I work at a small independent bookstore, and I have a confession to make…I don’t read.
Well, it’s not that I don’t read, but it is incredibly hard for me to finish a book. The ongoing joke between my co-workers is that I simply can’t read.
When some helpless customers land me as their bookseller, my advice tends to revolve around best sellers and recommendations I’ve heard from other people.
Why can reading feel like a waste of time?
For one, I’m surrounded by enticing titles and free Advanced Reader Copies, so staying with one book without getting distracted by another is incredibly hard.
You know, beautiful brand new books that no one has ever read. Books that aren’t even out to the public yet, just waiting to be discovered. It is a hard place to be.
The other problem is whenever I sit down to read, I’m plagued with the terrible thought that I’m wasting my time.
I could be cleaning the house, working out, playing with my dog – who is staring at me like I’m killing her softly with my lack of attention. The list goes on.
As a true multitasker, it is very hard for me to give all of my attention to one thing and even harder when that one thing is myself.
Taking time to read is taking time for yourself. The benefits of reading are far too many to list here and range from straightforward accruing of knowledge, to stress relief.
Many times, knowing the benefits is not enough to make us commit to sitting down and doing something. I know the benefits of yoga but that doesn’t mean I make that 6 am wake-up call to do it every day.
I decided last year that I wanted to make reading a priority in my life. To do so, I had to set myself up for success. Here are some simple steps that I had to put in place to overcome the feeling of wasting time while I read.
Ask ‘Why am I reading?’
Are you reading to stay ahead in your field? Are you reading for pleasure? Are you reading because you know you should?
If you are reading because you’ve heard successful people read, this may not be enough motivation for you. Reading stimulates the brain in many different ways, find the motivation that meets your needs and run with it.
Whenever that little voice in your head pops up to say, you’re wasting your time, you could be doing -insert other semi-important task here-, remember that you have a purpose, and taking this time is important.
Make sure the books you choose meet your interest and your needs.
Personally, super-literary titles that a bookseller should be interested in do nothing for me. The books that I finish are usually tragically sad (Delicious Foodsby James Hannaham, Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman, or What Belongs to Youby Garth Greenwell.) I find myself emotionally wrapped up in their stories so much that I must finish them to get them out of my head and move on.
Figuring out your literary taste is no simple task. If you have read the line ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of time,’ over and over again, and never learned why things were so good, yet so bad, maybe classics like, A Tale of Two Cities, aren’t for you. Go to your local bookseller and ask for a variety of different titles.
Many bookstores have staff picks. Try several different titles and remember the staff member who recommended them. Chances are, if you fall in love with one pick, that same staff person will suggest others you will fall for just as deeply. If you are reading for knowledge alone, there are still a gross variety of different styles.
Make reading goals.
Answer this question one more time, ‘Why do you read?’
I have several answers to this question:
- To stay up to date at work so I can add to the conversation with both customers and co-workers.
- To expand my vocabulary.
- To become a better writer.
For each of these goals, I create a reading list. Be careful to not over commit. If you know realistically you are not going to read a book a month for the next year, make sure your reading list does not exceed 6 or 7 titles.
Because I know my own tendency towards distraction, I’ve made a commitment to each book on my list. I will not start a new book until I finish the one I’m reading.
This is a rule I have set for myself. If you are trying to build a habit of reading, don’t stifle yourself. If a book is not grabbing you by the end of the first chapter, move on. There are plenty of more titles. Something will grab you and it will take you on a journey you will never want to end.
As with any list, there is a satisfaction in crossing those books off my list, and excitement in freeing myself up to get into another. If you are reading to expand your knowledge of European history start researching some of the best contemporary and classic titles.
Don’t get stuck in the history section, branch out into fiction that was written during or about that time. This will lead to a much more well-rounded understanding of the time and worldview.
Make your list. Get to it. Feel the satisfaction in checking that title off once you’ve finished.
Join a book club
Some people respond best to outside stimulates. When I have a group of people who are reading alongside me, and a deadline to finish a book, I am much more likely to pick it up and stick with it.
If you don’t know of any book clubs in your area, ask your local bookseller if they know of any that are taking new members. I keep a list on my desk of book clubs in town and customers seeking local book clubs.
This may just be a practice of small independent bookstores like The Morris Book Shop, but your local library may also be able to help.
No clubs in sight? Start one! I’m sure if reading more is a goal for you, it is for some of your friends as well.
Find a Bibliotherapist in your area.
We’ve discussed having a solid reason why you are reading. If you can’t find one, maybe you can take reading as your own personal therapy.
Bibliotherapy is an expressive therapy that involves the reading of specific texts with the purpose of healing. It uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy.
Here in Lexington, an ex-bookseller Alison Courtney has started a service to help people connect with books that will positively influence their lives.
While she is not a licensed Bibliotherapist she is extremely knowledgeable about the book industry new titles coming out and how those books may be able to help people through a variety of difficult situations in their lives. Hopefully, there is someone like her in your town as well.