We talked a bit earlier this month about New Year’s resolutions but I didn’t share the resolution I’ve been making (and winning at) the past two years: Read more books.
Reading a hundred books in one year is no small feat, even for someone like me, who genuinely enjoys reading. It’s going to be difficult at the best of times; in fact, if we’re going by an approximate two-book-a-week goal, I’m already well behind!
But I’ve been practicing for two years and now have a few tricks up my sleeve to make reading a more natural and ubiquitous part of my life. I needed to make reading both appealing and easier than, say, taking a nap or refreshing Twitter.
If you’re looking to read more books this year, here are some of the strategies that have worked for me.
Go Beyond the Paperback
For much of my life, I was a Paper-Book Purist who scoffed at the idea of reading anything but 15-pound hardbacks with the tiniest of fonts. Well, now I’m old, and my threshold for even mild discomfort has plummeted, so I read ebooks with the font as big as I can make it without feeling visceral shame. I also recently branched out and tried audiobooks, which turned out to be a perfect companion for all the driving I have to do.
Sidenote: this branching out rule goes beyond ebooks: Graphic novels and comics also completely count as reading. Don’t be afraid to stretch the definition of reading a little if it helps you build some literary momentum.
All of my reading is now done on my phone, which I carry with me everywhere I go, anyway. Most of my books are acquired for free through sources like Libby and my local library. There are even reading apps, like Serial Reader for classic literature or Beelinguapp if you’re into foreign language learning. I no longer have to haul around enormous or heavy books wherever I go if I want to read something. In fact, I needn’t look any further than the phone in my hand to read, quite literally, anything I can think of, often for free.
And I can do it while rubbing it in the face of every old person who, upon seeing someone younger than 40 staring at a smartphone screen, acts like the world is ending. Sorry, Harold, but just because you only use your phone to look at porn and be racist on Facebook doesn’t mean we all do. Some of us are more cultured than that.
Read More of What You Actually Want to Read
I have a confession: I love V.C. Andrews’s books. If the name sounds kind of familiar, she wrote Flowers in the Attic. If you have no clue who she is, you’re probably better off, and I’m sorry I put her into your circle of consciousness like that without asking first.
V.C. Andrews was one of those highly formulaic writers, like Nicholas Sparks or Nora Roberts. Once she found something that worked, she wrote according to that formula and only that formula. Her body of work is massive but — and I say this with a certain degree of affection — if you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.
The protagonist is always a beautiful and tortured young girls, there are always grotesque amounts of violence against women (almost exclusively at the hands of men), and the adults are always the bad guys, especially parents. There’s death, sex, drama, and so, so much teenage angst leaking between each page like the tears of so many unloved teenagers.
They’re garbage. But I like them. So sometimes I read them. And I’m clearly doing more reading than you are right now, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. So put that in your frappuccino and suck it.
But in all seriousness, there’s no law that says you only have to read the highbrow stuff. Imagine telling someone who watches daytime talk shows that they’re only allowed to watch Masterpiece Theatre and Planet Earth from now on. The world might be slightly less stupid but it wouldn’t be nearly as colorful or fun. It’s good to roll around in the mud once in a while.
Besides, you can sometimes dig up some real gems while slumming it. I’ve had repeated success with children’s literature books despite the conviction that children’s books were, well, childish. But I’m no hater now; in fact, juvie lit is arguably one of my favorite genres now.
Just, you know. All things in moderation. Be sure to supplement your trashy novel diet with some cognitively healthier options. Like The Alchemist. Everybody likes The Alchemist.
Quit Social Media
The fact that you probably found this blog post through my Twitter account may make this smell of hypocrisy but hear me out. I’m not saying you should cut ties with all of the internet and go live in the mountains (unless you want to, then you should absolutely do that and take me with you). But you should seriously, at the very absolute least, limit your use of social media, if not eliminate it entirely from your life. You have no idea how much of your time it’s taking from you.
Social media fucks with the same part of your brain that gambling does. Every time you refresh Facebook, you’re pulling the metaphorical slot machine handle to see if you can “win” notifications. The unpredictability keeps you coming back for more. Things like Snapchat’s streaks prey on our need to keep from “breaking the chain” of a routine. Social media is very carefully designed to keep us using it as often as possible. People spend an average of two hours on social media each day. Teens spend as many as nine! Nine!!
But what would happen if you cut the cord from all those apps, or even just most of them? What would you do with all those free hours? Might I suggest you READ A BOOK?
I’d spent years wondering why I stopped reading after I graduated high school. It was like my reading time had slipped right through my fingers like freshly-washed cotton candy and I couldn’t figure out where it went. It finally hit me when I was stuck in the psych ward a couple of years ago and didn’t have my phone or internet access. You know what I was doing instead? Reading books. Because that’s what I’d do when I didn’t have to worry about social media all the time, like when I was in high school and didn’t have a smartphone or social media (cuz they didn’t exist back then).
Now, minus my Twitter account, I make a point not to use social media. I read books instead. It’s made me a much happier and better-adjusted person, too. I no longer have to think about the Kardashians or my relatives’ racist opinions on sports mascots. I am free.
Stop Making Excuses
If you really want to read more, you’ll read more. It’s just that simple. You’ll find a way to do it that works within the framework of your life. Maybe you’ll set aside an hour every day to read a book. Maybe you’ll start listening to audiobooks at the gym. Or, maybe you’ll challenge yourself to read a certain amount each week (I did that!). It might take some trial and error but a workable strategy is out there.
But no matter what you do, it’s going to take effort on your part. Especially now that, culturally, we’re so used to short-form reading and constant distractions. It’s uncomfortable to sit and focus on one thing for long stretches of time because that’s not how our world is structured anymore. Everything’s immediate. Things are much faster and in your face than they were 20 years ago.
It’s not going to feel good at first. The fact that you aren’t doing 60 things at once is going to feel unnatural and like a profound waste of your time. But since when has reading ever been a waste of time? What would LeVar Burton or Dolly Parton say to such abject nonsense? Do you really wanna break their hearts believing that books aren’t worth your valuable time?
At the end of the day, reading is a two-step process: Open book. Insert brain. There is no one on the planet who can’t do that to some degree or another. Figure it out.