How to read more, or make more time for reading

Films to Read Before You Die | Out October 2021

Want to make more time for books, rediscover a love of literature, or feel more informed? Here are five ways to flex your reading muscle.

1. Don’t fight the internet

Most of us spend a lot of time on the internet [hello to you, too]. But if even a fraction of your online attention is spent on written content, you may be reading more than you get credit for.

The thing about reading online is that it develops a context-specific skill. It’s great for quick bursts of info gathering (or for sating emotional triggers). You probably scroll and skim rather than linger over sentences, and flit between notifications, ads, links and background TV or radio.

This is useful for filtering lots of information quickly – but it’s a hindrance if you want 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. Project Gutenberg has tons of free titles, though many online booksellers offer freebies and discounts.
  • ‘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 a personal device for free. Again, don’t feel guilty about choosing popular topics over classics.

2. Listen more

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

Local libraries are worth checking out. Many have an audio book catalogue that members can borrow from for free. You can also listen to free audio books via some Radio stations (online or by app) or on YouTube.

Podcasts count, whether they’re story series, explainers or in-depth discussions. These are an effective way to digest (often complex) content, and can be easier to understand and retain. Podcasts about books can stoke your interests and help you find recommendations, too. Have a look at RadioPublic, or your favourite podcast platform.

3. Read to win arguments

It’s possible to have the time, means and love of reading, yet still lack the will to 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 look for clues (good for developing mindful or careful reading, too). For instance:

  • Pick a book that’s been turned into a film or series. Which does a better job and why? Watching the movie first means you’re already familiar with the plot and context, so reading can feel like less work, too.
  • 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 (this essay about Jaws explains more).
  • 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. 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 is a skill we need to practice or build up to (especially 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 pick something different for your next session.
  • Give short or alternative content a go. 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.
  • Flex around your other habits. If you prefer TV, for instance, try reading through adverts or trailers.

5. Be different

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 of uncovering stuff you might 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 popular.

This is where real-world browsing has the advantage. It’s easier to stumble across new interests in local book stories and libraries. Or ask friends what their favourite titles are, then check them out for yourself.

The last word

Maybe you don’t have to read more. Sometimes life is overwhelming enough on its own. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t read Finnegans Wake this year, or if you don’t have reading goals at all.

Reading alone won’t make you healthier, wealthier or more attractive. Yes, even the self help books that promise to make you any or all of those things. It’s OK to have other interests, or prioritise other things. Reading will still be there when you’re ready.

Picture credit: Seven Shooter