It’s not easy to make time for reading or get through novels when your focus is rusty. Here are some powerful tips to read more books.
Every year I make a vague intention to read more books. And I’m not alone: finding time to read more books ranks right up there with eating healthier in popular New Year’s resolutions. But around springtime, my motivation wanes and I fall behind.
Then I log into Goodreads and realise I’m dozens of books behind in the yearly challenge I set for myself. I pick up a book that’s been on my to-read list for years only to realise I can’t get through it. My mind wanders and I can’t focus. I figure all those years on social media have ruined my ability to concentrate.
Then I see people on blogs or Instagram gushing over the latest new release they just couldn’t put down this weekend. And I get jealous. Because I know what a pleasure a good book can be.
You’d think we’d make the time for our greatest pleasures, but that’s not how it works. Yes reading is glorious, but it’s not one of those easy pleasures that yields quick results. It takes time to get into a novel.
It takes discipline to make the time in our busy lives.
This year after coming home from Christmas vacation, I decluttered my wardrobe and read more about minimalism.
And just like I streamlined my wardrobe and got rid of my polyester business trousers, so I’ve tackled my drawers, my piles of paperwork and eventually – my bookcase.
Looking at my reading habits like I look at my capsule wardrobe gives me the ability to pursue books I love and say goodbye to those I don’t. This has kick-started my reading back into gear.
And though I’m still behind on my Goodreads challenge, now I spend a few nights a week reading and my to-read list is under control.
Here are my tips.
How to read more books:
1. Schedule in your reading time.
It’s not enough to make a New Year’s resolution and hope for the best. If your goal is to read more books, then you have to schedule in reading time the same way you schedule workouts, dog walks or weekend trips to the grocery store. It might feel odd to schedule in a pleasure, but I’ve found that waiting for that moment when you’re in the mood to read just doesn’t work.
You may love books like you love chocolate cake, but that doesn’t mean that cracking open a new Victorian novel is as easy as taking that first bite of frosting.
I read at around 11 PM every night, after I watch Outlander. The end of the show signals that it’s reading time. And though reading time doesn’t happen every night, it happens more often now that it’s scheduled.
Scheduling in your reading time means you’ll have to sacrifice other things (like TV) and that you won’t be able to do everything you’d like in an evening. But here’s when minimalism comes in again: ask yourself – what’s more important? What are your priorities?
If an hour a day isn’t working for you, then aim for a half hour of reading before bed.
You’ll get more reading done if you dedicate a short time to books every day instead of binge reading whenever you have time.
An average adult can read up to 300 words per minute. So if you read just a half hour a day you’ll get through a mid-sized book in a week.
If a book is thick and intimidating, ask yourself how much you can read in an hour. Then divide up that book and you’ll realize it won’t take as long as you thought to read it.
2. Have a variety of books in your reading-now pile.
I used to read one book at a time. When I finished one book, I would pick up another. The problem was: I was often in the mood to read, but not in the mood for that particular book.
Sometimes you’ve got a couple of hours in your day to kick back with a cup of tea and dive into a Victorian novel with rich language and a dense plot. Other days, you’re too tired for anything more than a Young Adult novel about a silly high school dating game.
My magic number is four: I usually have around 4 books at all times in my currently-reading pile on my nightstand. There’s always something that I’m in the mood for – whether I’m tired or not, whether I want to relax or get into something meatier.
I usually have one fiction book that’s a light and easy read for when I’m too tired to focus but still want to relax with a nice story. Secondly, a fiction book that’s heavier and requires more focus for when I’m not very tired and want to escape into a beautifully-written narrative.
Thirdly, a non-fiction book that’s an easy read for when I want something light. And lastly, a non-fiction book that’s more dense for when I want something richer to dive into.
3. Don’t be afraid to leave books unfinished.
Abandoning a book often feels like giving up and admitting defeat. We usually tell ourselves our concentration isn’t as it used to be, we’re not intelligent enough to appreciate the book, or we just wasted $20 to be bored for a few hours.
But the skill of abandoning books – or bidding them goodbye because they don’t spark joy – is the most critical skill if we want to read more.
Or else the bad books we suffer through bring us down. They take more time because we’re forcing ourselves to read them, and they sap us of hope and make us think reading just isn’t for us.
But quitting early puts you ahead. It gives you more time to read great books.
4. Realize it’s not you – it’s the book.
Building up your confidence and trusting your tastes is crucial if you want to be a productive and efficient reader.
It will keep you from getting stuck on a book that you think you should finish. And it will guide your future book purchases.
“It’s not me, it’s the book” is the mantra I use whenever I’m a few chapters into a book that just isn’t clicking or when I’m halfway through and don’t care to finish.
Though this is easier said than done, and doubts will creep in when you’re thinking about putting down a book. Maybe it’s by a famous author or it has great reviews? And you wonder if you’re missing something.
Reading some negative reviews of the book can give you a nice push to leave it be. And it’s empowering to read reviews that confirm your suspicions about a book and make you realise that, yes: it’s not you, it’s the book. It gives you confidence in your own tastes.
5. Sign up for a reading challenge and keep track of your reading.
A reading challenge, like the annual challenge on Goodreads, is a great way to stay motivated and track your progress – especially if you’re goal oriented. You can set a goal of how many books you’d like to read this year and the site will let you know whenever you’re falling behind.
6. Read multiple books from your favorite authors.
It’s not always easy to find authors you love. But when you come across a book that you really love, it’s worth checking what else that author has written.
It’s a more fool-proof way to find more books you’ll love, instead of trying out one new author after another.
7. Find bargain or used books.
Shop online or at Amazon to score great deals, get a library card, or find a few good local used bookstores where you can check for bargains. This will allow you to try out new authors and genres without too much investment.
It’s also easier to leave a tedious book unfinished when you know it didn’t cost much.
If you’re a blogger, journalist or educator, you can also sign up for NetGalley for free digital review copies of a wide array of books. This lets you try out new authors and genres with zero risk.
8. Try audio books.
Audible is a great choice for audio books and new releases, and comes with a fee of $14.95/month for 3 audiobooks.
There are also plenty of free options like LibriVox, which includes public domain tests read by volunteers. And because some readers are better than others, it’s good to listen to a few before settling into one that does the text justice and doesn’t read too fast, too monotonous, etc.
My absolute reader is Elizabeth Barr, who does many Bronte and Jane Austen novels beautifully.
9. Don’t hesitate to skim.
Sometimes an otherwise incredible book will just have a boring chapter. Or a non-fiction book will plunge into details about a topic that doesn’t interest you. It’s not cheating to skim over these parts.
Or skip them entirely. If it’s a novel, then read the chapter’s plot synopsis on Wiki. This lets you move on to the next chapter without losing the storyline.
10. Join a book club, in real life or on Goodreads.
Book clubs will motivate you to read, help you make friends and let you explore new authors that you wouldn’t normally pick up. If you can’t make time for regular meetings, then join an online book club and join in the discussion at your own pace.
Goodreads has some great ones (find them at Community > Groups) that you can browse by tag and genre. From sci-fi, to horror to romance, there’s something for everyone.
Here are some incredible Goodreads groups:
Victorians! – a brisk pace usually of about a novel every month with insightful and lively discussion on some of the greats of the period, including Dickens, the Brontes, Collins, Gaskell, Eliot and Hardy.
Shakespeare Fans – a more leisurely and detail-oriented pace with involved and nuanced discussion. It’s not always the easiest group to keep up with, but it will enrich your appreciation of Shakespeare, his life and all the references in his work.
Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die – a fun and active group that helps you tackle some of history’s greatest books in good company.
To join a real-life book club, check your local library’s or an independent bookstore’s calendar of events. There’s also meetup.com and Facebook groups to aid your search.
11. Donate unread books.
Donating unwanted books will make you feel less guilty about leaving books unfinished – and it will help others to read more.
You’re not getting rid of a book, after all, but passing it along to someone who’ll better appreciate it.
12. Train your attention span.
It’s not easy to pick up a book if you haven’t been reading for awhile.
With social media and the increased pace of modern life, diving into a slower-paced classic feels like chasing a snail.
You get frustrated and you wonder: why can’t they just get on with?
But we enjoy books for the experience, and that means slowing down and appreciating the language.
Our attention at first may drift, but that’s fine. It gets easier with more reading.
And if it doesn’t always flow smoothly then give yourself a break and pick up an easier book or a YA novel.
Making your mind accustomed to a slower pace helps you relax and fight stress.
13. Read before you buy.
Read online reviews by people whose tastes you trust – this is where making friends and following people on Goodreads with similar tastes to yours offers invaluable insight when you’re looking for your next book.
And if you’re at a bookshop, have a coffee and read the first chapter or two. Then ask yourself honestly: do you want to continue?
The more you read, the easier these decisions will be.
14. Know the benefits of reading.
Aside from enjoyment, gaining knowledge or boosting your vocabulary, reading gives us stronger analytical thinking skills, improves memory, boosts our focus and concentration and reduces stress.
Keeping these benefits in mind will motivate you to set aside than half hour or two for reading.
15. Listen to a literary podcast.
The Writer’s Voice is a podcast where a new short story is read by its author every week from a selection of stories published in The New Yorker.
16. Carry your book everywhere.
A half hour on the subway or waiting in line at the dentist all adds up to hundreds of pages a month.
17. Have your next books ready to go.
Eliminate that decision fatigue when you’re unsure of what to read next by having a few books on standby. If you’re not very excited about reading your next book, then listen to your gut and set it aside.
18. Read what you love.
Our reading habits don’t always correlate with our hobbies, interests and passions. Sometimes we read books out of obligation, or because we want the bragging rights to say we’ve read them.
Trust in your own tastes and indulge your guilty pleasures.
19. Take notes and underline.
Engaging with a book will let you get more enjoyment and appreciation out of it. And the more you experience the pleasures of reading, the more you’ll want to keep reading.
20. Read short stories, poetry and essays.
If you’re feeling stuck, a short story or poems can re-ignite your love of reading. They can inspire you to pick up a longer book.
21. Just start again if you’re falling behind.
Forgive yourself and get back into reading with an easier read if you’ve been away for awhile and your concentration is rusty.
Reading is a great way to slow down and relieve stress. Read more about slow living in What is Slow Living?