I am not great with habits. Every January, I think about how I’d like to institute more routines into my daily life, and every year I fail. But while I don’t have daily habits or rituals that make me feel like a reader, I do have some general practices that make my life more literary and help me get more out of the books I pick up. Today I’m sharing nine of those practices with you. You certainly don’t need to implement all of these to be a reader! But if you’re someone who enjoys reading and wants to make reading an even larger part of your life, some of these practices might just work for you.
1. Read what you like.
It sounds simple, but how often do we find ourselves choosing books based on what everyone else is reading or the books we see plastered all over social media? I’m always afraid of missing out on the Next Big Book, and I’m definitely guilty of filling my to-be-read pile with the books I think I should be reading. Usually these books aren’t bad, but they’re also not great for me. To feel like a reader and keep up your reading, it’s essential to read the books you want to be reading. If that means the buzziest new releases, awesome! If you’re feeling called to reread old favorites, fantastic! If the books you love are ones no one else seems to be reading, good for you! Reading what you want to read, is the one sure fire way to keep reading.
2. But challenge yourself.
Nothing can stop the flow of your reading quite like choosing a book you don’t actually want to read. Which is why putting too many “shoulds” to your to-be-read list is a sure fire way to bring about reader’s block. At the same time, it’s important to challenge ourselves as readers, both so we broaden our perspectives and as a means of gaining confidence and expertise as bibliophiles. Reading a book that’s challenging--whether that’s due to archaic language, difficult plot points, or experimental structure--makes me feel more literary than sailing through an easy, comfort zone book. I enjoy the feeling of bringing more effort and concentration to a book. My advice to readers is to sprinkle in a challenge book for every few surefire hits. It doesn’t matter if that means once a month or once a year; working in a book that stretches you will sharpen your reading skills, expand your mind, and give you a boost of readerly confidence.
3. Track your reading.
There are an infinite number of ways to keep track of the books you read and an infinite number of options for what exactly to track. Stay tuned for a post on tracking methods for every type of reader, but until then, just make sure you’re logging your reading somewhere: Goodreads, a journal, the notes app on your phone. Whatever you choose, having a system that helps you remember what you’ve read is a game changer for your reading life, so make sure you settle on something you can stick with.
4. Try out different reading formats.
My preferred reading method will always be physical books (paperbacks to be specific), but embracing a variety of formats has not only helped me read more, it’s expanded my sense of who I am as a reader. If you’re new to reading on an e-reader or using audiobooks, I recommend trying a few different genres in each format to determine what works best for you. In my case, I like reading romances and thrillers--things I want to get through fast and don’t care about having on my shelves for posterity--on my Kindle Paperwhite. Nonfiction is my go-to audio genre, but I also enjoy fantasy and family sagas in this format. Once you’ve found what works for you in each mode, you’ll get to a point where you always have a book going in one format in another, and what a readerly experience to be consistently in the middle of a great book.
5. Schedule uninterrupted reading time.
A great way to fit more reading into your day is to carry a book (or e-reader or audiobook) with you everywhere and get comfortable reading in short stretches whenever you can fit it in. But one of my major tips for feeling readerly is to schedule longer, uninterrupted reading times when you can. One of my favorite things is waking up on a weekend day, making coffee, and getting back in bed with a book for a couple of hours. It feels incredibly indulgent, and is definitely the time of week I feel most like a reader. Not everyone has the flexibility to fit something like that into their routine, but you will not regret any time you’re able to set aside as pure, unadulterated reading time.
6. Keep annotation tools handy.
I certainly don’t markup or make notes about every book I read, but I try to keep tools for annotating near all of my reading spots just in case I come across a passage I want to remember. I love using book darks, but I’ll also stick a post-it in a book or even take a picture of a page I want to remember (that’s extra convenient because my phone is always nearby). For me, the process of annotating makes me feel readerly because it’s about noticing and appreciating language and craft, one of my favorite aspects of reading.
7. Determine your best recommendation sources.
Whether it’s a trusted friend, a favorite bookstagrammer, or the New York Times critic you always agree with, knowing your best recommendation sources is one of the best ways to improve your reading life. Of course this is most helpful for discovering new books that work for you, but it’s also a very literary feeling to be able to name the readers and critics who serve as your trusted sources. This also works in reverse! If there are reviewers whose taste never seems to align with yours, you know which books to skip, which is just as important.
8. Read reviews.
I majored in English in college, earned my Masters in literature, and taught the subject for 7 years. And believe me when I tell you that none of that helped me articulate my thoughts on books more than simply reading book reviews has. Professional reviewers are adept at articulating what about a book works and where it falls short. I even keep a list of descriptive adjectives reviewers use so I can try to work on making my own reviews more nuanced and specific.
9. Read with other readers.
Reading is a wonderful solitary activity. Not only do I enjoy it as a socially acceptable introverted pastime, I occasionally read books that are so personal to me, I don’t want to share my thoughts with other readers. But more recently I’ve embraced reading with others as a way to connect more deeply with people and with the books we’re reading. I get so much more out of what I read when I articulate what I think about a book to other readers, and even more when I hear other readers’ share their thoughts. In this regard, the biggest influence on my reading life has been the FictionMatters Book Club, but there are so many online and in person ways to connect with other readers over books. Even something as simple as choosing a book to read with a friend and texting about it as you go can deepen the reading experience immensely.
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