Monday, June 19, 2017

Nine ways to fit reading into your schedule -- and enjoy it

I have read 21 books this year, and it’s only June. I say that not to brag but because I am so proud that I’ve been able to make time to read this year — and I want to make sure you know you can make time, too.

When I was growing up, I was always reading. I was one of those kids who stayed inside to look at books while everyone else went out to play during recess. As an adult, though, I found it much harder to make time to read. I was burned out during college (when I had to read 30 young adult fiction books during a 13-week semester), and I couldn’t seem to find books that appealed to me. I was “too old” for young adult novels (or so I thought) and didn’t seem to like most of the adult fiction either.

Now, 12 years after high school, I feel like I’ve finally found my groove again and discovered
  • How to find books I will actually like
  • How to make time to read
  • How to challenge myself to read more
If you’re like me and you want to read more but don’t know how to fit it into your life — or what to read — these tips can help.

Sign up for Goodreads

The best thing I did when I was trying to get back into the habit of reading was signing up for a Goodreads account. I wish I would have done this a LONG time ago, back when the company first started (2006!).

If you don’t already have an account (and I’ve been surprised lately to learn that many of my friends don't), here are some of the benefits:
  • Connecting with real-life friends and seeing what they’re currently reading or have read
  • Keeping track of what you’ve read and want to read
  • Writing and reading book reviews
  • Getting notifications about new books from your favorite authors
  • Finding recommendations on books you might like
One of the biggest game changers for me with Goodreads, though, is the annual reading challenge. It’s really simple. You just set a goal for the number of books you want to read that year (my 2017 goal is 36) and then watch as you get closer to achieving the goal with every book you read. If you’re really competitive (I’m not), you can see what your friends have listed in their reading challenges and try to match them. This is the first year I’ve had such an aggressive goal, but I feel confident I can make it.

Oh, and if you’re already a Goodreads member, make sure you download the app for your phone. I love logging in and recording books as I finish them and watching my progress. It also helps me keep track of my huge running list of “to-reads” so I can pick the next book I want to start on.

Embrace the ebook

I have to admit that I was skeptical when the Kindle and Nook first came out. I wanted to have physical books in my hands to read, and I felt like ebooks were the beginning of the end of books as we know it. I am happy to admit I was very wrong.

Most of the books I read now are ebooks, and I have grown to love them — in some ways more than their paper counterparts. I’ve discovered that if you want to read more, ebooks are the key. Here’s why I love ebooks:
  • You can download them to a phone or tablet and read them anywhere — which prevents you from wasting time on Facebook while you’re at the doctor’s office.
  • You don’t have to make a trip to the library to check out and return them (which is a big win when you have little kids)
  • They’re environmentally friendly
I used to download books to my iPad and read them, but now I just read them on my phone. It takes a little bit to adjust to reading a book on such a small screen, but I don’t like packing my tablet on the train to work, so I’ve learned to make it work. And since you take your phone everywhere, it means you always have a book you can pull up and read when you have down time.

Download the Overdrive app

While I know some people have Kindle subscriptions or simply buy ebooks they want to read and download them to their tablet, I am a) cheap and b) very picky about the books I buy. If it’s not a book I know I want to read again, I don’t buy it. I actually have very few physical books in my home, and the ones I do have are those I’ve read at least twice (the Anne of Green Gables series, the Harry Potter series, The Lovely Bones and Pride and Prejudice).

If you’re like me and you don’t want to buy books or spend money on a subscription, the Overdrive app is for you. You connect to your favorite libraries, search for ebooks or audiobooks, and download them right to your phone or tablet. When you’ve finished the book, you can either tap and return them to the library or let the app return it automatically when it’s due.

Since the Overdrive app is basically an electronic version of your public library, you can also put holds on books that aren’t available. They are then automatically checked out to you once they become available. Another kind of weird thing I like about ebooks is that you know exactly how many pages you have left in each chapter. It helps you keep going when you realize “Oh, I only have five pages left before I reach a stopping point.”

Take advantage of audiobooks

Audiobooks are a fantastic way to plow through a ton of books without physically sitting down with a novel. They also let you squeeze reading in during small increments of time, like driving to pick up your kids from school, heading to the grocery store or even running on a treadmill.

An Audible subscription is a great investment if you love audiobooks and spend a lot of time on the road. As I mentioned before, though, I am cheap and don’t want to pay for a subscription -- so I check out audiobooks from the library through the Overdrive app instead.

If you're new to audiobooks, try listening to a memoir or a shorter book narrated by the author first. I loved Lauren Graham's Talking as Fast as I Can, which she narrated, and several friends have recommended Jim Gaffigan's books on audio (though I've only read them, not listened to them). Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie is amazing on audio as well.

One trick you might not know about is speeding up the audio to listen to the book faster. It sounds ridiculous at first, but once you try it, the normal speed on audio books will seem SO SLOW.

Don't waste time on books you don't love

We've all seen those lists of the top 50 books you must read before you die and felt guilty about not having read those classics everyone swears by. But life is too short to read books you don't like. Once you're out of high school and college and not forced to read a book for a class, you aren't obligated to read things that bore you.

There are some classics I love, like most of Jane Austen's books, Les Miserables, and The Count of Monte Cristo. And then there are other books I suffered through that I really didn't enjoy -- but I kept reading them because I felt like I had to read them. I despised Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar. I spent way too long reading Kurt Vonnegut because people raved about Slaughterhouse-Five, and I hated that book. I did not enjoy The Old Man and the Sea (though I loved Hemingway's short stories).

The point is, YOU get to decide what you want to read. I try to push myself and read different things, but I also give myself the freedom to return a book if it doesn't capture my attention. Which brings me to my next point...

Stick to what you enjoy

I have always been firmly rooted in reality and never liked fantasy. While my siblings were voraciously reading the Wheel of Time series and Lord of the Rings, I was enjoying historical fiction and nonfiction. In fact, I think the Harry Potter series is the furthest I've delved into fantasy -- and I can only handle those books because they're set in a real world.

Do I limit myself by not reading fantasy? Of course. And I understand the appeal of fantasy, of escaping into a different world. But I discovered long ago that I didn't like fantasy (or sci-fi or dramatic romance), so I avoid those books. I have skipped book club meetings when I had no interest in the book, and I think everyone should do the same. If you're not passionate about something, don't read it! Your time is important.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try new things. I have read a few books I didn't expect to like that really surprised me. But if you're trying to get back into reading after a long hiatus, it's important to start out with books you're interested in so you don't lose momentum.

Follow book bloggers or become friends with a book lover

Some people love to browse the library or bookstore for a book that strikes their fancy. While there is something relaxing about walls of books, it's also overwhelming for me -- and it's probably going to be really overwhelming if you haven't read books consistently for a while.

Rather than wandering with a few ideas about what you like, I recommend following a book blogger with similar interests. I've followed Janssen at Everyday Reading for years now, and I've never read a book she's recommended that I didn't like. She has little kids, too, so she often recommends picture books that I check out for Henry and Norah.

I like Janssen because she is completely honest about the books she reads. She'll give you a description of the plot, talk about what she liked, and even warn you if a story (or part of it) may be off-putting. She also puts summer reading guides together, which I find immensely helpful. I follow Janssen on Goodreads as well and often add books to my "to-read" list when she recommends them.

Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy is also a great book blogger, and I've gotten many suggestions for new books to read from her. And Amy at Sunlit Pages reviews mainly children's books, and I love seeing what she's reading or checking out for her five boys.

If you don't want to follow a book blogger or can't find one you identify with, find a friend who loves to read and has similar tastes. I like to ask friends for recommendations, and I really like to ask people I've just met what their favorite book is. It tells you a lot about that person.

Put books on hold immediately

If you get stressed out and aren't ready to commit a ton of time to reading yet, I don't recommend this one. However, one of the ways I challenge myself to read more is by putting several books on hold at the library when they're not available. If the waiting list is huge (I had to wait about three months to get my hands on Talking as Fast as I Can), this isn't usually a problem. It's just a way of ensuring you get to read the book when it's back in the library.

If the book unexpectedly comes back early, though, you may suddenly end up with three or four books at a time that you have to read quickly because the demand is high and you can't renew them. During the past month, I had four ebooks to work through on my phone and then two more hard copies that I actually picked up from the library. Luckily I was able to renew one of them, but I had to plow through the others pretty fast.

It's fun to have a stack of books you know you get to read, because you immediately have something else to start on once you finish one book. It also helps you push yourself and carve out time during the day to read when you know your books are due.

Make reading an important part of your day

I believe there are seasons of life, and you will have more time to yourself during certain seasons than you will in others. When Henry and Norah were newborns, I didn't make time for reading. I ended up falling asleep when I would try to focus on words, and I had to learn how to reorganize my time. I now have more time to read because they're older and because I spend about an hour total on the train commuting to and from work.

Even if you think you don't have time to read, though, I promise that you can carve out chunks of time if you're really committed to it. If you spend 10 minutes scrolling through Facebook or Instagram each morning when you first wake up, download an ebook that you can read instead and hide the social media apps if you have to. Listen to an audiobook while you're getting ready in the morning or while you're working out. Limit your Netflix time to an hour a day (or less) and read when you'd otherwise be watching TV.

If reading is important to you, you'll make time for it -- but hopefully these tips are helpful! And if you have a fantastic book you've read lately, I'm all ears.

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Thanks for sharing your beautiful thoughts! I love reading them.