Saturday, January 26, 2013

12 Ways to Read More Books This Year

Cindi Trainor/Creative Commons License
 “I wish I had the time to read.” I hear customers say this at the bookstore almost every day as they pick out piles of DVDs. Even some of the employees lament that they don’t have the time to read as much as they’d like (or at all). They say this, of course, after break room conversations about how fast they went through all the seasons of The Wire. It’s telling that I don’t hear many people complaining about wishing they had more time to watch TV or surf the net.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priority, and if reading is something you truly want to do more of, you’ll find the time. If you’re thinking along those lines, here are some suggestions to help motivate you. All of the tricks won’t work for all people, as we all read differently. Find one or two that work for you.

I’ve written these with those who only read infrequently in mind. The voracious readers among you probably already do some of these things -- or not. You may have your own tips. If so, share them in the comments section.

1. Pick a book all by yourself.

Maybe the reason you haven’t finished a book lately is because you let popularity dictate your choice. Regardless of the sales figures, sparkly vampires, teen wizards, and 50 shades of S&M aren’t to everyone’s taste. Try this: go to a bookstore, either physically or online, and look around. Read the jacket flaps. Find something that sounds interesting to you, regardless of whether or not it was recommended by Oprah, your hairdresser, or NPR.

2. Keep a book with you at all times.

I once had to go to jury selection, and I ended up waiting in an auditorium for hours. This was before iPhones, mind you, and out of the hundred or more people there, I was the only one who thought to bring a book. The time flew by, especially with Maupin’s Tales of the City to entertain me. Times have changed, and while you can now entertain yourself with apps and web surfing on your phone, it’s ultimately time wasted. Keep a book in your purse or in your glove compartment. Or, buy an e-reader, and take it with you everywhere. The next time you’re stuck in a line or a doctor’s office, you can make some progress toward your goal. Your time will feel better spent to boot.

3. Be consistent.

Reading when you can steal the minutes is fine, but think about times you can read that you could make a habit. You could read during your lunch break or while on the subway. You could decide to read for a set amount of time before bed every night. Even fifteen minutes will make a difference, and it could help you relax at the same time. It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. Make it a goal to read at the same time for three weeks, and you’ll create a routine.

4. Read one book at a time.

Plenty of people juggle multiple books, and that’s cool -- if you’re actually finishing them. When I started working at the bookstore years ago, I let my sampling get out of control. At one point I realized that I had bookmarks in about two dozen books, and I hadn’t finished anything in months. I made a strict rule that I had to finish a book before I could start another. It worked. Now I’ve relaxed my rule a bit (I’ll usually read a fiction, a non-fiction, and something for review), but I remind myself to keep it in check. Reading only one book at a time means you’ll be pickier about what you start, and that’s a good thing, too.

5. Go somewhere to read.

If you live in a household with more chaos than calm, then you might have to leave it to claim some reading time. Take a book to the park or visit the coffee shop without a laptop. See tip #3 and make it a regular habit.

6. Give up something.

Giving up just one weekly hour-long television show would allow you to read 6-12 more books a year, depending on the length of books you enjoy. (If you want to tackle Atlas Shrugged or Les Miserables you might finish only one.) The average reader takes about a minute per page, so that’s 60 pages for skipping just one drama you can watch later on DVD.

7. Take it down a notch.

Every book doesn’t have to be War and Peace. Read something upbeat or thrilling. Read something downright trashy if you feel like it. Read fiction in your favorite guilty pleasure genre. Grab a creepy horror novel, a Jackie Collins glitz-fest, a detective story, a celebrity tell-all -- whatever floats your own boat. Once you’ve rediscovered the pleasure of reading, you can tackle the big stuff. Or not. It’s your choice.

8. Skim.

Not the whole book -- that would defeat the purpose. Sometimes great books have parts you hate, though. Les Miserables has that interminable battle sequence. Some people I know didn’t like the poetic interludes in Possession. Here’s the thing: your teacher isn’t looking over your shoulder. No one will ever know. You’re allowed to skim what you think are the boring parts to get to the good stuff, and it will keep you from giving up completely on a book you otherwise like.  I’ll say it again: you’re allowed.

9. On the other hand...

If you really, really hate it, quit. Just...stop. It’s one thing to read beyond a dull first chapter to see if a book picks up the pace at all, and another thing to feel like turning each page is torture. It’s better to pick up a book you’ll actually read than to slog for years through something you truly don’t enjoy. If this is happening too often, you might need to choose more enjoyable books from the get-go (see #7).

10. Tackle a list.

It’s motivating to cross items off a list, as it gives a sense of accomplishment. Choose something you’d like to read all of, whether it’s National Book Award winners or all of the Hard Case Crime paperbacks. The list can be long enough to take a lifetime, or short enough to last the year. Choose something that resonates with you.

Some random lists to get you going:

List of Hugo Award-winning science fiction

All the books mentioned on the Gilmore Girls

The Art of Manliness website’s Essential Man Library

11. Write about it.

You don’t have to be a great writer to share your book opinions online. You don’t have to spend a lot of time, either. While blogging or writing full-length reviews is an option, you can also rate the books you read and write brief comments on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviewing can be just as addictive as reading, and when you discover that others find your information useful, it can help fuel the desire to read even more.

12. Pick a reward system.

Choose something with which to reward yourself for each book you complete. If you have a sense of whimsy, it could be as simple as a gold star on a fridge-door chart. If you tend to buy more than you read, maybe you could treat yourself to a new book every time you finish one -- and only when you finish one. You might allow yourself to watch one of the DVDs you’ve been putting off watching in order to find more reading time. Only you know what type of reward will motivate you most, so choose one, and start reading.

Bonus tip:

Stop talking about doing it, and do it. if it’s something you really want to do, you will.

What helps you read more? What hinders you? Leave your best advice/most elaborate excuses below. Follow on Facebook for more bonus tips.


  1. I need to get better at this. My blogging activity takes the majority of my time. I tend to go in spurts of faithful reading for a while and times of withdrawal from actual book reading.

    Your #11 has been especially good for me. I now try to review every book that I read and now the idea of getting reviews on line has become rather compulsive and an incentive to read more.

    A Faraway View

  2. Wow, Kelly, this spammer is hitting you hard.

    Yes, by all means, SKIM Les Mis, at least if you get the unabridged version, as I did.

    If I may add one more tip: browse your LIBRARY. If funds are limited (and whose aren't?) you will not hate yourself for picking up a book at the library you didn't like or couldn't finish. Also, unlike a regular bookstore, they generally have grab-bag kind of displays where there just might be a book that you wouldn't normally think to read, but which catches your eye, this time.

  3. I was one of those who complained about not having time to read - granted, I was also complaining about not having time to watch TV or play on the internets (I did only four things: Marine, Lawyer, Mom, Wife, Period). And then, in a post like this, the answer was tossed to me: audiobooks.

    I hate(d) running, but had to do it all the time. Listening to music while running never helped me, but one day I spotted Harry Potter on audiobook at my library and gave it a shot. Dozens of books and possibly hundreds of miles later, I have my fill of leisure reading and even find myself looking forward to my next run.

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