When I was 11 I won a year-long reading competition at school for reading the most books of anyone in my year.
In 2013 I read 7 books. I don't remember how many books I read to win that competition, but I have no doubt it was many more than 7.
Do you remember when you were a kid, and you took your book everywhere? Remember your parents telling you to put your book down in the car so you wouldn't get car sick, or to put it away when you were eating dinner? Remember how you learned to read a book while you walked, so you wouldn't have to wait to find out what happened while you walked to school, or even from room to room in your house?
I was like that. And these days, I do that with my Twitter and Instagram feeds more than books. But lately I've been getting engrossed in books again, and I've found myself propping my Kindle up in the bathroom while I floss (a good way to make flossing less boring), and reading while I'm walking up and down the stairs in my house.
Getting that feeling back, of not being able to put down a book because I'm so completely enthralled by it, has made me realise what I've been missing about reading.
Since then I've worked hard to build a daily habit of reading, and managed to finish 33 books in 2015. I'm currently on track to beat that number again this year.
These are the things that helped me most when I was trying to read more.
Carry a book everywhere
A common suggestion for reading more is to carry a book with you all the time, and open it at any opportunity. I tend to read books on my Kindle, so I don't carry physical books around with me. I don't carry a bag when I leave the house most of the time, so I tend to just carry things that fit in my pockets, like my phone and wallet. But Amazon has a Kindle app for iPhone, so I can effectively carry my book around all the time, in my pocket.
I'm used to looking at my email, Twitter, or RSS feeds when I pick up my phone, so I had to really retrain myself to default to opening the Kindle app before anything else. I also have to remember to make sure the book I'm currently reading is downloaded to my phone. Thankfully, downloading a book and syncing to where I'm up to on my Kindle are both quick, so I never feel like the wait is too long.
I put the Kindle app on my home screen to encourage me to open it more often. These days, whenever I get out my phone while I'm on a train, or waiting for one, or noodling around wasting time at home, I open up my book.
I also keep the Audible app on my phone with a book ready to listen to any time. This comes in handy for those times when it's not convenient to use my hands to hold a book, like when I'm walking, shopping, or doing housework.
I "read" audiobooks much slower than regular books, because I don't pick them up as often, but I do add a few extra books per year to my tally this way.
Read books you're excited about
I used to try to read books that I thought I should read. Not that I wasn't interested in them, but they often didn't capture my attention, so I had to really work at reading.
These days, I work harder to choose each new book I read so reading doesn't feel like a chore. Not every book I choose is great, but putting in more effort to figure out what type of books I like best and which ones are similar to my previous favourites helps me have a better chance of enjoying each one I try.
I harp on about this approach to building habits a lot, but that's because it works so well for me.
When I decided to focus on building a habit of reading every day, I started with a tiny habit: I tried to read just one page of a book every day.
That's obviously a very slow pace, but most days I read more than that. One page was just my minimum, so that on those days when I was too tired to read before bed, or I didn't manage to fit it into my day, I could keep building the habit of reading with just a single page.
And over a few months I did build that habit. Now I read pretty much every night before bed, without having to think about it.
I also read in the morning, or sometimes in the afternoon when I want a break from work. I've managed to fit reading into my day in all kinds of nooks and crannies, but I started with just one page per day.
Build it into your day
Reading any time you have a spare five minutes can help you read more, but it's not enough to be your whole reading habit. Reading takes time. To double how much you read in a year, you need to build the time for reading into your day, and protect it.
After I shower and get dressed in the morning, I read while I eat breakfast. Josh is a night owl, so he's still in bed early in the morning when I get up. The house is quiet, I can occupy myself however I like, and it's a perfect time to get an extra half hour of reading in.
I used to schedule this time, and try to make sure I read for half an hour each morning, but by reading books I'm more excited about (see above) and making morning reading a habit, I've fallen into a natural pattern of reading while I eat, then continuing on until I've read for around half an hour.
Books I love
These are some of the books I love most, and would read again. I didn't rate all of these books 5/5, but each one was worth reading either because of how entertaining it was, or because it taught me something and made me think differently.
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- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
- The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
- Slapstick or Lonesome No More!, Kurt Vonnegut
- The Martian, Andy Weir
- The Blind Side, Michael Lewis (This book made me love American football.)
- Room, Emma Donoghue (I watched the movie first, and loved it. The book is just as good.)
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
- Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, Pamela Druckerman (So many great ideas about parenting in this book. I'll definitely read it again.)
- Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag, Michael Tonello (I don't care about luxury fashion, but I enjoyed this book regardless. It's not especially well written, but the story is great.)
- Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature, Mark Earls
- Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Julia Serano (My first introduction to a lot of transgender ideas, and a powerful read about gender stereotypes and sexism.)
- Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan (It's terrifying to think this could happen to anyone. Susannah's story is like a car crash: you can't look away, despite the horror.)
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield (This book pulled me out of a rut and made me go after the work I really wanted to do. It's about writing, but its message applies equally to any kind of art.)
- This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett (A series of essays that made me want to be best friends with Ann.)
- This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, edited by John Brockman
- NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, Po Bronson (More fascinating stories about parenting and how children learn.)
- The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, Kevin Roose (Having been on both sides of this debate, I found it surprisingly fascinating to read about a liberal college kid exploring the world of evangelical Christians.)
- Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, Amy Ellis Nutt (An eye-opening story about what it's like to be transgender.)
- Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, John Medina
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory , Caitlin Doughty (This book really made me think differently about dead bodies, and exposed some of the weird ideas and rituals we have around death and burial.)