I like to think I’m growing into the kind of person younger me would be proud of, but I can’t quite shake the feeling that 14-year-old me who read block-thick Dan Brown books for fun would be gravely disappointed in present-day me whose idea of “reading habit” is scrolling through 100,000 tweets per day. I know I’m not the only one who misses their old can-sit-still-and-actually-finish-books self, so I spent the last couple of months trying to get back into the reading grind. Here’s what I learned.
Find out why you quit reading in the first place. One surefire way to make your life feel more put-together without exerting a lot of effort (because let’s be honest, no one wants to do that) is to figure out the exact root cause of a problem and focus your energy in solving just that. In this case, what prevents you from getting back into books.
“I want to read but there’s just not enough time in the day.”
We get it, you have things to do and places to be! But you’re actually halfway there already; you’re enthusiastic about reading. We just need to strengthen that into a habit. While thinking of reading as a rainy Sunday afternoon activity best served with a cup of tea is all good and fun, it can make you feel like it doesn’t belong in your busy schedule. But there are a lot of untapped reading resources that you can squeeze in to your little chunks of downtime.
- Audiobooks. Accidentally laughing by myself while sitting on a public bus has become the norm ever since I got into audiobooks. I travel between cities a lot, and these make the commute a lot more bearable. There are many options for different devices and budgets.
- Ebooks. One of the excuses reasons I had every time I found myself not reading was that I’d forgotten my book, or that I couldn’t be bothered to crack it open in a crowded train. Using the Books (iOS) or Kindle (iOS and Android) app is a no-bullshit way to ensure you always have your latest read ready to go in your pocket. I like to put my Books app beside the Twitter app so I can feel it silently judge me whenever my thumb is tempted to tap the latter.
- Anthologies & Collections. Just because your love for reading began with long-form fiction doesn’t mean that’s all you have to read. If you can only allot time every other week, then maybe that detailed, foreshadow-heavy Liane Moriarty isn’t the best read right now. Essay collections are quick and sharp, with a voice that you don’t have to get in the mood for to wholly appreciate—my current favorite is You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano. If fiction’s more your thing, then I cannot recommend Jenny Zhang’s collection of short stories Sour Heart enough.
Figure out the various times in the day when you’re just mindlessly scrolling, and make them your reading time. Personally, bus rides and my dentist’s waiting room are my prime reading spots; I Pavlov’d myself and now I can’t survive my commute without tuning in to an audiobook (music is OUT and listening to books being read aloud to you is WHERE IT’S AT).
Read every single day. Even just for 30 minutes. According to Bookstores, a short documentary about reading more and possibly one of the most beautiful YouTube videos to ever exist ever, just 30 minutes a day is enough to finish the amount of books you want in your lifetime. They go through all this math to prove it, and I may have been spacing out during that part, but it convinced me to try it out—and it works! I dedicate half an hour before bed to my book, and usually I get so into it I spend more time reading, or if I’m too tired to continue at least I’ve done my reading for that day. The key to habit-building, after all, is to do it every day—even if only for a short amount of time.
“I have elevator music playing in my head 24/7 and I don’t have the attention span reading requires.”
I spent two afternoons writing the first half of this article because I couldn’t stop spacing out and thinking of Taron Egerton asking what a “bussy” is in a Buzzfeed video—I can definitely relate. Here are a couple hacks I use to work around my toddler brain.
- Start with something small. I don’t know about you, but maybe War & Peace shouldn’t be you and your two brain cells’ grand reintroduction to reading. Novellas are a godsend for us goldfish memory-havers because they offer the satisfaction of novels without the obligation of having to read hundreds of pages. Rainbow Rowell’s Kindred Spirits is a cute read with an even cuter length. If your taste is a little more similar to a wine mom’s, then Gillian Flynn’s 64-page The Grownup is perfect for you.
- Explore mediums. Audiobooks are great for those who can’t sit still, and graphic novels are great for those who can sit still but not to look at words. If you’re new to graphic novels, your favorite YA probably has a graphic counterpart, like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. But with a medium as expansive as this, your options are endless.
- How do you study? What worked for your late night exam week study sessions will probably also work for your leisurely reading. Do you listen to music? (If you do, I have a 24-hour playlist of film scores that go from somber to strong.) Do you turn your phone off? Do you like to highlight and write on the margins? Do you go to coffee shops? You’ve already associated these things with focusing, so doing them again might help!
- Don’t be afraid to leave bad books unfinished. As my biological father Guillermo Del Toro said, “If it doesn’t engage me, I leave it; I do not do homework with my life.” One of the most effective ways to kill your reading streak is to force yourself to read something you don’t enjoy. Who says you can’t abandon The Catcher in the Rye or Bukowski’s You Get So Alone a few pages in just because they’re regarded as essential reads? Who came up with “essential reads” anyway? I, for one, think Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an essential read; will every book snob read it then?
- Read stuff that excites you! Of course you’ll always be distracted if what you’re reading doesn’t excite you. Read about your current hyperfixation! Read stevebucky fanfic as a way to cope after Avengers: Endgame! Read about your niche interests! Explore genres! Delve into self-help! Or biographies! Literature is a gift, and literary canon is boring and limiting and should no way dictate what you should or should not consume.
“Reading just isn’t exciting anymore.”
Okay, number 1, that is just a straight-up lie, and number 2, the fact that you clicked on an article literally titled “how to get back into reading” tells me you don’t really believe that. Motivation is a really fickle thing, so while it can leave you pretty quickly, you can just as easily get it back.
- Go back to your favorites. Remind yourself why you got into reading in the first place. Reread Prisoner of Azkaban, or ease yourself back into YA, which is easy to read but still so entertaining.
- Get into Booktube. One of the most foolproof ways that I energize myself to read is to watch a video from book YouTubers (wittily called “booktubers”) and let their enthusiasm and knowledge infect me. My absolute favorite is LilyCReads, but the girls of Bookmarked never fail to get the job done as well.
- Relate reading to an existing interest. I’m a big movie person, so the books I read are usually ones with film adaptations I want to watch, like Beautiful Boy by David Sheff or Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. If you’re an artist, books are great vehicles for exploring visuals and aesthetics. (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History has been the inspiration for hundreds of Pinterest boards.)
- Explore! Read everything through everything. Listen to nonfiction through an audiobook if you’ve been reading Sarah Dessen paperbacks all your life. Let yourself outgrow old habits to make room for new favorites; books are capital-G Great and you won’t run out of things to be excited about!
- Surround yourself with book content. It’s easier to build a reading habit if you wholly accept our lord and savior Barnes & Noble into your life. Get into bookstagram if YouTube isn’t your thing (gooniefic is my fave!) and follow all your local bookshops to get a dose of book news in your morning Instagram scroll (let’s go Fully Booked nation!). Create a book club in your friend group, always make a stop at the bookstore when you’re running errands, and put reading into your daily to-do—make it a part of your everyday life.
Illustrations by Julia Tabor.