Thursday, 14 January 2016

So You Want To Read More?

Whenever I talk or write about books, a response I often get is, "Wow, you read so much! I'd love to read more." So, because I know that "read more" is a goal for many people as we start a new year, I thought now might be an opportune time to offer some advice.

For me, reading a lot is a clear choice I make. Reading is my main leisure activity, not something confined merely to the 15 minutes before sleep at night. I think nothing of spending a whole evening - or indeed a whole day - curled up reading, becoming completely lost in the world of a book. However, as with most pastimes, when it comes to reading the most important thing is to make it into a habit; something that becomes a natural part of your day. So here are 7 ideas to help you develop a reading habit.

1. Make time to read
This one sounds obvious, yet I lose count of the number of people who say to me, "I wish I could read more but I don't have the time," while they spend the nth hour that day thumbing through Twitter and Instagram. If you want to read more, you have to make time for it: simple as that. Prioritise reading over your other hobbies for just a week - cut down on the podcasts, put aside your sewing, turn off Netflix, and, most importantly, turn off your phone/tablet/laptop - and you'll be amazed at how much reading you can get done.

2. Think about the books you're picking
If it's taken you eight months to struggle through half a book, maybe don't try to kick-start a reading habit with War & Peace. There is no - I repeat, no - shame in not reading so-called 'literary' books. If you enjoy romances, or crime novels, then read them! To kick-start a reading habit a well chosen Young Adult novel is ideal, being quick and easy to read yet still with enough narrative 'meat' to satisfy. I'd recommend Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, E Lockhart's We Were Liars, or Jenny Han's superior YA romances. Prefer a more thrilling read? Go for something with a pacy, fast-moving plot to get you turning the pages quickly. Crime fiction is ideal for this, with the recent preponderance of female-penned thrillers such as Gone Girl, Apple Tree Yard and The Girl On The Train all guaranteed to keep you reading. Finally, if you prefer a more literary approach, you can't go wrong with the novels of Sarah Waters - Fingersmith is atmospheric, beautifully written and packed with narrative twists and shocks.

3. Read little but often
In this world of 140-character tweets and 15-minute podcasts (and attention spans to match) settling down to read a novel with 70 page chapters can feel an impossible task. Instead, pick non-fiction with bite-sized chapters or short vignettes - perhaps Mindy Kaling's comic memoir Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, or How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. Both have enough variety and humour to keep you engaged but with chapters short enough that you can finish them in the course of a bus journey.

4. Take a book with you...
... And think about the moments in your day when you'll have a chance to read. If you commute by public transport, use the time to read. Commute in your car? Try an audiobook rather than listening to the radio (and yes, audiobooks count as reading). I always have a book with me at work so I can read during my lunch break (hooray for no longer being a teacher and actually having a lunch break!) or while I'm waiting for appointments. Even dentists's waiting rooms seem less bleak when I've got my head buried in a book. And one fail-safe way you can ensure you always have a book with you is utilising e-readers and apps, which leads me neatly onto number 5...

5. Don't be afraid of technology
Yes, we can all agree that physical books are superior in almost every way to ebooks, but the sheer convenience of the latter cannot be understated. An e-reader - or even just an app installed on your phone or tablet - gives you instant access to hundreds of thousands of titles, meaning that wherever you are and whatever you feel like reading, you can.

6. Use external means to set deadlines & reading goals
For many people, having a goal helps to motivate them in their reading. Joining a book group is a good way to ensure you have a deadline for finishing a book, and if there's not a group near you then try online book challenges. Lots of bloggers run reading 'events' (for want of a better word). If you're into feminist reads, Tara has recently started a feminist book club on her blog, and Alex is always after people to take part in her Blogging Good Read series. Or simply set yourself a goal - a book a month? A book a week? Make sure your goal is realistically achievable, though, otherwise it's all too easy to become disheartened and give up entirely.

7. Join the library
Borrowing your books from the library rather than buying them will not only save you heaps of money (and support a valuable public service), it will also give you the freedom to discard books you don't enjoy. After shelling out the best part of a tenner on a new book, people will, understandably, usually persevere with something even if it's not for them. Borrowing from the library enables you to try and little bit of everything so you can find out which authors and genres make you eager to read, and which you can happily leave on the shelves.