I used to think I hated reading. I know, I know… you’re about to clutch the pearls!
Reading and (more importantly) telling everyone what you’re reading right now is so on trend, right? I mean now more than ever— readers are celebrated on Pinterest boards and podcasts alike. They’re rewarded with great swag like scarves made up quotes from “Pride and Prejudice” to witty library totes that proclaim, “Not tonight, I’m reading”.
Open up your Instagram feed and you’ll find your favorite Bibliophile wearing these momentos with a certain literary smugness as they head out to the library or book club. The world needs to be super impressed because on Dec. 31 they met their Goodreads goal last year like the book bosses they truly are.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t meet a single book related goal in 2017.
I mean, I wrote a book, but read a whole one cover to cover… nope. Not at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I did read last year, but most of my reading was for study. The only book I read last year that I can remember actually reading (not listening to because there is a difference, y’all) was something sent me on Kindle for review.
I did not seek out books and nor did I make it a priority. Instead of feel shame about this, I sat down towards the end of the year and examined why my reading life has suffered.
I came to terms with something I think I always knew but didn’t want to admit because I feared the bookish internet would come for my library card—I am an easily distracted reader.
I sit down with a book and immediately my mind goes to my to-do list or re-hashing an argument with my husband or how the author’s description of the hero reminds me of the super hot lead in that new medical drama on NBC. My mind rarely stays on the page.
So instead of setting myself up for failure this year with a book count and a reading challenge, I decided to do one thing: make peace with the distractions.
The truth is, we are surrounded by distractions—our phones, our kids, or homes— all vie for our attention.
Unless I take to the woods like Thoreau and even still while I wander, I’ll notice the distractions: hello little squirrel! How are you today? My, you have a ton of energy…I wonder how many calories a squirrel burns scampering up and down trees… how many calories are in a nut… am I eating about healthy fats… oh I could really go for some almonds right now…
See, my friends. Distractions. Everywhere. Especially when I’m reading.
And yet there’s something magical about the page.
It transforms our minds and opens our hearts, so I’ve come up with these five hacks to take control of my brain that feels like I’m herding squirrels every time I sit down with a book in my lap.
Usually one or two of these are enough to help me focus so that I can get lost in the book.
Learn about the book before you read it
Because I’m such a nerd, I like to know as much as I can about the book before reading it.
So, I take a few minutes to google the author and the book. Sometimes, I find a podcast, interview, or book reading to help give me some context about the book.
I like podcasts where the author is interviewed or book club discussion—they give me an opportunity to connect with the author and other readers on an emotional level. That emotion and relational investment I’ve made with the author makes me want to dive back in and focus on the book.
To find a podcast that features a book, I use the iTunes podcast app (because it has the best search function), and then I’ll type in the name of the book and listen to the top-rated results.
Create a Reading Commute
Last month when I went to Canada to speak, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane simply because I was out of my regular environment, I had lots of waiting time, and I was on a three-hour flight each way.
I’ve noticed I’m less distracted when I travel, so if I want to replicate this in my life to help me get through a book, I’ll choose a coffee shop that is a good drive away from my home — enough that it feels like an adventure but close enough to make it back home in time for school pick up and schedule a couple of hours a week to read!
When we lived in Boston, it was not uncommon for me to just jump on the train and ride it to the end of the line simply to get in an hour or two of reading while the kids were in school. I’ve given up driving on longer trips so that I can read.
Start With the Audiobook
Sometimes, it's really helpful to have a voice in my head of the narrator. This is why I love the “sample” feature of Audible.
With a copy of the book in hand, I’ll look up the audio version of the book, start the sample, and follow along. It personalizes the story and helps me make connections to people I may know who remind me of the characters.
Read Out Loud
I was sitting on the plane when I noticed that was making my grocery shopping list in my head instead of reading the words on the page. This happens to me often, sometimes the author will mention something— in this case, it was eggs, and off my mind went, planning a list.
I really hate that feeling of re-reading the same page over and over again because my mind is drifting. On the plane, I actually started reading the chapter under my breath until I was invested in the story again.
Sure, the person next to me gave me the side eye- but that’s ok! Science has proven that we retain more information when we read out loud—plus it’s really fun to do the voices.
Get a Small Win
If I’m reading a new author, especially one whose style or voice is different than I’m used to, I’ll clock in a small win for me by reading short stories or essays written by this author before diving into their 400-500 page novel.
This is how I started with Gillian Flynn. Before reading Gone Girl, I read The Grownup in one sitting. Once I got a sense of her syntax, then picking up Gone Girl felt like reconnecting with an old friend who has a new story to tell me.
Sometimes, you can combine audio with this short story hack by listening to Levar Burton Reads. He has an amazing voice and well-produced shows of his favorite short stories. If this hack intrigues you, listen to a short story and if you find one you love, then look to see if the author has a longer work for you to dig into.
Reading is vital to me living wholeheartedly.
Reading is an on-ramp for peace and the making of it in our everyday lives.
Reading stories from new perspectives reminds us of our shared humanity.
If there’s one thing our world needs more of, it's people who remember our humanity and protect it fiercely. Reading helps us get there.
If you’re like me and you are a distracted reader, try out my hacks and let me know what has helped you. I’m always looking for more ways to not conquer, but make peace with my distraction because the world is full of buzzes, beeps, and squirrels.