The typical American reads five books a year, according to the Pew Research Center. I suspect Canadians are not much different. When I discuss books with friends, I almost universally hear: “I should really read more.”
Reading, as important as it is to our personal growth, doesn’t feel urgent. In the press of our insane schedules, it seems impossible to squeeze in. I get that. I work full time, and am self-employed as a writer. Still, I love to read and I manage to read three to four books a month. Here are three ways I’ve learned to get my pages in.
1. Learn to Read in Short Snatches
Many of the people who say “I should read more” also say they have to sit down and read for half an hour in order to make it worthwhile. If you can get in half an hour of reading two or three days a week, more power to you. But I get most of my reading done in five and ten minute increments. When at work, one of my breaks is dedicated to reading. I pick up a book at breakfast, or just before bed. I read for the minute while I’m brushing my teeth. I even read on the toilet. Yup.
I find this gives me a ‘bite’ of information to digest at a time instead of a whole meal. It may, in fact, make reading less intimidating.
But to read in short bursts, you’ll need to…
2. Have 2 or 3 Books on the Go
Instead of focusing on one book, have two or more books on different subjects in progress. This way, if you become bored of one, you can switch to the other. You can have a heavy read and a light read, and alternate as you have mental energy.
I like to have three books going at one time–usually a novel, a book on personal development, and one on another subject. Right now I’m reading The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien), Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne and King), Twitter for Writers (Hall) and And Justice for All (Woodward). That’s one novel, two books on my craft (writing), and one book on political theory. Of course, you should tailor your reading list to your own interests and profession.
3. Have Books Everywhere
The easiest way to get a chapter in here and there will be to have books available at all times. I keep one in my locker at work and one in my bathroom, and there is often one either on my nightstand, or on the kitchen table.
Another trick: download the free Kindle app to your smartphone. E-books are cheap, and you probably carry your phone everywhere. I read a good chunk of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 in various checkout lines. No one need ever know you’re reading. They’ll think you’re on Facebook. 🙂
By the way, if the book is boring, unrelatable, or just plain stupid, don’t finish it. Time is too short to waste on a bad book.
A word of caution. Reading is brainwashing.
As Stephen Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.” Decide what kind of person you want to be, or what you want to be an expert in, and let books point you that way. I tailor my reading toward my writing career (novels are important, therefore), with a hefty dose of personal development because I’m not the person I want to be, or need to be in order to be successful. I strongly limit my exposure to romances, especially those with explicit sexual materials. I want to view people as brothers, sisters and friends, not sexual objects. Again, this is based on personal conviction and interest.
Read with an open mind. I’ve learned life lessons from the most unlikely books (such as lessons on fear that I learned from Georges St. Pierre’s book). I’m learning to read, not just see what the book is about, but to find answers for questions I have. I mine many blog post ideas from books I read.
I hope these tips are helpful. I believe that reading is one of the most valuable tools we have to make changes in our lives, and the more we read, the faster we work on ourselves.