good public opinion, and bonus points if they are part of the literary canon (i.e. written by old white guys). This is partly because that’s what I grew up reading in school, and also because I was an English major in university and this is all I read for four years. I always felt guilty reading YA books, and wouldn’t dream of reading a romance. These weren’t “good” literature.

Read Anything

So I started this year off by reading anything. I tried to put my ego aside and broaden my horizons. If I heard someone on the radio or a podcast talking about a book, I’d put it on hold for me at the library. When I watched a youtube video that had a cool-looking book in the background, I’d put that on hold for me at the library. My list of holds is getting quite long.

I read YA books. Lots of YA books. And I re-read YA books I had read when I was in high school. I also read YA books that were turned into Netflix movies (any To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before fans out there?).

I read romance books (again, inspired by Netflix). These books are quick reads, and while they are not my favorite because I tend to want a bit more complexity, they are fun and quick reads.

In summary, be open to whatever books cross your path regardless of your assumptions about them.

Read Any Way

There seems to be a kind of pretentiousness about reading that goes something like: reading is better than any other format of entertainment. This extends even to reading text is better than reading aurally via audiobook. I’ve decided to set this aside as it’s ridiculous. Audiobooks are much more accessible and efficient. I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks on daily walks. They are a good distraction when it’s freezing outside!

Read for Fun

This was the main switch I need to realize. I had always been reading for assignments and classes, or else reading for the social capital I associated with being a “well-read” person. While you can still aim to read things you think contribute to this persona, also read for fun!

Read with Friends

The reason I read romance novels was that I was convinced to do so by my friends. After binging Bridgerton, we decided to start a book club. Reading with friends keeps me accountable, and makes it fun. I love sharing gifs about the books in our group chat and arguing about why the love interest is amazing or horrible.

Don’t finish the book if you don’t want to

This was probably the hardest thing for me to learn. For some reason, I had it in my head that it’s better to force yourself to finish every book you start… but I have found so much freedom in getting rid of this idea. If you start a book and don’t like the tone, the characters, the plot, or even the feel of the book in your hands, stop reading it! Read because it’s enjoyable, not because it’s a chore.

Does it work?

It’s still the start of the year, so I can’t guarantee that I’m actually going to read more this year; however, since I started rethinking how I read even before the start of 2021, I can see that I have read more books. Looking at my reading so far this year, I am reading at a faster rate than I did before I adopted the methods I share here.

There are great tips out there for establishing reading discipline and focus, and I definitely recommend checking those out; however, remember that recreational reading is meant to be enjoyable. Have fun!

English Major and Library School grad. I’m interested in books, research, and being a better human.

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