I want to stick a fork in my eye when people tell me they ‘love reading’ but just don’t have the time. Life is so bloody exciting with all this sitting at my desk and looking at the Facebook and the Twitter. I get it. Who has time for anything anymore?
I want to take you (firmly, but not unkindly) aside. Your brain is starving, I want to say. Your brain is like the carnivorous plant in the Little Shop of Horrors.
I know all that! I can hear you yelling from behind your smarty-pants handheld devices. I know it’s good for me but where do I find the TIME? Well, here are some lifestyle hacks that will up your reading consumption, which will in turn help me to keep my eyeballs intact.
1. READ THE RIGHT THING
This means the right book for you right now, not what you think you should be reading. ‘Ulysses,’ anyone? Only if you want something heavy to knock in those coffin nails on your already atrophying reading habit. You need something fresh, new, sharp. You need something that you feel sorry putting down. Let me put it this way: If at any time Netflix or Instagram seem more compelling than your book, you’re reading the wrong thing. If you’re already reading the Right Thing, skip to point 21 and collect $100.
Decluttering is so on trend. Hop on the minimalist bandwagon and spring clean your bookshelf. Just because you don’t keep your leftover pizza boxes and newspapers from 1989 it doesn’t mean you don’t need an intervention. Be ruthless: pick out your favourite favourites and turf the rest: swap, donate, sell, upcycle.
3. A.B.B.: ALWAYS BRING A BOOK
You know what it’s like to be stuck at the airport / home affairs / doctor’s waiting room with nothing but bad coffee and sandwiches that taste like yesterday’s cereal box. This is why you Always Bring a Book. As Stephen King said: ‘Books are a uniquely portable magic.’ If you’re reading the right book, you may even be disappointed once the receptionist finally mispronounces your name.
4. STEP AWAY FROM THE PHONE
The combination of social media and smart phones are Kryptonite to books. But what about right now, this second, you’re reading this post, aren’t you? Er, okay, hang on. I never said that you should give up your feed altogether. Of course there are articles and blog posts of superior quality and worth *ahem* but there is a point where you cross over from worthwhile features into the sticky smelly Swampland of clickbait-y hell. We’ve all been there. One moment you’re reading a nuanced piece on the rescue and recovery efforts in Nepal, the next you’re looking at LOLCatz and your IQ points are flying out the window.
5. SERIOUSLY, LEAVE THE PHONE ALONE
Damn it, am I talking to fresh air here? I told you to put it down! Most of all, I’m asking you to put it down after 6pm. By 6pm you’ve had more than enough screen time (and picking fights with strangers on Facebook) for the day. The phone/tablet/TV’s blue light will corrupt your already foreshortened sleep time. Your tired head won’t notice the warning sign for the Swampland and you’ll just go trudging straight into the sinking sand like the crusty zombie that you are and the Death Eaters will inhale (what’s left of your) soul. Hey, you! Wake up from your daily trance. There is a better way.
6. READ A BOOK AT BEDTIME
Reading before you sleep relaxes your inner Crack Monkey. The one that wants to torment that same stressful thought loop over and over again until a vein pops out of your forehead and strangles you. It’s as simple as this: If you’re lost in some new magical narrative that you can’t put down, your inner ooga-ooga’s show gets cancelled. End of story. Sweet dreams, Crack Monkey.
7. DON’T LEAVE READING TILL BEDTIME
Wait, what? Didn’t I just say —? Look, if you’re only managing a paragraph a night before you fall asleep with your mouth open you’re only going to get through a novel or two a year, and God knows you’ll lose interest in the story no matter how brilliant the plot is, just because you’ve forgotten what happened in chapter 3 when The Very Important Thing Happened and now nothing makes sense and you don’t even know who’s narrating this scene and this book is rubbish and reading sucks tv is better OMG a maggot ate my brain.
You have to read at other times, too, preferably when the sun is shining and you’re not drooling. This is when you get the chunks read. This is when the magic happens. This is when you engage with the story and connect to the characters and get addicted to the chapters. This is when you promise yourself you’ll just read one more page before you do the laundry / water the withering orchids / feed the cats and then do none of the above until you get to the end of the book when you collapse into a heap and, despite the happy ending, cry because it’s finished.
8. GO ON HOLIDAY
No one needs another reason to go on holiday, but here is one anyway: Think of all that sunshine-y time to swallow a few books whole. With Piña Coladas. You deserve it. Even if you don’t deserve it, books will make you a better person and then you can retro-deserve it, which is almost the same thing.
Okay, so you really can’t go on holiday right now. I get it. This is real life, not some cutting edge time-travelling spec-fic fantasy. I’m disappointed in you, but we can work through it. To make it up to me, head to a coffee shop with your book. You’ll be amazed at how wonderful life seems after a couple of shots of caffeine, a pastry, and a compelling story. You’ll want to make it a habit.
10. MAKE IT A HABIT
Habits are the new Willpower. Get used to taking yourself out on reading dates. Cultivate some unplugged Me Time. Read a book for 20 minutes every day for 7 days in a row and you’ll never have to ‘find’ the time again.
11. GET A NANNY
Hold on, I hear a Yummy Mummy say, I can’t even remember the last time I went to the toilet alone because I always have a home-made gremlin dictator attached to one or both of my legs 24/7. I haven’t shaved my legs in 6 years. Look, If you don’t have anyone you can outsource your kids to, hire a nanny for a few hours. It may seem indulgent, but it will make you a better parent.
12. GO UNDERCOVER
If you are put off getting your book on in public because of what you are actually reading then you may want to make a dummy cover, or use a dust jacket from another book (Ha! You know you kept that copy of ‘Ulysses’ for a reason!).
13. PONY UP
Which book would you feel more impelled to read: a beautiful just-baked $15 paperback that smells like fresh ink and delicious dreams? Or a freebie book that your neighbour’s father-in-law’s cousin-who-married-a-cousin wrote? Free books are usually free for a reason. Yes, I’m talking about you, nasty ebooks on Amazon for $0.00. (This of course does not include any of my free books on Amazon. They're pretty good.)
14. BORROW BOOKS
Okay, cheapskate: if you don’t buy then at least borrow well. A book mindfully lent to you because it is an absolute Must Read by someone who knows you extremely well is like gold. Except it’s better, because it’s free, so it’s more like free gold. Also, there is the pressure to finish the book and give it back so that you and the lender can discuss it over a bottle of Cab Sav Merlot, the benefits of which cannot be underestimated.
15. TRY SHORT STORIES
God knows you’ve tried to concentrate on your latest novel but your shrunken interwebz-trained mind just keeps reaching for an imaginary ‘refresh’ button. How about reading a short story? Apart from them being seriously in vogue this happening minute, it might be just the thing you need to ignite the dying embers that are your brain. Today, a short story. Tomorrow: well, who knows what incredible intellectual heights you’ll be able to achieve? We’re right behind you with a cup of tea and a glitter cannon. Mazel, mazel. Huzzah!
As you dip your toe in this wonderful warm water that is Reading Again, you may find that you’re not always in the mood for fiction / non-fiction / genre-bending what-what. Don’t be afraid to read more than one book at a time. Some days you crave wheatgrass shooters, other days you’ll knock someone out for their half-eaten cronut. Lick that powdered sugar off your lips and embrace being ambitextrous.
17. MAXIMISE YOUR READING PLATFORMS
Skin the proverbial cat any way that suits you: paperbacks, e-readers, audiobooks, podcasts. (Hey! Aren’t podcasts cheating? Not if you’re listening to something like New Yorker Fiction. There’s never been a more effortless way to consume some of the best short stories ever written. You’ll also get introduced to (and develop crushes on) writers you’ve: A) Never Heard Of; and B) Have Always Heard Of And Shamefully Never Read. *Oh, the shame, it burns*
18. JOIN A READING COMMUNITY
Whether it’s a local wine-inspired flesh-and-blood book club or an online community like Goodreads, once you get excited about a book it’s hard to not talk about it. Some of the best book reviews and recommendations I’ve ever received have been from non-Swampland-y Facebook groups called The Good Book Appreciation Society & Tracy Fenton's TBC.
19. TAKE A BOOK-READING CHALLENGE
I’m usually a sucker for challenges. It’s a character flaw. If you are, too, commit to reading a certain number of books this year. Be ambitious, but realistic. How about doubling your current consumption? 25 books? 50? Some stark raving mad people pledge to read a book a day for a year. However many books you decide on, make like a third-grader and keep a list to make sure you’re keeping up. If you fall behind, you’ll have an excuse to skip errands and pull weekend-long reading pajamathons to catch up.
20. GO POST-APOCALYPTIC LUXURY
Just for one night, pretend you’re living in the dark ages (IOW before wifi) or in a particularly bleak Cormac McCarthy novel. Instead of extreme maxi-multitasking your evening (catching up on series while on 3 different social media platforms while compulsively clicking your send/receive button as if it’s a Vegas slot machine) try, instead, to take it slowly. Unplug. Pour yourself a drink. Sit in your favourite chair. And read a book. You’ll be amazed at how very luxurious it feels.
21. COMMIT RIGHT NOW TO MAKING TIME TO FEED YOUR BRAIN
There’s no such thing as ‘not enough time.’ It’s a false concept. Time is actually all we have on this spinning blue ball. Everything else you have — your job, your Louboutins, your Marvel Comic Toy Collection — is temporary. You have time right now. You’ll have time right up until the day you die. YOLO MOFO! So commit to something worthwhile. Your braincells need to get busy living or get busy dying. In ‘The Hangover’ Chow’s words: “Sometime your heart stops. Start up again. Read a book.” If you won’t listen to Chow, listen to the plant, Seymour. Listen to your ravenous brain.
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