Medium,  Reading

How I Got Back Into Reading After a Years-Long Break

Some ways to re-ignite (or spark) your reading habits.

I studied literature in college. Yep — you read that right! For anyone who loves reading like I did growing up, studying literature sounds like an absolute dream. I spent my days in and out of class reading books, writing about books, and talking about books (wash, rinse, repeat.) It honestly was a dream! But doing something because you have to do it for assignments and college credits versus doing something for the joy of it can eventually lead to burnout.

And after four years of reading and writing nonstop, I was burned out.

After I graduated I didn’t pick up a book for several years. I was faced with the dilemma of either picking up a book and turning my overly-critical scholarly eye to it and ruining the actual experience of reading, or sitting down with a book that had loads of scholarly merit but simply wasn’t enjoyable to read. It made reading for pleasure seem anything but pleasurable. Long gone were my days of laying on my bed for hours straight to finish a book in one day, only resurfacing for sustenance and bathroom breaks.

I had lost my love of reading.

The problem was, however, that I had those memories of my former reading-life in the back of my mind. I loved those days of reading a book straight through from start to finish in a matter of hours. I remembered bringing a book around with me in high school with fondness — I’d read before class, after class, at lunch, and whenever I had a spare moment of time (yes, you could have called me a nerd in high school and been quite accurate in your assessment, but that’s beside the point.)

I had lost my love of reading, but I hadn’t lost my love of the idea of reading.

So, after many unfruitful years spent watching Youtube videos or scrolling social media instead of picking up one of the many once-beloved books sitting sadly on my shelves, I decided to try reading again. And not only try, but figure out how to love it again.

And eventually, my love of reading returned.

If you’re like me and wish you could spend your free time with your nose buried in a book but don’t know where to start, then here are some ideas to re-ignite (or spark) your reading habits.

Go to the library

You don’t have to read books you already have on your shelves to get back into reading. You don’t even have to read what you have on that long list of books you’ve been meaning to dive into. You also don’t need to purchase the books you’d like to read (although there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s what you want to do.)

When I was getting back into reading, I knew I’d have to poke around to find books that I actually wanted to read. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read the classics — they were the books I’d studied long and hard in school and that I didn’t quite have the mental capacity for any longer— but I wasn’t sure I wanted to read some of the authors I used to love before I gained the knowledge of writing I had while in school. So that left me without a clue of where to start on my quest to gain back my love of reading.

This is where the library comes in. A library is a valuable tool because it’s a free way to read a million books and not feel guilty if you never finish a single one of them. You can try out different genres and authors without having to make much of a commitment other than a bit of your time. A win-win situation if you ask me!

Judge books by their covers

This is undoubtedly going to be the most controversial suggestion I have, but it’s one that I truly find works. One of the things I did when I went to the library on my mission to love reading again is walk up and down the aisles of the library pulling out books that caught my eye.

As a lover of historical fiction, this meant looking for the telltale covers of the genre that usually featured a woman in historical garb looking out a window or riding a train, or doing something equally historical and brooding. This method is actually how I found two of my favorite new authors whose books have given me hours of pleasurable reading — even some late nights as I couldn’t wait to finish the books, harkening back to my high school bookworm days.

I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with judging a book by its appearance. That’s why publishing houses spend good money on graphic designers and marketing teams to tastefully and beautifully create buzz around a book. Go for what catches your eye, but, of course, ultimately go for the story that catches your attention (after the cover undoubtedly catches your eye, first.)

Set aside time to read

You’re never going to get back into reading if you don’t set aside time to actually read the words on the page. For me, that’s the last hour before I go to bed. I’ve designated that hour as a screen-free zone where I curl up under a nice warm blanket — sometimes with a cup of tea and a cat on my lap — and devour my latest book obsession.

There was a time where I was literally forcing myself to make time for fifteen minutes of “fun” reading a day. Fifteen minutes is nothing! Surely you can find fifteen minutes. Most of us get fifteen minutes of downtime a day when we have our breaks from work. Take one of those fifteen-minute breaks to read a book (or listen to a book while you get in some of your daily step count.) I found that when I made fifteen minutes of time available for reading, I slowly wanted more. I went from fifteen minutes, to thirty minutes, to forty-five, and finally to my current one-hour allotment. And now I sometimes can’t put a book down after an hour and wind up reading until midnight (note: that is not my scheduled bedtime.)

Give yourself permission to put a book down

I used to think that I wasn’t giving a book a fair try if I didn’t finish it. I would force myself to read books that just weren’t interesting to me because I wanted the satisfaction of saying I finished it. But that made reading miserable for me! I was trying to get back into reading for fun, so in order for that to happen, I needed to read books that I liked. And you need to do that too!

It’s okay to say “forget it” to a book that simply isn’t intriguing you. If you’ve given a book a fair shake (say, 2–3 chapters) and it’s still not appealing, give yourself permission to put it back on the shelf, never to be returned to again. If you want to get in a habit of reading, then reading needs to be something you enjoy. So make sure that is the case by allowing yourself to say “no” to books that just aren’t your cup of tea.

Get to reading

If reading is a part of your 2021 goals, then you ultimately need to get to reading! There’s so much to be learned, experienced, and enjoyed by picking up a book. It might be hard to get into the habit of reading — especially if you haven’t been in that habit for years like I was — but it’s worth it to stick it out. I think we all want to be that person who reads. It’s a goal so many people have, so why not make this the year you fall in love with reading?

Previously published in Curious

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