How to read more

Photo by Matias North on Unsplash

In 2020, despite the fact that I was finishing my Masters degree, working part-time (plus as many extra shifts as I could get) and writing a novel, I managed to read 150 books.

This past week, as Perth, Peel and the South West were put into a 5-day hard lockdown in response to a new case of community transmission detected in a hotel security guard, I have read four books in five days. I was hoping for five in five, but hey, as I write this, the day is not over.

In an age of smart phones and waning attention spans, this leads me to wonder how many books I could read if I wasn't always on Instagram. Currently, I have something like 365 unread books waiting for me. If I could finish a book every single day of the year, I would get through those in no time and there would be no need for me to be constantly assessing and weeding my collection, looking for items that no longer held my interest. I look at some book bloggers on social media who seem able to review more books in a week than I can read in a month and I wonder if they are really reading them all or if I'm just doing it wrong. This is coming from a person who reads more in a month than some people read in several years...

So how can I increase my reading? How can I learn to recapture my focus, and be able to sit in quiet contemplation with fictional characters without reaching for the magic internet rectangle? Here are just a few things that I think are worth trying.

1. Always read 10% of the book in the first sitting. 

This one I got from Sophie Raynor (@sophieraynorreading) on Instagram, and so far it's been spot on. If your book is 300 pages, you just have to get to page 30. By the time you've read 10% of the book, you'll either be engaged in it, or you won't. You'll also feel like you're getting somewhere. I've also found that sometimes telling myself I only have to get to a certain page before I can do something else works well on days when I know that my attention is a little divided... you know, like during a pandemic lockdown when there are massive bushfires.

2. Put your phone somewhere else.

Seriously, even if it's just on the table that's a little too far to reach for without getting up. If you're worried about missing an important call, put it on loud. Reading for as little as 6 minutes a day is supposed to reduce your stress levels dramatically, but scrolling endlessly through social media definitely does the opposite. Constantly refreshing your feed is not going to get you out of your house any faster. You may as well engage in the cheapest and easiest form of travel that there is... and read a book. 

3. Get comfortable.

Make yourself a reading spot and gather the essentials. Water, a blanket, pillows, tea, music, snacks... you are settling in for a long stretch, not for ten minutes, so prepare to be there a while. Lately, I've been experimenting with improving my sleep hygiene, so that has meant no reading in bed. At first, I was upset about this. I love reading in bed. It's where I have done some of my best reading, but it's also where I tend to fall asleep if I am reading in the mid afternoon. Making a space for myself that is not bed has taken some adjusting and I could definitely use a side table and a lamp, but one step at a time. 

If you want really great tips on how to be extremely cosy while you read, check out Lauren and the Books on Youtube, she regularly hosts Cosy Reading Nights and they are a delight.

4. If you're listening to music, choose something that pairs well with your book, or something that is soothing.

Because if you feel like getting up and dancing, you're probably not going to be paying that much attention to the page. Some recent albums that I have been loving for a cosy evening in the reading chair are Lana Del Ray's "Norman F*cking Rockwell" and Phoebe Bridgers' "Punisher" but you do you. 

5. Audiobooks are still reading.

If you can't sit still, then don't. One of my biggest issues with exercise is that it always feels like an obligation that interrupts me getting things done off of my to-do list (i.e. other things that I actually WANT to get done, usually) but putting on audiobooks whilst running or walking was a game changer for me in 2020. Likewise, you can listen to audiobooks while you are cooking, cleaning, or resting your eyes. I have also quite enjoyed listening to an audiobook and following along in the physical book (though I really have to ramp the speed of the narration up because the default is quite slow). Anybody who says that audiobooks aren't real books is a snob. 

This is what I've come up with so far, but I'd love to hear your tips about how you have levelled up your reading life. Let me know in the comments below!