As posted on How I Tricked Myself Into Reading More Books
I love books. I can’t leave a bookstore without at least one. But I also have a tendency to buy books and not actually read them. Somewhere along the way reading fell by the wayside in favor of other forms of entertainment. To get back on track, I made some simple changes that have helped me with my reading habits thus far—no speed reading necessary.
I Made My Environment More Reading Friendly
My first priority was to make reading easier in general. I am like electricity; I want to take the path of least resistance. If there are any obstacles in my way, I’m just going to give up and do whatever is easier to access and equally as satisfying in the moment. In my case, that usually means turning on the TV, messing with my phone, playing a video game, or eating until I fall asleep.
To fix this, I drew from a quote I once heard about software piracy. It goes something like “To combat piracy, you have to make your content easier to buy than downloading it illegally.” Basically, I realized I wasn’t buying into reading because I had made it difficult to access it. My reading light was in a bad position where I couldn’t comfortably reach the switch from my bed. I would have to get up out of bed to turn it on or off. Also, my bed was too tall and against a window sill so I couldn’t prop myself up when I didn’t feel like holding a book above my head. And worst of all, I had a giant TV in my room. Why read when I can fall asleep to Bob’s Burgers every night instead?
So, I moved my reading light to a better spot and got a Kindle Paperwhite with a decent backlight. I fixed my bed so it was more comfortable for laying upright and holding a book without worrying about dropping it on my face. And I moved my TV out of my room. The TV removal alone was a huge game-changer for me. I also moved my handheld gaming systems and stopped keeping my phone near my bed so there weren’t any other temptations around when it was reading time. Now there are only a few things I can do in my room: I can read, listen to music, or sleep—that’s it. The perfect reading environment makes picking up a book your easiest choice.
I Carry My Books With Me Wherever I Go
I’ve talked about carrying books around with you before—like when you have a reading deadline—but I hadn’t really made a habit of it myself until I read a story Neil Pasricha at Harvard Business Review shared about author Stephen King:
…Stephen King had advised people to read something like five hours a day. My friend said, “You know, that’s baloney. Who can do that?” But then, years later, he found himself in Maine on vacation. He was waiting in line outside a movie theater with his girlfriend, and who should be waiting in front of him? Stephen King! His nose was in a book the whole time in line. When they got into the theater, Stephen King was still reading as the lights dimmed. When the lights came up, he pulled his book open right away. He even read as he was leaving.
It reminded me that there are usable minutes hidden in every nook and cranny throughout the day. So I started taking my Kindle almost everywhere I go. Instead of pulling out my phone and scrolling through my Twitter feed, or reading a bunch of depressing news articles, I whip out my Kindle instead. And yes, you can read eBooks on your smartphone, but I think it’s too easy to get distracted by other apps and notifications. Carrying around a Kindle isn’t ideal—it barely fits in my back pocket, and sometimes I forget it in my car—but it’s almost always nearby and ready to be used.
I know audiobooks can be useful for people too, especially when you want to make use of all those commuting hours, but I personally don’t care for them. The reader’s voice always shapes my experience, and, as a writer, I like to see the grammatical construction of the story. It’s hard to learn from other writers if you’re only listening to them. But that may not be an issue for you, so by all means, go with audiobooks if it will help you.
I Give Up on Books I’m Not Enjoying
There’s a certain amount of ego that gets tied into reading books for me. I know I felt like I had to finish reading books I started or I was “a quitter,” or “not smart enough,” or “missing out on something culturally significant.” But that’s all bullshit. Enjoying books are no different than enjoying a TV show or a movie. If you don’t like a show, you stop watching it and watch something else. If you don’t like a book, you stop reading it and read something else.
Reading a book should be an experience that provides you joy and value, not something to labor through. When reading stops feeling like labor, it feels more like fun. And if it feels more like fun, you’re going to do it more. It’s okay to give up on Infinite Jest. Just put it down. Nobody is going to judge you. There you go. Now grab the book you want to read and go to town.
I Started Reading Three—and Only Three—Books at a Time
Some people can barrel through a single book in a day or two. I cannot. I get bored and want to change the channel because I’m a Nickelodeon-brainwashed millennial. I read several books at once so I can switch back and forth between them and everything always feels fresh.
That said, I was doing this with too many books at once. I had so many books on my plate that, again, reading was starting to feel like a chore because I couldn’t keep up with all the facts and plot lines. Now I have a hard cap of three books at a time: one fiction, one nonfiction, and one graphic novel or the like. I either have to finish a book to move on, or drop it.
I Talk About Books More With Others
The more I talk about something, the more I hype myself up about it. So I made books a high-priority topic of conversation instead of movies, TV shows, or games. When I’m chatting with friends, whatever I’m reading comes first. That makes me more excited about the activity overall, and often nets me some great reading recommendations from others. And that, in turn, feeds into the cycle of “read book, talk about book, get excited about book, read more of book, yay book.”
Talking about what I’m reading also adds a certain layer of public accountability and I begin to set certain expectations in my mind. I think things like “if I don’t finish it, they’ll think of me as a quitter,” or “I have to finish it now in case they ask how it turned out.” This goes doubly so for books recommended to me, or books I’m reading at the same time as a friend. If I don’t actually read it, I can’t enjoy having discussions about it—which is my favorite part.
I “Complete the Cycle” When Reading
At home, I have a general rule of thumb called “complete the cycle.” In short, it means finish what you start, leave things as you found them, and don’t leave things for later that can be done now. I applied the same concept to my reading habits and it did wonders.
When I sit down to read, I always aim to complete the cycle. And “the cycle” can be whatever I determine before my reading session. It could be setting a timer for 20 minutes and doing a reading sprint without distraction for the entire duration. It could be finishing a chapter that I’m just starting. It could be reading a certain number of pages. Whatever it is, I commit to it and follow through. More often than not, I get absorbed in my book and read even more than I intended.
I’m not a fast reader. In fact, I often reread passages multiple times to make sure I’m getting the story straight. But these adjustments have helped me make a decent dent in my backlog with minimal effort. Hopefully these tips can help you too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some reading to do.