The habits that helped me read 81 books in one year
So many of my friends complain that they WANT to read, but have been unable to stick to a book that holds their attention.
The saddest part is — many of them USED TO BE readers in school, but have gotten so engrossed in the world of blog posts, TV shows, and infographics online, that they have no time for books.
To be honest, till 2018, I was on the same boat.
All my life, I’ve been a reader. When I was a child, I used to borrow three books from the school library each week and make it a point to finish them. But then, college happened, and with it, came so many burdens I was unable to shake off my shoulders — assignments, exams, tutorials, classes — burdens that left no time for reading.
After college, when I started working, there was even lesser time to devote to what had been my first love. In fact, there were a few years in between where I barely read 5 books. I had no energy, no motivation, and what had been a part of my identity, slowly got reduced to being nothing more than a luxury — one that I would prioritize lesser than watching a movie or going out with friends.
But, I missed reading.
I missed losing myself in the worlds created by other authors. I missed visiting different places and introspecting about life from the lessons my favourite characters learned. I missed highlighting sentences, copying them down in a notebook, treasuring words like they were my personal vault of untold wealth. I missed skipping sleep and lying awake till 5 AM because the story was too good to abandon mid-way. I missed falling in love with men and women that never existed anywhere else other than the collective imaginations of a host of readers worldwide.
And so, I decided I would get my reading back on track; I would re-discover my love for books.
In 2018, I set a modest goal of finishing at least 20 books before the year was done. And by December, I had read 24. In 2019, I decided to up the game and set a target of 40 books. But by the time the year was done, I had completed a whopping total of 81 books. This translates to finishing one book in less than 5 days!
2019 was the most productive year (reading-wise) in my adult life, and, to be honest, there was no magic to it. Just a simple formula I stuck to with dedication.
In this article, I am going to share my secret with you. If you had been a reader in your childhood but lost track of your reading habit as you grew older, this article is for you. It will help you get back to reading. Or, if you are a newbie looking to start reading, this article is going to help you get introduced to the magical world of books.
But before we start, here is a screenshot of my completed reading challenge on Goodreads — just a small reminder to show you that if I can do it, so can you!
When it comes to reading books when you haven’t read anything in a long time, the task seems daunting. Sometimes, it might seem so overwhelming, that you might feel like giving up before even starting. A productivity hack I follow goes this way: always start with the simplest component of the task. When it comes to reading, the simplest component, of course, has to be picking a book to read.
Pick a book that lies in your comfort zone
Or, in other words, choose a genre you are familiar with. You can even pick up a book you had loved and re-read it. That should get you started without too many speed bumps.
I have always been a lover of fantasy fiction, and so, when I needed to get out of my reading slump, I picked Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. The books were well-written enough to make me want to continue and fast-paced enough to keep me turning the pages until I knew how the whole saga spanning more than 1500 pages came to an end.
Make sure the book is interesting
For someone who wasn’t much of a reader, the best bet is to pick a book that is interesting enough to hold your interest. You should choose a genre that really fascinates you — it could be fiction or non-fiction. You can even start with a short book — one that will not require a huge investment of time (so you do not have the mental block that reading a book is a huge deal). I have written an article compiling 10 short books you can finish in one day. You might find one suited to your taste.
Be Prepared To Make Sacrifices
If you are someone like me who has a short attention span, sticking to a book you started can be a daunting task. There are, after all, so many distractions infinitely more rewarding than reading a book.
To make sure I did not give in to distractions, I made some serious sacrifices. I gave up my subscription of Netflix so I do not resort to watching a movie that I know would give me instant gratification. In addition to that, I had started living alone since 2018. My new house did not have a television or an internet connection. In the first few months, I had nothing better to do than to lie on the couch with my nose buried in a book. Alone that I was, the stories kept me company, and by the time I got a high-speed internet connection, I had already fallen into the habit of reading at least a few pages each day.
Discover the Magic of EBooks
Contrary to claims that reading eBooks is bad for one’s eyesight, reading eBooks can be pretty fun if you do it the proper way. I invested in getting myself a Kindle. As this article by Health Guidance confirms, the e-ink screen of the Kindle does not strain the eyes.
The great thing about the Kindle screen is that it doesn’t use light to light up the pixels, but rather ink, or ‘e-ink’ as Amazon calls it. The ink is then simply arranged on the screen where the pixels are and this creates the image. This all then means that reading a Kindle screen is actually just the same as reading from normal paper.
I also invested in Kindle Unlimited — a service offered by Amazon where a user pays a monthly subscription fee of $9.99 and can read any book from a vast library of over 1,000,000 eBooks available on their website. This kept me busy, and whenever I found some time off, I devoured books on my Kindle.
Reading while having meals
Since I live (and hence eat) alone, this is a good way to pass the time. Reading paperbacks while eating isn’t easy — turning pages is a real struggle without getting dirty stains on the paper. But, the user-friendly Kindle interface helps. Also, isn’t it great that you can simply poke a finger (or your nose) at the screen to navigate to the next page?
Reading before bed
I read lying on my bed at night with the lights turned out and a soft reading light by my bedside table. After I kept at it for a few days, it became a habit. Now, I find it difficult to go to sleep at night if I don’t read at least a few pages before bed.
Make Friends With Audiobooks
Audiobooks are a great investment because they ensure you can “read” a book while actually working on other things. Also, for someone who is starting out as a reader, focussing on written words for long periods of time can be a real struggle. In such cases, audiobooks come to the rescue, especially if the narration is of high quality. Listening to one is akin to watching a movie unfold in your mind’s eye. In fact, I believe this is an experience every reader should experiment with for at least once.
For my birthday in 2019, I gifted myself a Storytel subscription. It is a phone app that lets you listen to a wide range of high-quality audiobooks (if it isn’t available in your country, you can try Amazon’s Audible. They have a wider range of choices and the quality is top-notch. Another great app for reading eBooks as well as listening to audiobooks is Scribd. Both these apps offer a free trial of 30 days before you need to pay a subscription fee).
Before this, my experience with audiobooks wasn’t good as I kept getting distracted. But this time around, I listened to them while doing the most mundane of tasks like ironing clothes, cooking, or doing the dishes — chores that did not require the highest level of concentration so I could devote a lion’s share of it to the book playing out in my earphones.
This not a paid promotion, but trust me when I say this — the quality of audiobooks on these apps is superb. The narration makes you “see” the story playing out in front of your eyes. The feeling is akin to watching a play where you are the only spectator.
Also, since I have to drive almost half an hour daily to work, audiobooks became my new best friends. To my delight, I completed 6 audiobooks in less than two months.
Explore Various Genres
Like I mentioned before, I have identified as a fantasy fiction aficionado all my life. Though it remains favourite genre, epic fantasy novels take time and effort to plod through. The books are HUGE (1000+ pages must be the average), exhausting, and often leaving me craving for some relaxation right after. In 2019, I utilised this “break” to wrap up some light reads.
2019 was also the year when I started being active on Twitter. I discovered the extremely talented #IndieAuthors of the #WritingCommunity which made me discover so many new books. Most of these books by the indie authors were novellas and the difference in their writing styles made the reading an amusing and enriching experience.
Through #IndieApril (a time when everyone who is participating drops whatever they are reading to pick a book published by an independent author), I explored several quick, light reads. It took me some time to find the perfect balance between books I wanted to read and books that I read to fill the voids, but, eventually, I found my pace. Spacing out fantasy reads in between bouts of non-fiction, biography, or romance not only sated my craving for light reads but also introduced me to a vast range of great writers and amazing books. In the screenshot of my reading challenge below, you can see that I have read motley genres, including poetry, crime thriller, children’s fantasy, and biography.
Some Other Steps That Helped
Apart from the above, I did a number of “minor” things that helped me stick to my promise of getting back to being a reader. The trick behind all these was to make reading a part of my routine and not treat it as something to be done “when the time is right”.
Social media accountability
The social media platform most suited to book lovers is, without doubt, Goodreads. A neat little trick I followed was that whenever I started a new book, I marked it as “Currently Reading” on Goodreads. This created a sense of accountability. Although I know no one is keeping track of whether or not I finish the books I start, having made an announcement online made the borderline-control-freak in me want to stick to that commitment, come what may.
I joined a local book-club in my city — Guwahati. But, if you are not aware of the book clubs in your city, there are a lot of online book clubs too. All you’ve got to do is search for the hashtag #BookClub on Instagram and you will find a list of posts by members. When you find one suited to your taste, you can message one of the members that you want to join too.
The role Book Clubs play is that they select one book each month (or week or fortnight — depending on the convenience of all members) and have periodic discussions about sections of the books. These “read-alongs” worked wonders for me. The feeling of not being alone in my reading adventure made me more excited about finishing the designated sections so I could take part in the enlightening discussions that followed.
TBRs (To-Be-Read lists)
I made a TBR each month and wrote it down in my journal. For this, I chose a few books at the start of the month and listed them according to the order I would read them. This not only helped create a sense of accountability but also helped save time otherwise spent in deciding which book to pick up next after I was done with my current read. Of course, it is not possible to stick to your TBR all the time, but it definitely serves as a guideline.
Understanding it is okay to abandon a book
Not every book you start needs to be finished. While some books might have a riveting blurb and kickass reviews on all platforms, it might just not be “your cup of tea”. It is completely okay to abandon a book halfway. Don’t let the guilt stemming from accountability force you to keep plodding through a book even if your heart isn’t in it.
Using a physical dictionary
After reading for a few months, I discovered a pattern: whenever I Googled for a word’s meaning, I ended up opening ten other tabs and/or checking for notifications on my social media apps. I found that a way around this problem is to use a physical dictionary. Not only did this bring back memories from my school days, but it also helped save unnecessary time spent in scrolling through my phone.
Keeping a book with me all the time
I kept a book with me wherever I went — be it a physical book, one on my Kindle, or an audiobook on my phone. This ensured that whenever I was stuck in traffic or a boring meeting, I always had a book to resort to.
Designated reading space at home
I decorated my reading nook with fairy lights and comfortable cushions — so that whenever I came to that spot, my brain was prepared that it would do nothing but read. Usually, I kept my phone away and concentrated only on the book. A reading nook not only makes for great Instagram-worthy pictures but also helps make sure there are no distractions around.
How Reading Changed My Life
There were palpable upsides of reading so much. Here is a list of all the positive changes I noticed in my life-
I wrote a detailed review of each book as soon as I was done with them. This kept my Goodreads profile updated and helped me connect with other reviewers on the platform. The reviews I wrote were combinations of a summary of the book and the key points I enjoyed. So, whenever I remembered some important parts from the book and a re-read felt like too much effort, I could always go through the review for reference.
Making new friends
I discovered new writers on the Twitter #WritingCommunity and made friends with several indie authors whose books I enjoyed. Apart from that, the book clubs that I joined introduced me to a bunch of interesting people I know I would like to keep in my life.
Because of the several genres I indulged in, my head felt like a constant buzz of new and interesting ideas. This is a feeling I was used to back in school but had long since forgotten. I am so happy I could recreate this magic by rediscovering the joys of being a regular reader.
The reviews were an excuse to write more. In fact, I was more active on Medium in 2019 than before. Several of my blog ideas were inspired by the books I had read. I also wrote short stories and poems based on the emotions this bunch of new books made me feel. This was my fringe benefit, but you’ll find your own when you read more books.
Tools Mentioned in This Article
- 10 Books You Can Binge In One Day by Anangsha Alammyan
- Kindle Screens and Your Eyes by Theodoros Manfredi
Here are a few book recommendations to get you started-
For more book reviews, follow me on Goodreads.