I was chatting with some friends about reading, right around the new year when resolutions were in the air. “Read more” or “Read X books” seem to be goals for a bunch of folks, and it reminded me of the Dark Times.
As in, the years when I was not a Reader.
I started off as a Reader. My wonderful mom read me Tolkien on cross-country car trips, I got piles of wonderful books as gifts from relatives, and I visited the library constantly. My parents were extremely generous in letting me buy books too, and willingly carted me around to numerous used book stores in search of that one Sheri S. Tepper book I just couldn’t find anywhere else (Jinian Footseer! Has anyone else read those? Gosh I loved them…)
Then I went to college. And it was a wonderful place where I met some life-long friends and got to delve deep into all sorts of fascinating things like Topology and Chaucer and Arctic Studies. So I was reading, yes, but not nearly as much fiction, and not nearly as much for fun. And somewhere along the way I kind of forgot how to be a Reader. So once I was done with college and grad school, and off puttering around at my shiny new job, I didn’t really get back in the habit right away.
I still read, but probably only about ten books a year. And I know that sounds like a lot to some people, but it was a fraction of what I used to read. And worse, I wasn’t really excited by what I was reading.
Like I said, they were Dark Times.
It took a deliberate effort to remind myself how I used to read: voraciously, joyfully, widely, and deeply. And even more effort to take steps to change my reading habits and break out of the slump.
So, for anyone who wants to read more, and to enjoy reading more, here are ten things I did, that you can do:
1) Surround yourself with books. Literally. Keep books beside the bed. Take books in the car, in your purse or backback, on vacations. Keep a book on the coffee table so you can read during commercials while watching television. You’re not going to read if you don’t have books around you!
Here’s some of the books I’ve currently got surrounding me:
That’s a mix of books received as gifts, books purchased, library books and used books!
2) Take advantage of libraries. Get a library card at the most convenient library to you. I pay a yearly fee for a membership at the library in the town where I work my day-job, because I can walk over there at lunchtime to browse, and because that library has an excellent online interface (unlike my small, free, local library). Take out lots of books. Take out more than you think you can read. The point is to give yourself options! When you hear about a book that sounds interesting, request it (I have the library system website bookmarked so I can do this with just a few clicks). And with interlibrary loan, most every book I look for is available. Many libraries also now offer eBooks and online downloads of audiobooks!
3) Visit your local Bookstore. Not all bookstores are created equal, but if you’re lucky enough to live near a bookstore run by folks who really LOVE books, take advantage of it! Look for shelf talkers and “Staff Picks” notices. Ask the staff for suggestions. Check to see if there are frequent buyer programs. But please remember it’s not a library. If you want read the whole book, buy it!
4)Buy used books. I usually stick to buying used books by authors who are dead, because I want the money I actually spend on books to support the authors I love so that they can keep writing. But there’s also something magical about puttering around the cavernous halls crammed full of books. You never know when you’ll discover some hidden treasure! And if you are ever in Connecticut, do try to visit my favorite used book store. It’s amazing!
5) Ask friends what they’ve read and loved. One of the most challenging things for me in re-kindling my love of reading was finding good books I actually enjoyed reading. And asking for suggestions from friends has been, by far, my most reliable way of finding new books to read. Of course it works best if you have friends with similar tastes in reading!
6) Check out book blogs. As above, the goal here is to find out about great books. If you don’t have family or friends to make recommendations, try to find other folks who do. There are tons of wonderful, passionate readers online talking about books of all genres. For example, here’s a Sampler Set of kidlit-related blogs. Or you could try poking around the Book Blogger Directory or Kirkus’s Book Blogger Network.
7) Check out Awards and Lists. Again, this can be a great way to find new books. If you like a certain genre, go check out the awards and notable books lists for that genre. For Young Adult books there’s the ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults list and Printz awards. Kirkus, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly all feature “Best of…” lists every year, in a variety of genres.
8. Try Shelfari/Goodreads/LibraryThing. Me, I use Goodreads. It can be a scary place for an author (I try my best to avoid actually looking at my own books) but for a reader, these online social reading sites can be a wonderful place to find new books and new reader friends. There are also discussion groups devoted to specific genres and authors, book giveaways, and more. I have to admit that the neurotic, achievement-oriented part of me also really likes being able to track how many books I’ve read each year!
9) Listen to Audiobooks. I always try to have one audiobook in my car, and one on my iPod, to listen to while driving, walking the dog, cooking, folding laundry, etc. It’s got to be the right sort of book — the kind you can enjoy even if it’s only ten minutes at a time. But it’s a great way to fit reading into a busy schedule! And if it’s a really good book, you might find you get a lot more chores done, heh.
10) Don’t be afraid to stop if you don’t like something. The fastest way for me to get into a reading slump is to get stuck on a book I’m just not enjoying. Because if I start to dread picking it up, I read less, and then I don’t move on to other books I might actually enjoy. Sometimes even a good book just isn’t the RIGHT book at a particular time. You can always come back to it later!
So there you go! Ten Steps to Reading More (And Hopefully Enjoying it!)
What about you guys? How do you stay out of reading slumps and keep yourself excited about reading?