How to…become a better reader

When I was younger, I loved to read. While my brother and sister were playing video games upstairs or catch in the front yard, I was most likely reclined on the couch. I started with Mary-Kate and Ashely serialized chapter books before moving on to the Harry Potter series. I would bring books with me wherever I went, tucked into sleepover duffel bags and hidden in my car’s glove compartment at parties and dances. As a shy kid, having a book to hide behind was my go-to trick. I chose to study English at university, thinking it would be four years of my favourite hobby. Instead, the book-a-week pace led to burn-out. In trying to nurse my love of reading back to health, some tricks proved more helpful than others, like the five below.

1. Make a queue

When the mood to read strikes – ahead of a vacation, during the holidays, on a lazy weekend – it is important to be prepared. I use the app Goodreads to corral titles that I have read about in magazines or heard about from friends. (Good old pen and paper would work fine, too.) Whenever I want to start a new book, I have a list to choose from that has been thoughtfully curated. Too many times I have bought a book blindly and stopped reading it halfway through because I did not like it. A list helps keep me on track as a reader and stay engaged in the literary world even when I am not actively reading a book.

2. Accept recommendations

Do you have a friend who always seems to be reading something great? A mom whose book group stays abreast of the latest bestsellers? A Facebook friend who works in publishing? Ask them for recommendations! Reviews can be fickle and manipulated by publicists. But when someone you trust says he stayed up all night to finish a book, there must be something to it. Return the favour by sharing your own favourite books and why you loved them. The only thing better than reading a great book is talking about with someone else.

3. Know your preferences

Here are the kinds of books I like: Sagas spanning generations, like Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Man Booker Prize-winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings. Essays written by authors with a unique perspective, like Joan Didion, Mindy Kaling, and David Sedaris. Passionate nonfiction about contemporary issues, like Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Of course, there have been books that do not fit these profiles that I have loved. But knowing your own reading patterns can help you to choose wisely. It is hard to read when you do not love the book in front of you. Know what you love, and it will be much easier.

4. Keep track

It is hard to achieve a vague goal to “read more.” But it is easy to keep a list of books you have read. Like notches on a bedpost, a book list is an easy (and much more sophisticated) way to chart your activity. I keep a list of books I have read in the back pages of my planner. Sometimes I even add a quote or two that I found particularly salient. At the end of the year, I can see how many books I have read and remember my favourites. It can be easy to forget books you have read, so keeping track is both motivating and a nice way to remember titles you have loved.

5. Read!

Easier said than done, right? I find that the best way to read more is to always have a book on hand. Instead of bringing books to parties, though, try to sneak in a few pages while commuting to work, waiting for friends, or before bed. You might be surprised how much time you have on your hands and how quickly those pages add up. Resist the urge to check Instagram and crack open a book instead. I promise, it will hold your attention longer.

Every reader will have different tricks that help keep him or her engaged. Some people love audiobooks or going to the library. (The due date makes for a built-in deadline.) Others think Kindles are the best thing since sliced bread. Whatever your speed is, there is never a shortage of options. All you have to do is choose. Happy reading!

Author: Emma Freer

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