How to change up your reading life

How to introduce more reading to your life and finding what to read seems to me like a chicken/egg problem. You’re not going to read more without having books to read but if you have books to read you also need a plan to get the reading done. So this is going to be a two part series and I’m going to arbitrarily pick which part to start with (the other part will come next Tuesday).

Part 1 – How to make changes to your reading life

I was the kid who always had a book in her hand. I would check out a stack of books from the library and tear through them after I got home. Libraries and bookstores continue to be a place of joy and excitement for me. But there was a period of my life when reading took a backseat (college, working, then working in Philadelphia and commuting 3 hours per day, and having small children). It got to a point where I knew that I missed reading and had to be mindful about how to incorporate it into my life again.

Here’s a list of ways you can be more mindful changing your reading life:

Set a goal – This goal could take any number of forms. Think about how you like to approach challenges and adapt that to your reading life. When I ran my first marathon, the thought of running 26.2 miles completely overwhelmed me. So my friend and I looked at the course map and broke it down to 7 milestones (places where I’d see my family, notable landmarks, etc). I could wrap my brain around just having to be 7 places much more easily than I could having to cover 26.2 miles. So if the thought of picking a “number of books” goal intimidates you, then choose something else.

A few examples of reading goals:
• Number of books – reading XX books per year/month
• Number of pages – reading XX pages per year/month
• Books on a topic – When I was in Key West a few years back visiting Hemingway’s house I had wished I had read some of his books and books about him before I went. What do you have coming up that you can read up on before you experience it?
• Back catalog of a favorite author – If there’s an author you enjoyed at one point, see if there are books of his/hers that you haven’t read yet.
• Number of minutes per day – Aim to read 5, 10 or more minutes per day. Use one of the strategies introduced by NAME HERE in Atomic Habits – attach that activity to one that is already a habit. For example, read 10 minutes right after you pour your morning coffee, or 10 minutes before your kids get off the bus.

Reading challenge – I’ve talked before about the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenges and the RAD Reading Challenge. I’m sure our friend Google would link you to many more options if you’d like to explore. I prefer a structure similar to this year’s RAD Reading Challenge because it encourages you to explore genres and types of books that may be out of your comfort zone. Last year I read 11/22/63 for this type of category in my reading challenge and LOVED it. I had always thought that I would never read a Stephen King book but I’m glad I pushed myself to try it.

Buddy read – I’m much more successful at reaching goals when I know there’s someone/something holding me accountable. Some days I’ll even text my to do list to a friend just to help keep myself on track. One way to do this with reading is to read the same book as a buddy or to just share your goals with each other and report in on them.

Book club – I know some of you are rolling your eyes right now at the words “book club,” but in the age of Covid they’ve taken on some interesting forms. Local book clubs may still be an option, but lots of businesses and organizations are offering discussion groups now too. Check your local independent book store, your college alumni association, and favorite magazine websites for read-together options. And on a much bigger scale there’s always our friends Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Jenna Bush Hager (from the Today Show) who have well known book clubs. Even some of my favorite bloggers and podcasters are hosting monthly reading groups. Lots of options!

What other strategies can we add to this list? I’d love to do a part 2 with your input!

And a caveat:
As with making any change, give yourself some grace. Life happens and missing one piece of your reading goal is not something to stress about. They don’t call it “reading for enjoyment” for nothing. Meeting your reading goal shouldn’t be stressful, it should be exciting. Along those same lines, if a book isn’t serving you or giving you joy, it’s ok to put it down. As you are discovering what you like to read, you’ll have some hits and some misses. If you know 75 pages in that something is amiss, don’t feel like you need to finish the next 200 pages. Put it down and make note of why that book wasn’t the one for you. All of these pieces of information will refine your reading preferences and help you be more accurate about your picks in the long run. I wrote about how I did that in this post. At this point, I don’t put books down often because I have a better sense of what I like and what I think I won’t like. Finding your preferences is a journey.

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