After a lengthy break, I am back on my regular weekly blogging schedule. I needed time to sort out a few other obligations and to recalibrate what I do with this blog. For now, I want to focus a lot more on my reading habits and the books I read.
Last year, I read 52 books. I have never read this many books before in that length of time. In every year prior, I would average around 12 to 15 at the most.
So what made the difference?
We can all agree that the Covid-19 global pandemic changed everything. In my case, creative projects and freelance work dissipated, and I was at a loss for what to do. With so much anxiety and fear wreaking havoc upon the world, I decided to turn to the safe haven of a book. Perhaps I needed A LOT of safety because 52 books is no small amount.
As the year progressed, I naturally developed certain habits and strategies that helped me become a more efficient and engaged reader.
- I read in small chunks of words instead of using an inner head voice
This is actually something I’ve been working on for a long time, but 2020 gave me the space to focus on it. Especially in grade school and high school, I used to read books by actually sounding out each word in my head. There is nothing wrong with this technique, but it does not allow the human brain to utilize all of its innate talents. We are capable of comprehending information much more efficiently.
To be clear, I have no desire to be one of those super speed readers who can fly through a book in a couple of hours and can read entire pages of words in one fell swoop. I read in chunks of 4 or 5 words at a steady pace instead. This gives me time to absorb the material and actually enjoy what I’m reading. In some instances, I’ll slow down if I come across a particularly important or poignant passage.
- I use a dedicated e-reader device to read digital books
Avid and purist bookworms the world over will scoff at this. Justly so, perhaps, but e-readers work for me. I still love reading actual books, but I am not a fan of being beholden to small text sizes and clunky fonts. I also love to read in bed and a lot of physical books require sufficient lighting. Finding the best balance in this scenario often requires more tinkering than I care to do.
I use a Kobo e-reader called the Libra H20, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! It comes with a built in light that can be adjusted for brightness and blue light sensitivity. I can change the fonts of any book I read and also adjust their sizes. My preference is to make them bigger to reduce the strain on my eyes. I can save hundreds of books in this device and carry them everywhere. This reader also tells me how much longer I have to go toward finishing a current chapter and the entire book. This helps me figure out how much reading time I might want to utilize in a day if the book is too good to put down.
This particular e-reader also lets me use an app called Pocket which allows me to save any article from the internet that I want to read for later. I can read them all in one dedicated place.
Lastly, I can borrow books from my library and, through wifi, get them downloaded into this device. How cool is that?
With some exceptions, I read digital books exclusively. This is a modern innovation that I fully embrace.
- I have at least two books lined up to read at any time.
For me, nothing sucks more than having so many options that you wind up choosing nothing and drowning in indecision. This happens to me often when I am scrolling through Netflix and can’t find something I care to watch. (That’s usually when I turn to a book.)
I make it a habit every day to scroll through my Libby app on my phone to see what is available to borrow from my library. I have a list of books I want to read that have been recommended by friends or the New York Times. My default is to borrow books from a library. (I only buy a book if it is compelling enough to want to revisit it numerous times.)
All of this helps to ensure that I am never at a loss for what to read next.
- I allot at least one hour every day to reading.
Some days are busier than others, but regardless of what is happening, I get at least one hour in without fail every day. Beyond that, I often sneak in ten to fifteen minutes in between tasks or on a break. I make it a conscious intention to read every day. I’ve done so for long enough that it is simply part of the autopilot rhythm and fabric of my life. I drink water. I read. I sleep. I read. It is now vital and integral to who I am.
- Do not make binging tv and movies your entertainment default.
For better or worse, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are here to stay. We are in a golden age of television in which there is no shortage of quality content to absorb. The problem I have with these forms of entertainment is that they are too passive and easily digestible. There is minimal grappling with concepts and contradictions when everything is tied up into a pretty bow within two hours. You simply sit there like a zombie while the story resolves itself and fills in all the blanks quickly.
A book is a long-form work of art that fully engages your mind and imagination. There are layers of subtext, inner thoughts and lives of characters, and emotions that flow from every page. The written form forces your brain to make connections that aren’t handed to you on a platter the way watching a film does. Books invite you to grapple and contemplate—to question and doubt, all on your own time, one book at a time.
If any of you out there are looking to up your reading game, then power to you. It is important to remember that it is actually the quality of the books you read that matters the most (the title of this post notwithstanding). The only reason I read so many books is that there actually are SO MANY good books out in the world. I want to read as many as I can.
You do not have to ascribe to any of the practices I have mentioned here. All of these techniques are simply how I do what I do when it comes to reading.
I have a rich and boundless life as a reader. This informs my creative work and my imagination. Reading books enriches everything else that I do whether I only read one for fifty-two of them.
After I finish reading a book, I look out into the world with an even broader perspective. Colors come alive, and I am more free.