Reading—even for people who LOVE it—can be a hard process to follow. It doesn’t have to be. It won’t always be. But there will still be these moments for us all where it feels more like a chore than the actual privilege it is. During my bachelor’s degree, reading felt like a chore—it was cycling through hundreds of journal articles and dissertations, it was the last five minutes before my tutorial for that week’s genre focus (oops), and it was desperately trying to force myself to enjoy Jane Austen during what free time I had (when I really just wanted to sit back, eat some nacho cheese Doritos and watch Gilmore Girls [and the guilt only increases when you watch a book-hungry TV character like Rory Gilmore]). Strangely, it was just before I opted out of my honours degree—right around where I had barely any time at all—that I started actively enjoying reading again.
1. IF YOU’VE GOT TO FORCE YOURSELF, BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE LACKING
I hate Virginia Woolf—if hate is the right word to use here. I hate that my vocabulary isn’t strong enough for me to be able to fluidly (and without stopping to consult a dictionary every five seconds) understand her writing. I hate that I had to read about five or six of her books throughout the semester and then still have nothing to say during class discussions. Every week was torture trying to get through one of her books in just seven days and then have high-level, critical discussions on Woolf’s motives each time. I wanted to wave The Waves goodbye (though I didn’t want to flush Flush—possibly because it was like the easiest one to read). I’ve never been too keen on experimental fiction and the elements of postmodernism, and Woolf seemed to relish in it.
But I worked hard to not embarrass myself in each tutorial (I did anyway), and some of the main things that helped me get through each one was to recognise the areas I was struggling in:
Firstly, I could barely remember any of the characters
Secondly, the vocabulary was (in most books) far too complicated for me
Lastly, I knew nothing about any of her books and why to become invested in them.
The below tips were immensely helpful for my own sanity:
Scribble notes in the pages (whether it be meanings of particular words, what you feel at the time, or maybe even what you think the author was trying to do). If you're the sort of person that actually looks after their books, you could even carry a piece of paper inside of the book to scribble down on instead so the pages remain unsoiled.
Investigate before you start reading (why does everyone want you to read this book? What significance does it have? A.k.a. Why is it awesome?)
Keep a short record of recurring characters (who are they, etc., particularly their relation to the main character/s).
2. MIX UP YOUR READING LIST
If I’ve been reading a 1,500 page book of drama fiction, I sure as hell will not be as inclined to then read another book of that same length with the same drive as before. Really, I’d probably be looking for something short (super short, like 100 pages) and maybe even a different genre too—say, maybe, a collection of creative non-fiction essays. If I’ve been reading a classic, I could probably do with something contemporary, and vice versa. Whatever it takes to keep that reading muscle flexed. When you can always expect something different, mixing up length, genre and style plays a huge role in keeping you motivated to read.
3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THOSE IDLE TIMES DURING THE DAY
When do you find yourself completely unproductive? Maybe when you’re on the train to work and scrolling through your phone? Maybe when you're out to the doctors and find yourself waiting in a queue? Maybe when you’re waiting on a friend running a couple minutes late to lunch? Really, there are plenty of times during the day where our time could be easily filled by either picking up a book (I always keep a spare on me or in my car) or downloading something to read on your phone. There are always going to be small pockets of time during the day where you can pick up a book and get reading.
4. SOCIAL MEDIA DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE END OF READING
If you’re following writing blogs, magazines, and other pages that promote a lot of reading material (e.g. activist pages, bloggers, authors), the reading supply will be endless as long as you continue to actively seek it out. Follow the social media pages that make you want to learn more about what you like. Follow publishers and stay on a roll with what conversations and publications are currently trending. With a wider access to written content, you will continue to engage with reading online even while scrolling idly through your socials.
5. STAY INVESTED
One way to stay in love with reading is to keep yourself invested in why you’re passionate about reading in the first place. Keep in touch with your writing/reading community, whether it be online or off. Read about reading. Follow pages devoted to providing updates on award-winning books or uncovered gems. For me, following ‘bookstagram’ pages on Instagram keeps the hype up. Some of my favourite pages include writer @jemmawei, who often posts book reviews on her stories and @hotcocoareads, who has an amazing home library. Particularly with seeing people I admire online rave on and on about books (it doesn’t take much to market to me), it keeps me invested in what to read next. By connecting with like-minded readers, as well, you are basically given a cheat code into what books to read next (and maybe even what to avoid, despite the hype of the media).
I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve left out, so if you can think of another technique that’s worked for you, drop me a comment below!