A stack of paperback books

Want to read more books this year, rediscover a love of literature, or feel more informed? Here are four ways to flex your reading muscle.

1. Don’t fight the internet

Worldwide, we spend almost 7 hours a day online on average – yet if even a fraction of that is spent on written content, we may be reading far more than we get credit for.

The problem with reading online is that it develops a context-specific skill. You acclimatise to short, quick bursts of reading. You probably scroll and skim rather than digest full sentences, plus get used to skipping between notifications, ads, links and background TV or radio.

This is actually a good skill to have, especially for filtering vast amounts of information quickly – but it’s a hindrance if you ever need to read in depth or at length. Suddenly reading or retaining information from a book or a long article seems like an uphill struggle … one you eventually attempt less and less.

The obvious answer might be to cut back on screen-time in favour of paperbacks and printed newspapers – but is that realistic? You already spend a chunk of your day online, and you’re probably pretty skilled at reading on a screen: the trick is to make it count.

Try this

  • Download an eBook – but don’t feel you have to go with classics or trending titles. Pick the same topics that grab your attention online (even celeb goss counts).
  • ‘Long read’ articles cover non-fiction in depth but in an entertaining way (and without the time commitment of books). Read for free via The Guardian newspaper or the Pocket app.
  • If your local library subscribes to PressReader you can read magazines and newspapers on your device for free (so no need to feel guilty about ditching content that doesn’t appeal).

The time you spend online or on social media still counts as reading; just remember to vary your sources and, if you need to, practice more active or focused reading.

2. Listen to more books

Audio books are booming (in popularity), and for good reason. They’re hands-free, so ideal for commuting, travelling or multi-tasking – and they appeal to our instincts for telling and listening to stories, whether bedtime yarns or water-cooler gossip.

Local libraries are worth checking out for this: many will have an audio book catalogue that members can borrow from for free. While access depends on your location, BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime or Book of the Week are brilliant for high quality book serialisations read by delicious voices.

Podcasts about books also have their place: they’re a good way to find new content and recommendations, or to hear opinions that make you want to read and decide for yourself. Have a look at RadioPublic, or your favourite podcast platform.

3. Read to win arguments

It’s quite possible to have the time, means and love of reading, yet still lack the will to actually sit down and read. So how do you find the motivation to read more?

One way is to treat your reading as an investigation, and to look for clues (as a bonus, this encourages more mindful, careful reading, too). For example:

  • If you’ve just finished a book, try to spot all the ways your current read supports or disagrees with the previous author.
  • Pick a book that’s been turned into a film or series and see how similar they are. Which do you think does a better job – and why?
  • Look for symbols or themes. Conflict is a good one for fiction, because it’s the source of all drama, whether in books, films or real life (more about that here).
  • Pick a subject you’ve argued about with friends or family and look for evidence that supports – or demolishes – your opinion.
  • Give yourself a tough or philosophical question, then try to find answers. i.e., Is it ever OK to steal? What causes global warming, and what should we do about it?

Looking for connections like this is a good way to nurture your reading habit and keep it alive.

4. Read more (full stop)

In the digital age, reading is an art. That doesn’t make it esoteric. It simply means that, for most of us, reading a skill we need to practice or build up to, especially if we want to get the most from it.

  • Practice staying focused. Put your device into airplane mode (or turn off notifications) and set a timer: start with just 2 minutes of uninterrupted reading and build up from there.
  • You don’t have to read a whole article or book. Commit to just 1, 5, or 10 pages – if you’re not hooked after that, set it aside and find something different for your next session.
  • Start – or even stick with – short content. Try short stories (the Penguin ‘mini’ collections are a joy), comics, or long read articles.
  • Make some of your article choices relevant to books – i.e., book reviews or literary discussions. It helps normalise book talk, and can help you discover new reads.
  • Working around your other habits means one less battle to fight. Read unapologetically through TV adverts, trailers or the front credits, for instance.

Last words

Being a reader doesn’t mean devouring War and Peace in a single sitting; it doesn’t even have to involve books at all. In fact, varying your material is good advice for readers of all abilities – perhaps more so now than ever.

That could mean seeking out content you’d usually avoid: graphic novels, chicklit – even newspaper columnists that set your teeth on edge. This isn’t just about tackling your reading prejudices; it’s a way to discover stuff you might actually enjoy.

The internet is home to a vast amount of content, yet most social media platforms and search engines are designed to show you more of what you already know, or what’s merely popular. Sometimes, you have to go further than this.

This is where real-world browsing rocks. It’s harder for bricks-and-mortar book stores and libraries to direct your reading, so it’s easier to stumble onto something new. Give it a go.