how to read more

She wants a tree house, she wants a garden, a little bit of land, to put her hands in

She Don't Like Roses - Christine Kane

I am one of those annoying people that reads a lot of books.

In 2018, I set out to read 52 books (a book for every week) and I ended up reading 58 in total. I then challenged myself to double it in 2019 to 100 books, I finished 101 that year. We’re just over halfway through 2020 and I’ve read 46 books (or so, as my Goodreads tells me).

Here’s my advice: don’t have a reading goal, it’s actually quite distracting and you end read things just for the sake of it. Instead, read what interests you greatly. I’ve stopped counting how many books I have read and it turns I’m unknowingly reading more instead.

It would be fair to point out that I spent half of last year and the start of this year travelling so I had time, and also that I am a voracious reader. I will forgo watching the latest TV show and socialising online for a good book. I carry whatever I am reading with me to most places. You’d be surprised how many pockets of time there are in a day (waiting in line, for a friend, an extra 20 minutes here and there) to read a book instead of scroll a screen.

I can trace back the beginning of my love of reading to when I was totally engrossed in The Baby-Sitters Club as a child of the 90s. I have read almost every book published in the 213 edition series, and many of them three times over. I remember as a kid I would press a book up against my window at night to catch the streetlight so that I could read when everyone else was asleep in my house. It’s probably the reason I wear glasses now.

A few friends have asked me: ‘how do you read as much as you do?’. I joke: while you were breeding, I was reading (not entirely untrue) — but to be honest, I don’t have any speed reading superpowers or special abilities, I have just made reading a way of life.

Give me a night by the fire, with a book in my hand. — Mark Helprin

My bliss point is a brilliant narrative with believable characters or an engrossing non-fiction book that gets to the heart of a matter. Reading makes the pressures and stresses of life cease to exist, for at least a little while. Words in novels and poetry can be a full-body experience, not just taking place in your mind. Sometimes I feel a scene in a story or a line in a poem as a literal pain in my chest or a fluttering in my gut.

There is a blurred line between this world and the worlds that I read. I often refer to my favourite writers like they are close friends: ‘Oh yes, Rilke said…’, ‘It’s like how David Whyte always says…’, ‘That reminds me of when Liz Gilbert talks about…’. In some way, from afar, we share a kinship through the sharing of their experiences, they become a part of mine too.

For all my love of reading, I’ve never been in a book club — I KNOW. I’m actually a bit of a stubborn reader and I very rarely read genres that don’t interest me, like historical fiction, crime, or anything fantasy or sci-fi. I love to read philosophy, psychology, poetry, memoirs, essays, spiritual texts, contemporary fiction, food, health and wellness, and travel non-fiction. Sometimes I read for pure escapism which is totally fine too. 

I am someone who cannot persist with a book I am not enjoying. Or rather, I’ve decided to stop reading things that don’t resonate with me. There are literally a million more illuminating books that I am yet to get to! This is not hyperbolic. You will barely get to read even 1% of the books you want to before you die. As such, I have no regrets or doubts about giving up on a book a few chapters in and neither should you. 

I do take recommendations from trusted friends and mentors, and these have been some of the most lifechanging books of my life. If there is a book you’ve told me to read and I’m not vibing with it, I’ll politely let you know. I will, however, insist that you read everything on my ‘Everyone Must Read This’ list (annoying, see I told you).

Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world. — Susan Sontag

Sometimes I read three books in a week and other times, like many of us, I get into a reading rut. I know that reading the books on your nightstand can feel like an insurmountable task to add to the many others on your overwhelming list, but I promise you — reading nurtures a rich inner life that supports your selfhood. Reading is a refuge while the world spins madly on. 

Here are eight tricks and tips that I’ve picked up along the way that can help you read more:

Read something that excites you. Books are like people, you won’t like all of them. Pursue the ones that enliven you. Give up on any book that doesn’t do so. I give you full permission. If it doesn’t make you want to read, then it’s not doing its job. You don’t owe the author anything. And think outside traditional literature; poetry, cookbooks, graphic novels, a how-to keep indoor plants alive manual — they all count!

Mealtimes are winning times. This is a golden secret. Make meals a tech-free time and pick up a book, even one chapter, heck half a chapter, is a win. In my experience, you digest your food (and your day) better when you read over breakfast and lunch, especially with so much of the world working from home now. Give your eyes some respite from Zoom meetings and pick up a book during weekday meals, it’s how I read so many books when I worked in an office.

Pick a platform that floats your boat. There’s no real point having the real book vs ebook debate because it is taking you away from the thing you’re trying to do more read! They are both good for different things I prefer physical books when I’m at home and my Kindle when I am travelling or can’t find a book easily. I am not an audiobook gal but that works too. Pick whichever one suits you to go forth and read.

Read at night before sleep. You have better dreams, believe me on this. I did a little experiment with watching Netflix before bed vs reading a book before bed. When I watch a screen before sleeping, my dreams are always discombobulated and eerily resemble the last thing I watched. Whereas when I read before I fall asleep, woooosh two hours can go by just like that, and I notice I have much deeper REM sleep, erotic dreams abound, and I wake up feeling much more refreshed and bright-eyed.

Be prepared for book bereavement. If you love a book, you will get an odd sense of loss when you finish it. You will mourn the characters and the story like they are real. When I don’t want a good book to end, I delay reading the last chapters for a few days and sometimes weeks because I am not prepared for it to be over. But alas, when I finally finish it, I then feel I am bereaved of a good friend and that’s a bittersweet reality every book lover has to come to terms with (still haven’t).

Listen to classical or instrumental music. Get cozy. I usually read with music on, it gives a sense of occasion to the activity.  I listen to a reading playlist that I made with quiet but stirring classical and instrumental tracks. If you prefer something lyrical, you can try reading with Rain Butter or Hygge Night In. You can, of course, have total silence, or listen to say Motown tunes, but I have found music playing in the background to be a lovely companionship when reading alone.

Befriend your local library. People, FREE BOOKS. Time to get reacquainted with your local library. It’s a place to borrow books you don’t own or get ones that are hard to find, and they’ll even order books for you too. If you can’t physically get to the library right now, most of them have digital books you can borrow online via an iPad app. It’s modern-day magic.

Track your books on Goodreads. Not a plug for Goodreads (as they seriously need to update their user experience), but I find it hugely helpful to track my ‘want to read’ and ‘read’ lists on this app and post the occasional review to share book love. The best bit is being able to see what my friends are reading, discovering new writers and having one place for all my reading pursuits.

Words have shaped me irrevocably.

Books have changed the course of my life.

Reading is a place I retreat to and it nourishes me to no end.

I sought peace in everything but was never happier than in a corner with a book. — Umberto Eco

Get comfy, light a candle (or don’t), read on the train, in your backyard, or at your breakfast table.

A book can be a portal into another world, one you normally wouldn’t get to visit.

Read more of what you want and less of what is being fed to you.

Find time to escape time.

Getting lost in beautiful words by a big window with a crackling fire and a mug of tea; that’s where you’ll find me.

We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright. — Ernest Hemingway

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