How I Learned to Actually Enjoy Reading
My unexpected reading journey in 2020 forever changed how I approach books.
I am one of those people who has always loved to read, so I’m just going to get that out there first thing. Holding the book in my hands, inhaling the papery musk of imagination, and diving under a blanket for the literary long haul has always been a comforting pastime for me, but I know that’s not the case for everyone.
At the beginning of 2020 (literally, January 2nd), I was hired as an extra-help librarian for our county’s local branches (a dream and a whim of mine). Working there, I needed to learn about the services offered. One of the services was an app called Libby: free digital collections of eBooks and audiobooks.
In the past, I scoffed at the very idea of eBooks and was aghast if my friends recommended I try audiobooks. That’s not reading, I thought and sometimes declared out loud, all the while thinking privately, Do my friends even know me?
However, Libby helped me to change my mindset about what books were, and that was the first thing I did that forever changed how I experienced reading and led me to read over 75 books in one year.
1. Redefine What Reading Means to You
My first step towards reading more started with this change: I redefined what reading meant to me. You know how I felt about any books other than paper-bound ones, but after I opened myself up to experiencing books in new ways, I realized that my stubbornly narrow mindset had limited my reading experiences. It had clouded my understanding of the wonderful accessibility that millions of people who are too busy to sit down and read, vision impaired, or differently-abled use every day to enjoy their favorite books.
Here’s how my mindset shifted: at first, I was only logging into Libby for my new library job and to learn how to use the online system, which differed from our physical locations’ check-in-check-out process. If you want to try this for yourself, go to Libby, then enter your library card’s number; select the system your library is a part of (Libby gives you options) and check out books instantly onto any of your digital devices. I found that the very act of being able to get books instantly and for free gave me a thrill and insatiable desire to do it again and again (which I did — our checkout limit is 10). Even if you don’t have a library card yet, many libraries are offering options for you to apply for them online, or, as ours is doing during the pandemic, providing patrons options to acquire e-cards that will work on Libby. Google your county’s name + library and call that number if you need help getting started.
The first book I borrowed was an audiobook called A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I was ready to “poo-poo” the experience and simply tough it out in the name of research, but then I realized that I could listen to the story while I walked to work. And then, it struck me that I could also have it on around the house as I did chores. Finally, when the last chapter whispered through my ears, I sprawled out on the bed on top of my unfolded laundry sobbing at the beauty of the novel and the life-changing experience this audiobook opened up to me.
From that moment on, I realized that “reading” didn’t just mean sitting under the covers on the couch anymore. To me, reading now included stories that came to life walking and talking too.
2. Incorporate Reading into Daily Activities
The biggest change I made that revolutionized my reading experience in 2020 was listening to audiobooks while I went for walks. Since the gyms were closed and group sports were outlawed, walking became my main form of exercise, entertainment, and “out of the house” time. It served a lot of purposes, and, in 2020, it also became a big part of my reading journey.
After about a week of pounding the pavement while cranking up the volume on my earbuds and cursing cars that roared by (interrupting critical moments in my chapters!!), I invested in a pair of headphones* that would help me stay in the story better. (*I always strive to be aware of my surroundings by never turning the volume up so loudly I can’t hear someone approaching, and I never use the noise-cancelling feature when I’m walking. I imagine it will be great for traveling once I feel comfortable flying again though!)
Thanks to my daily miles and deciding to incorporate my redefined reading routine into them, I was able to experience over 40 books I wouldn’t have had time for otherwise.
Some of those books included Grit, by Angela Duckworth, Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown, and Calypso, by David Sedaris — all books that have transformed my teaching, leadership, and writing in tangible ways. (I now ask, Am I modeling emotion-free mistakes? when I’m teaching; What does “done” look like? when I’m assigned a task from my administration; and How would David write this section? in the first draft of my 21-essay manuscript.)
I enjoyed listening to my books so much that I found myself extending my walks and wondering what else I could do while I experienced stories. Some ideas that crossed my mind were knitting, crafting, and coloring or painting, but I don’t regularly do those things to begin with, and when I do do them, I like to have music going. After a few weeks, my husband suggested I try puzzling. Puzzling was right up there with my original affinity for audiobooks, but I gave it a shot and it turned out to be the perfect supplementary activity for me.
So, another way to boost your reading time and achieve your reading goals in 2021 could be to think about what new ways you could incorporate reading into daily activities.
I’m able to go on walks by myself and I feel comfortable doing so, but I know that’s not for everyone. If I had a commute to work, I’d try to use that time to listen to my stories. You might brainstorm: Is there time you can convert from doing X into spending time reading? Maybe you could substitute one night a week for a book night instead of a movie night? Maybe you get your whole family in on it and dedicate an hour on Fridays to a family read-in! There’s no one-size-fits all method for reading, but millions of people can experience the same book. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you.
3. Read Fun Books
If you want to up your reading game, read books you like.
To put it mildly, there are a lot of books out there. Particularly, there are a lot of books that people feel like they should read. I have those books too: Pride and Prejudice, As I Lay Dying, Don Quixote, Wuthering Heights, just to name four. I’ve felt badly about not reading these, especially when I’ve picked a “fun” book over picking one of them time and time again.
Though you may be tempted to read what you think you should (or reject a book because someone told you it was too fluffy, or childish, or boring), one of the ways I read over 75 books in one year was by reading what I wanted. If that meant rereading the Hunger Games trilogy in preparation for the prequel (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, released May 2020), then that’s what I did! If it meant returning a book an hour into it because I just wasn’t feeling it, I returned it.
Life’s too short to not be reading what you want. Letting go of what you “should” or “shouldn’t” read will help you read more, and that excitement will perpetuate the practice.
I love nonfiction, but I know plenty of people who don’t. Here’s the thing: I didn’t tell those people what I was reading because I didn’t want them to kill my joy, and as I dove into my collection of non-fiction books that challenged me to think in new ways, I continued to feel excited. I’d be out walking and come across a phrase like, “daring leaders must care for and be connected to the people they lead” (Brown, 2018), and I’d immediately have to write that tidbit down. Trying not to break stride, I’d open my notes app and begin dictating to it — huffing and puffing with speech-to-text — as I climbed the hills and captured whatever words of wisdom tickled me.
So if this is you, and you need to protect your reading space, do it. Read when no one’s around. Read when you’re not around (go somewhere). You don’t have to tell people what you’re reading either; if they pry, you can say something like, “When I’m reading a book, I like to experience it just for myself, and talking about it ruins that for me. But one book that I have finished recently that I enjoyed was…” When you say something like this, you’re still acknowledging your friend’s desire to connect with you over books, but you are also protecting your mental space and personal experience too. Your books are for you.
During my reading journey, I chose books because they spoke to me, not because I had a reading agenda.
4. Don’t Make a Reading Goal
At least, don’t make a reading goal that measures success by the number of books you’ve read. Hear me out.
I’m a teacher, avid SMART goal maker, and former ropes course facilitator. I am all about forming goals that are measurable and attainable. However, when it comes to reading goals, I’ve found that I read fewer books when I am trying to finish a certain number of them. Maybe it’s just me, but by not setting a reading goal, I take the pressure off and enjoy the process more.
In 2020, when I read over 75 books in what was likely a record-setting year for me, I only realized half-way through the year that, Dang, I’ve read a lot of books! Once I started writing them down (oh yeah, I don’t use fancy trackers either, I just write down titles I’ve read on a piece of paper), only then did I realize I was on the way towards a historical year. Because I’m competitive and love to read, I did challenged myself to keep the pace up for as long as I could, which was possible due to my living situation and it being summer break.
This year, I’ve only just finished my first book, and it was an audiobook — another Fredrik Backman title from Libby: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, which took me three weeks to get through. I’m also not even halfway through the paperback I’ve got going. Granted, that one is the second in the Game of Thrones series and a tome in itself, but I’ve already decided that this year it is not about the numbers. I’d like to finish the series I’m reading, and it might just take me all year to do that.
When you let go of the numbers, the pressure slides off too and you can continue to read what you enjoy. That’s the long and the short of it.
However, there are some of you who probably thrive with numbered reading goals. It can be so satisfying to accomplish them, and to work towards them each year. So, what I will say about setting numbered reading lists is: don’t be afraid to adjust the goal, lower or higher.
One January two years ago, a friend proclaimed to me that she was going to read 100 books that year.
“Wow, 100 books?! That’s amazing,” I said, calculating how much time that would take. “That’s two books a week! How many books a week did you read last year?”
With each word that came out of my mouth, I could see her face falling; the sense of wonder was turning into a sense of just how much work it would take for her to read 100 books.
“Um, like, none?” she confessed. “I didn’t really read much last year.”
Luckily we were both laughing when she admitted and I astonished at her goal.
“Maybe I should try for less,” she reasoned and immediately adjusted. “What about 30?”
Just last week she texted me a picture of her bookshelf and reading nook, which she had rearranged and decorated just how she wanted it. This is the year I read 100 books! she wrote. I’ve already read six!
Getting realistic about your time, and the books you choose, will help you read more in 2021.
5. Time Yourself
If you’re like me, the time it takes to read 10 pages depends on what book I’m reading. (I’m talking about print books here because audiobooks have built-in measurements already, though you can adjust the speed at which you listen if you want to shave off listening time.) Reading 10 pages could range anywhere from around six or seven minutes to twenty-five, and knowing that helps me get realistic in scheduling reading time and in planning what books I want to read next. After this GOT saga, I’m definitely going to want to read a book that takes me less time per page! I’ll need my reading confidence to get boosted and I enjoy mixing up the pacing of the books I read.
Timing myself was a trick I used during my unexpected year of reading and a skill I’ve been employing since I had serious studying to do in college. During undergrad I was assigned over a novel’s worth of reading per class to accomplish. I knew I had a limited amount of time to get it done, and I challenged myself to make it happen. For example, if I knew it took me 20 minutes to read 10 pages, I could calculate that it would take me about an hour to read 30 pages, which helped me determine when I would finish.
Back then, timing myself was both a pacer and a prodder; now, it’s mostly out of curiosity to determine if I can squeeze one more chapter in before I need to go brush my teeth. Once you know how long it takes you to read 10 pages, you can plan how long it will take you to finish the chapter, or get halfway through, or finish your book!
Reading is a journey. It’s a passport to any person, place, or circumstance you can imagine, and more than anything, it’s personal.
Experimenting with the delivery style, when you read, what you read, and for how long is a one-of-a-kind concoction that only you can brew. I found what worked for me, and these are the top five things I did the year I read over 75 books. Maybe some of them will resonate with you:
- Redefine what reading means to you.
- Incorporate reading into daily activities.
- Read fun books.
- Don’t number your reading goal.
- Time yourself.
Wherever your reading journey takes you in 2021, may your imagination ignite with every word as you become the reader you want to be.