Katie told me that she’d read that the average American only reads for 149 minutes a week. That’s books, magazines, and newspapers, not social media updates, text messages, and blogs. Now, I don’t know where she read it, and I haven’t fact checked it, so don’t quote me on it. But it has, to use a Stephen Colbert-ism, a certain “truthiness” to it. I know many people who are voracious readers, but for every one of them I probably know five other people who haven’t cracked a book in years. Of course I do live in a state that ranks 49th in education, where the majority of students read below grade level, and in a city where only 63% of students graduate high school; your truthiness may vary.
Lately I’ve been reading 3 to 5 books per week. Granted, I’m not reading War & Peace or things that will drag me down rabbit holes. Yet a couple of years ago I read Neil Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, a dense novel clocking it at around 1,200 pages, in 5 days. I’m not a speed reader. I’m not some sort of genius. I’m not doing anything that anyone else can’t do, or anything that my friends who are avid readers don’t also do. I just enjoy reading, I enjoy knowing things, and I’ve made reading a priority in my life.
Here are my 5 tips for reading more.
Make Time For It
If reading more is a priority for you, you will find time rather than finding excuses. Block out some time in the morning, at lunch, after work, before bed, on the weekend. If you don’t do it, and/or you’re not willing to do it, or you keep finding more excuses to not do it, drop the pretense and admit (to yourself, at least) that reading more actually isn’t important to you and move on. I’m not trying to be negative, but as with anything else (dieting, exercise, taking up new hobbies) you’re not going to do it if you think you should but deep inside your just don’t want to. Admit it and move on.
Get Away From The Internet
The internet is easy. It gives us information in small, digestible nuggets. That has the effect of reducing our attention span. No wonder a 200 page book seems like an interminable chore to get through. Minimize the internet, turn off the computer or the device for a while, and give yourself some unwired time. By all means, turn it off while you’re trying to read so it doesn’t provide a distraction. If you need to take notes, or feel the urge to update your social media with your thoughts on the book, write it down using a pencil and paper and transfer your thoughts to electrons later.
Turn Off The Television
I know people who claim they can multitask, watching television while reading a book. Data shows that multitasking is a myth, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that those few rare people can do it. Most people can’t. Turn the TV off and give the book your full attention. I also recommend turning off talk radio, podcasts, and any music that has lyrics or catchy beats that will grab you and distract you. Let the book be your only distraction.
Don’t Be Afraid To Give Up
Books can be expensive. If you’ve spent around $25 for a hardcover, and up to $10 for a mass market paperback, you want a return on your investment. I know people who don’t read much because they’re having trouble getting through a book. It’s boring, it doesn’t interest them, it’s not what they thought it would be, so they put it down. They’re determined to fight their way through it, though. So they stop reading completely, or they only read a page or two and then set the odious it aside again rather than finding something else.
If you get stuck on a book, and are really determined to read it but it’s not floating your boat right now, put it away. Put in back on the shelf and start reading something else. If a TV show was boring, you’d change the channel, right? Maybe you’ll be interested in the book at another time, when you’re in a different mood, or when external factors have changed. When I’m in work mode, I sometimes don’t have patience for fiction; when I need downtime, I do not want to see business books or anything resembling a text book. It becomes a matter of mood.
This is why I like libraries and bookstores. I can check a book out of the library without risk. I can walk into a bookstore, hold the book in my hands, and read a few pages. Not the few pages that Amazon (and the book’s publisher) allows me to read online, which may be the best bits, but sample any portion of the book.
Read Many Different Things
What I just said above is also why I often have more than one book going at a time. If I’m not in the mood for one thing, I may be in the mood for something else. I have had people say they can’t do that, because they don’t have the attention span to process more than one book at a time. They say they’ll forget what happened in the other book, or get the plots of the two books mixed up. Really? So when you watch television, do you only watch non-episodic shows that wrap up the story within the single episode? If you do watch an episodic show, do you only watch one so you don’t get it mixed up with the other? “Sorry, I can’t watch Mad Men because I’m already watching Breaking Bad, and I don’t want to get the characters mixed up.” What the what?!?
I think we can agree that Mad Men and Breaking Bad are very different things, and there’s little chance of the two becoming accidentally intertwined (although a fan fiction writer somewhere is already on it). So it goes with reading; don’t read two similar books at the same time. Read a novel and a biography, a self-help book and a short story collection, poetry and a technical manual. Even if you’re reading all fiction, read a mystery and a science fiction novel, or a western and some literary fiction. Mix it up. Also understand that those skills you say you don’t possess, the ability to keep things straight, are skills that develop from reading more.
How do you find more time to read? Post your ideas in the comments below! And if you like this post, click on the buttons to share it with your friends on the social networks of your choice!