8 Ways to Read More Books—And Why You Should
I carry one of the most useful lessons of childhood with me to this day: always take a book.
That rule served me well in third grade, when I sneakily read The Baby-Sitters Club under my desk during math class. (After my teacher confiscated it, I pulled out another.) It’s kept me busy on airplanes, during long drives, while taking a breather in the middle of a hiking trail, and in the corner of social gatherings. (Yes, I’m a blast at parties…if you want to debate the umpteenth remake of Pride and Prejudice.)
I love to read—and wish I could do more of it—because it’s an effective and entertaining way to quiet my always-busy brain. Reading also comes with health perks: Research suggests that devouring books helps keep the mind sharper for longer, while lowering heart rate and feelings of psychological distress. Plus, reading before bed can improve sleep quality.
Some research suggests that literary fiction, in particular, helps people develop empathy and critical-thinking skills. Becoming immersed in a book allows us to “enter the perspective of characters—not just their thinking, but their feeling,” says literacy scholar Maryanne Wolf, who’s the author of books including Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. But we’re not doing it all that frequently. According to a 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center, 23% of adults in the U.S. didn’t read any part of a book over the previous 12 months. “Reading is one of the best inventions that humans gave humanity, and people completely take it for granted,” Wolf says.
Here are eight strategies that can help you read more this year.
A great way to make reading a habit is to start with short-story collections or longform magazine journalism. “You don’t have to be like, ‘I’m going to read War and Peace,’” says Chasity Moreno, who works in the New York Public Library’s Reader Services department. She recently enjoyed The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enriquez, which consists of a dozen short stories.
Short works like these aren’t as daunting as longer tomes and can motivate you to find a reading routine that will work best for you, Moreno says.
Track your reading
I log every book I’ve read, and the date I finished it, in a Word doc. I also like the Goodreads app; It’s a fun way to easily log the books you have or want to read, see what your friends are reading, and peruse other readers’ reviews.
“I’m a big believer in tracking one’s books—it really does help develop a more satisfying reading life,” says Anne Bogel, who hosts the podcast What Should I Read Next? and runs the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. She reads about 200 books a year. “We sometimes tell ourselves stories about our reading lives that aren’t necessarily true. By gathering data, you get an accurate picture of what works for you and what doesn’t.”
Consider creating a spreadsheet, or buying a journal, in which you track the title, author, and genre of books you’ve read; when you read it; how you would rate it; favorite quotes or ideas you learned from it; and how you discovered it. (Was it a librarian’s recommendation? A book-club read?) Then you’ll start to detect patterns: you might fly through true-crime books but really struggle with literary fiction. With that data, you’ll be able to zero in on what types of books make you happiest—and which you’re most likely to carve out the time to read.
Join a reading challenge
One way to spice up your reading life is to join a reading challenge—and there are lots to choose from. The Barnes & Noble 2023 Book Challenge, for instance, consists of 52 prompts: Read an anthology, an author who’s new to you, a book that includes a map, something set in the 1700’s, or a title that scares the pants off you. Other challenges focus on decolonizing your bookshelf and revisiting the classics.
“The great thing about it is it makes you read things you might not ever pick up on your own,” Moreno says. “Lots of places do these challenges, and they’re really fun.”
If you prefer, you can create your own. Embark on a quest to read every book featured on this year’s New York Times hardcover nonfiction best sellers list, for example, or to read something published each year from the time you were born.
Set a daily goal
I thrive when I have specific benchmarks to work toward, so I aim to read 50 pages a day. You could also resolve to get through 10 or 25 or 100 pages per day, or set a goal of reading one book per week or a certain number per year.
If you don’t want to put a number on it, pledge to spend a specific part of each day reading. Wolf, for example, reserves 15 minutes every morning to read; if she’s unable to, she opens her book at night instead. “It centers you,” she says of the dedicated reading time. “It makes you realize you’re just a single human being with a precious sanctuary inside that no one knows about but you.”
Try different formats
For years, I resisted anything other than a book I could hold in my hands. Then the pandemic arrived—and I realized that the easiest, safest way to access library books was to opt for the e-version. I’m now a Kindle loyalist.
Being open to different formats, including e-books and audiobooks, is a great way to squeeze in more reading time, Moreno says. (And to quickly settle that debate: Yes, listening to an audiobook counts as reading, our experts agree.) For example, if you’re waiting in line at the store, you can read a few pages on your Kindle. Or if you’re driving, walking the dog, or folding the laundry, why not turn on an audiobook? “Sometimes you don’t have the time to sit and read,” she adds. “It offers a different way to interact with a book while doing other things.”
Read multiple books at once
One of the keys to reading more frequently is making sure you always have enticing options. “We can talk about time-management strategies all day, but if a reader doesn’t have good books at the ready, then there’s a duty—but no motivation or enthusiasm,” Bogel says. (She was in the middle of five different books when we spoke: a mix of print, audiobooks, and e-books, as well as nonfiction and fiction titles.) Reading more than one book at a time can help ensure that there’s always something you’re in the mood for, she says, while eliminating decision fatigue.
Find a reading community
One of my favorite corners of Instagram is #Bookstagram, where readers post aesthetically pleasing photos of their favorite books. You can also get to know fellow book enthusiasts from around the globe via communities like Goodreads, The StoryGraph, and LibraryThing. These sites offer “a social connection that’s really helpful, because reading can be a very solitary experience,” Moreno says. “They make it feel more like a communal thing that you’re doing.”
There’s also, she points out, a built-in community waiting for you at your local library. Librarians are almost always eager to engage with patrons and recommend books, and many offer book clubs and other reading-related social activities. Ask the prolific readers you encounter for recommendations or to tell you about the last great book they read. When I talked to Bogel, we realized we had both just finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, and she suggested I might similarly enjoy The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz. Based on the first few pages, she was spot-on.
Adopt a quitter’s mentality
Bogel often asks people what’s deterring them from reading, and the answer is that they’re stuck in the middle of a book they don’t want to finish. The single best thing you can do for your reading life? “Quit a book that’s not for you,” she says. Perhaps it feels counterintuitive, but by giving yourself permission to call it quits, you’ll make space for books you’d enjoy much more—and there’s no better way to feed your reading motivation than that.
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Contributor: Angela Haupt