Do you want to improve your reading life, but do not know where to start? In volume or quality, are you reading “less than” you would like? Here are a few tips that worked for me when I decided to boost my reading life.
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Are you reading less than you want?
I was. Well, I was reading. I was reading political best-sellers, devouring homeschooling books, and consuming Christian self-help. But I was reading very little literature and absolutely no “great works,” although I had a number of them on my TBR* pile. (To be read.) I was not quite sure I was avoiding them, other than the standard #busy, but I did not think a lot about it, and certainly did not suspect there was a problem. Because #imareader.
But a bit of a problem there was, and it became apparent last fall. I learned that the Well-Trained Mind Academy was starting on-line classes for adults, and I signed up to take the signed up to take a literature class called “Great Journey Narratives” taught by the estimable Susan Wise Bauer. My goal was to begin to prepare myself for teaching a high school literature curriculum in just a few short years. Since my education could only be generously described as progressive, I had read precious few great works I want my daughter to read when the time comes. Long story short, it was a miserable failure. Don’t get me wrong – the class was great. I was the failure. I had a really hard time getting through any of the books, because … well, darn-it, they were just TOO HARD. Which is embarrassing to admit, because, #imareader. I ended up abandoning the class half-way through the term.
I was feeling pretty bad about ditching the class, but after a period of shame and self-flagellation, I realized the problem: I was out of practice. In better terms, I was out of “reading shape.” Most days, I was not reading anything longer than 144 characters, and when I was reading something, I would not expect my body to arise from a 6-month period of mandatory bedrest and successfully run a 10-minute mile (not that I’ve ever run a 10-minute mile in my life.) Nor should I expect my brain to handle arcane or complex works after a steady diet of fluff and twaddle written at a 7th grade reading level. I realized I needed to get back into reading shape.
How to be a better reader
I realized that the only way to become a better reader is to read more, and read more intentionally. Meatier fiction, more complex non-fiction, and slowly work my way back up to Great Works. So my New Year’s Resolution became Read More. We are now almost halfway through 2017, and I am delighted to say that it is WORKING and I am much happier with the quantity and quality of what I am reading.
1. Set a goal to read more
“I want to read more” is a wish.
“I will read 24 books of 300 pages or more in 2017” is a goal. A SMART goal, actually. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Reasonable. Time-based. SMART. And I’m a big believer in SMART goals.
This year, I am not too particular about genre, period, or complexity. I am going for volume of longer works, although I am avoiding (or not counting) true twaddle or fluff. I may be more specific about the mix of content when I do this again next year (which I am already planning to do.)
My goal is to read 24 books this year, and I am tracking my goal using Goodreads.
2. Track your reading and “To Be Read”
This year I am using Goodreads to track my TBR and what I have completed. It’s also great for me to track all of my in-progress books, of which there are a lot.
I was not always a fan of Goodreads, but I am now a convert. It is a big boost to my confidence and enthusiasm around my reading goal to pull out my phone and look at my Reading Challenge progress.
But Goodreads is not for everyone, which I completely understand. There are a lot of tips and tricks out there for tracking your reading progress. One stellar inventory of book-tracking methods is this episode of the “What Should I Read Next” podcast, in which Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy talks to a number of readers about their methods for tracking books to read, books read, and other reader-y goodness. Pure gold.
3. Talk about reading with everyone
To find good books, and books that are good for you, you need to talk to people. Lots of people. Perusing the stacks at a bookstore and your recommendations is fun, but not always helpful when you are trying to find the right book to read right now.
I love the idea of book clubs, but I have never been in a book club that lasted more than a few months. Maybe it’s me and I bring the kiss-of-death to any club I join, but given our fast-paced, attention-challenged, busy-is-a-badge-of-honor times, I am amazed that any book club can meet regularly for more than a year. My grandmother had a book club that lasted decades, which is amazing, but looking back on it I’m not sure they actually read many books. More “book club” than book club.
There are a few people I can ask “have you read anything good lately” and occasionally that will turn up a gem, but it’s pretty hit or miss. So I have turned to some online sources help me talk about books, or at least listen to other people talk about books. These podcasts have injected a boost of energy – and content – into my reading life.
First and foremost is the aforementioned “What Should I Read Next” podcast with Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy. This weekly download is a reliable treasure trove of book suggestions from a broad variety of genres, and Anne does a masterful job of talking about books without spoiling them by saying too much. Her website is also a goldmine of reader-y goodness. Her Summer Reading Guide was just released and I cannot wait to make my picks and dive in.
Two podcasts which are a great source of suggestions for classics and books for about about homeschooling are The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast and the Scholé Sisters Podcast. I tend to listen to these while I am soaking (hiding) in the bathtub, and they are chock-full of ideas that make me a better teacher and mom.
Finally, my all-time favorite podcast is The Federalist Radio Hour. This is a daily one-hour show on topics in politics, news, and culture. Always thought provoking, and often funny, it’s is my daily dose of grown-up brain food that I consume while making dinner. The host, Ben Domenech, often features authors, mentions books that are getting a lot of buzz, or references classical works that I add to my list of “great books to read that I should have read in college.”
4. Abandon books with abandon
I have found that one of the best ways to finish more books is to walk away from books that are just not working for you. I am much better about this than I used to be, and I think part of the reason is that I am better about tracking what I have “shelved.” Again, Goodreads is great for this. I created a custom shelf called “paused” where I put books that I put down, but that I might possibly pick up again at a later time. If I don’t think I will ever return to the book, I delete it from my “reading” with impunity and move on. Life’s short, y’all – read what you love.
5. Build routines around books
I have built a number of routines into my week and into my days that help me make continual progress towards my reading goal.
- Kid Drop-off = Book Drop-off. Each Wednesday when I prepare to drop my daughter at her PE class, I grab all the books that need to go back to the library. This is the one day a week that I know I will be at the library to return books, as well as pick up any holds I have waiting. It’s not the only time I go to the library, but it is a time I almost always go to the library, and the one time I know I can go alone, and spend as much or as little time browsing without worrying about when my tag-along friend wants to leave.
- Morning reading. Most mornings, before anyone else is awake, I sit down with some inspirational reading. I don’t spent more than 15 minutes with it, but I knows it’s making a big difference. Again, this is where using a booklist comes in handy … it may only be 15 minutes a day, but I know I am making actual progress towards a specific reading goal.
- Afternoon reading. When our homeschool days are reasonably structured and go as planned, we take a break (from each other) in the afternoon for “quiet time.” Usually someone (me) needs a break before we gear up for evening dinner-dishes-drop in exhaustion routine. More and more this year, that break involves a cup of tea and one of my current reads. Even if I can only spare 15 or 2o minutes with my book, it adds up very quickly.
- Leave prepared. “Never leave the house without something to read.” I heard this somewhere a long time ago, and these are words to live by. When I am stuck in a line or a waiting room, I have something to do other than stare at my phone. This is a routine I am that I am trying to get much better about.
6. Mix up your reading life
I have always had more than one book going at a time so I could pick up a book based on my mood, but now I am more intentional about it. Books feed me, and different kind of book feed me differently. So now I try to have at least one book from several different categories in process or ready to go. Right now this is as simple as different piles of books in my home office, but I’m thinking about how I can track or plan this better.
My broad categories are:
- Spiritual reading – a list of books base on a reading plan (mentioned below)
- Good fiction – typically modern fiction that challenge me a little bit, makes me think and makes me feel
- Homeschooling – books either about education and homeschooling, or books that I am pre-reading for teaching literature, history, or logic classes
- Fluffy fiction – something to read when I am to tired to do much else. I’m a big fan of formula romance, mystery, or spy novels for this kind of reading
- Non-fiction brain food – politics, productivity, parenting, popular memoirs … this is the stuff that gives my INTJ lots of thoughts to chew on
If you have any suggestions for how to track categories of reading, I would love to hear them. Leave me a comment!
7. Make a plan to read more – or buy one
I am a huge fan of other people’s booklists. You might even say I’m addicted to them. Over the past few years I have picked up quite a few, and even books full of books to read to help plan our homeschool curriculum. But there are also many books about booklists
One of my favorites is The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise-Bauer. This is a great plan for catching up on all the books you should have read when you were in school.
I started a reading plan as a Lenten project and enjoyed it so much that I plan to continue. The book I am using is How to Read Your Way to Heaven. Since I am a reader, I knew that reading good spiritual and theological works would be a good way to strengthen my faith, but I was continually overwhelmed by choices and did not know where to start. This book has given me a great roadmap, includes daily reading from the Bible and the Catechism, and typically takes me less than 15 minutes per day. The book includes 1, 3, and 5 year reading plans.
Booklist and reading plans are great when you want to dive into a topic and do not know where to start. These are just two of my favorite ‘reading lists’ – what are some of yours? Leave me a comment.
Bonus Tip: Be aware of the best reading format for you
Ebook reader. Tablet app. Paperback. Hardcover. Audiobook. There are many different reading formats to choose from these days, and knowing what books format works for you is a huge boon to your reading life. I typically use all these formats, but lately I have become much more particular about why I choose them.
- Kindle Reader. I use my Kindle Paperwhite for reading fast, pulp-y fiction and when I travel. I used to use it exclusively, because no clutter, but I realized early on that I did not like it for colorful coffee table books or cookbooks. Recently, my categories of “Kindle appropriate books” has become even smaller, which I explain below.
- Hardcopy books. I have realized that there are two categories of books that I really need to buy in hardcopy, either paperback or hardcover, depending on which is more affordable. The first is complex, challenging fiction … I really need to be able to flip back and forth to see names of characters, or quickly go back a couple of pages to find a particular passage. The other is detailed non-fiction, such as a political or theological text. I usually read these books with a pencil and highlighter in hand, and I find annotating much, much easier to do on paper than on an e-reader. Also cookbooks, pretty coffee table books, and used books fall into this category.
- Tablet app. I usually pull out my iPad for reading for one of two reasons. Either I don’t have anything else with me (or the battery on my Kindle app is dead), or I want to read a book my husband has purchased through iBooks. I know … I buy Kindle, he buys iBooks. Mixed marriage, but somehow we make it work. Both Amazon and Apple offer a way for family members to share eBooks, thank goodness.
- Audiobooks. I usually save audiobooks for the car, either when I am on a road trip or doing a lot of carpooling. Right now I am not doing much of either. When we do road trip, we usually do non-fiction historical, either a biography or a history because that is an interest my husband and I share. My all-time favorite is The Great Bridge, a history of the Brooklyn bridge. It sounds snooze-worthy, but was fantastic.
When I am running lots of errands, I like non-fiction productivity or self-help. Two of my favorites in this category are Drive by Daniel Pink (or anything else by him) and The Dip by Seth Godin.I also heavily rely on audiobooks when I need to “outsource” reading aloud to my daughter. I love it when we’re snuggled up on the couch together with a good book we can experience together, but I don’t always (ok, ever) want to be the one doing the reading. Listening to audiobooks while we each work on needlework or crafts is a great way to spend time together.
Of course, this is what works for ME, and what works for me right now. The point is that I actually spent some time thinking about what books to buy in which format.
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