I was having a conversation with a friend recently about our reading habits. Mine are borderline obsessive, and I whip through a 500-page book a week on average. My friend had set a New Year’s Resolution to spend more time reading, and had set a goal of 50 pages a day. But she was averaging half of that, and was disappointed in her progress so far.
She asked how I read so much. “Because I’m single, I live alone and I like to read more than I like to do most other things,” I replied. “Like leave my apartment.”
But of course there’s more to it than that, and I’m less of a shut-in than that sounds. There are plenty of tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years; things the would-be voracious readers of the world — who want to go out in the world too — could all do to fit more pages in every day.
Here are a few that have worked for me. Maybe they’ll work for you as well.
1. Never leave home without a book
If you don’t have a book on hand, it’s hard to, you know, read a book. So take one with you wherever you go. This may be inconvenient if you don’t carry a bag or purse around all the time, which is why — and apologies to the “real book” loyalists out there — I recommend an e-reader such as the Kindle and its associated apps. I’m all about carrying a real book around when I can, but being able to access a text on any device you own is a pretty amazing, convenient and enabling thing.
2. Track your reading progress
If you’re training for a marathon, you usually keep track of how many miles you’re accumulating, and how much time you’re spending pounding the pavement. If you want to read more, the same type of documentation can help.
I use Goodreads to keep track of — and yes, kind of brag about — my reading adventures. Its website and app let you update your progress as you make your way through a book, and log the books you’ve finished.
You can share your progress to Facebook. Making it an ongoing and visible quest to all your friends might help ramp up your reading habits, just the same way people posting their mileage progress helps keep them motivated for marathon day.
You can also use Goodreads to document the books you want to read in the future, so that when you finish one book you’ll have a quick and easy way to refresh yourself on what you want to read next.
3. Join a book club
It sounds obvious, but it works. If you have a deadline set to finish a book, you’ll make sure you find the time in your days and nights to get there — unless you’re cool with being that person who hasn’t read the book but comes to the book club discussion anyway and tries to act like he or she knows what they’re talking about.
Don’t be that person. If you don’t finish the book, just cop to it.
Book clubs are also wonderful because a great deal of the fun that comes with reading books is being able to discuss them with others afterward. Experiencing more fun around each book will naturally stimulate you to read more — and it may even grow your brain.
Also, there’s usually wine!
Speaking of making it fun …
4. Only read what you’re into. Put a book down forever if you have to
Life is too short. If it doesn’t feel worth it to you and you’re not having fun with it, there’s absolutely no shame in not finishing a book. Do you finish watching a TV series if the first two episodes completely suck? (If you do, you’re some kind of masochistic completist.) So why should a book be any different?
Also, don’t shy away from books that appeal to you because other people would call them guilty pleasures. With reading, there’s really no such thing as a “guilty pleasure.” It’s the 21st century; no book is illegal. Don’t let people harsh your buzz about something you like.
When you’re not reading for a curriculum, reading itself shouldn’t feel like a burden.
5. Knock out a few pages wherever and whenever you can
There are a lot of times during the day when we can read a nice little chunk of narrative. Your lunch break, your bathroom break are only the most obvious. You’ll be surprised how many reading opportunities there are in a given day, once you go looking for them. I tend to get more reading done standing in line at Chipotle than when I’m actually eating my burrito bowl.
6. Read while you exercise
This really only works if you’re on an elliptical, on the treadmill or riding a stationary bike — unless you go the audiobook route, which still counts as reading and is a great companion for long walks or runs.
When you’re hitting the machines, though, reading makes a nice switch from that “SUMMER BODIEZ ARE MADE IN THE WINTER WORKOUT MIX” playlist you usually listen to.
7. Read before bed
I read before bed every night (well, every night that I don’t get lucky). It’s a great way to wind down and end your day, and it’s a more effective to transition to a peaceful slumber than if you’re watching TV — unless you’re reading someone like Stephen King or Gillian Flynn.
8. Get in tight with a book nerd
People who love books really love hooking up other people with reading recommendations. They live for it, in fact, and are often quick to loan out their own fast-thumbed copies. When a book delights you or makes you feel something significant, you generally want to spread that to others.
When you’re hanging out with one of these voracious readers, they’ll make you want to read more just by simple proximity. They’ll be tearing through book after book, encouraging you to keep up with them, eager that you finish the last book they gave you because they want to talk about it without spoiling anything. It’d kind of like having a personal trainer — but for making you break a mental sweat.
9. Don’t read a bunch of things at one time
Multitasking is great for some things, but when it comes to books, not so much. It takes away from the momentum you feel when making your way straight through one story or nonfiction narrative. You’re not as fully absorbed in whatever you’re consuming. Trust me on this one, as I’m constantly breaking this rule. You should see my Goodreads “currently reading” shelf.
10. Find or make a quiet place
If you can hang out in a library or find a quiet room in your home, great. But we all have times when that’s not an option and you have to make your own silence.
And by silence, I don’t mean complete silence. If you want to read on a crowded subway, at a bar or in any other environment that’s loud and rife with distraction, bust out your headphones and listen to some white noise, rain sounds, ocean waves or non-lyrical music. It’ll drown out the noise and world around you and help you stay concentrated on the book.
11. Couple it with something you love
I’ve found that reading is sometimes made even more enjoyable when accompanied with whiskey. I love nothing more to signify the end of a day of work than sitting down with a story and some scotch. But that’s just me — to each their own method of responsible relaxation.
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