I have a confession. School briefly killed my love for reading. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the books that I was assigned to read in high school and college—some of my favorite books are books I eagerly dissected in essays and class discussions. My life was just so full of stress, assignments, and mini existential crises that the idea of reading a book that I picked up of my own volition seemed ridiculous.
I’m saying this as someone who used to get in trouble for reading Inkheart under her desk when her fifth-grade teacher was teaching the class division. I always have and always will adore stories, but for a while, reading for pleasure was just not something that I had the time or energy for.
Fast forward to a few months past college graduation. My friend has previously recommended Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children to me, probably a year prior. In multiple conversations, she had told me how unique and wonderful the story was. Well, now that I had graduated and had time on my hands to read for fun again, I figured I might as well start there.
It was surprisingly difficult to sit down and focus on getting into the story—not because the writing wasn’t good, but because my attention kept wandering to my phone. I also needed to have enough patience to keep with the story, to wait for the plot to pick up and pull me in.
This post is a loose step-by-step guide for everyone out there who, like me, used to be an avid book reader, and wants to learn how to love reading again. This post is also for anyone who maybe never loved reading, but is willing to give it a try.
Let me just say this: It’s worth it. I promise.
1. Find a book. A good book.
This step is vital, especially for the first book that you choose as your leaping off point to get back into reading. You need a story that’s going to pull you in and keep you desperately turning pages to find out what happens next, because I can guarantee your attention will probably try to wander at first, and you don’t want to have to do a lot of work to get into the narrative.
To find a good book, check out the NY Times bestseller lists and book award lists. Talk to a friend to see what they’ve been reading. Think about the last really good movies you saw, and see if they’ve been adapted from books (the book will almost always be better). Check out book review blogs, or go to a bookstore and ask a bookseller to recommend you something.
2. Buy said book from a local bookstore.
I may be a bit biased, since I work at a bookstore, but not a lot of people know that buying books from Amazon is actually harmful to the publishing industry. Every time you buy a book from Amazon, a fairy forgets how to read (but seriously, they’re damaging the publishing industry and putting bookstores out of business).
3. Create a good reading environment.
Okay, so you have your shiny new or used book purchased from a bookstore, and now you’re ready to read. Now, this is important, if you’re phone-addicted like me. Put your phone on Silent or Do Not Disturb, and face it down. Better yet, turn it off or put it out of sight.
When I first got back into reading for pleasure, I developed a habit of opening my book to start reading, only to get a notification on my phone, and before I knew it I’d been scrolling through my Twitter feed for 20 minutes. Then I'd sigh, and think, Wow, I literally have a book in my lap and I'm on my phone. This should not be so difficult.
It takes self-discipline and practice to train yourself away from relying on your phone for distractions, but it’s very much possible if you have an excellent book on hand.
If you're someone who's on the go a lot, you can also download reading apps right to your smartphone, or listen to audio books. It's a great way to train yourself into looking to stories instead of social media for ways to occupy your brain.
Another key to creating a good reading environment is settling down somewhere cozy, with good reading light, and preferably far away from people who will try to talk to you and offer more distractions. In other words, become a book hermit for an hour or two, and let yourself slip into someone else's world.
4. Spread the love!
As you’re reading, or when you finish the book, an excellent thing to do is write a quick review on social media, Amazon, or Goodreads. It’s good literary citizenship, it gives authors the warm fuzzies, and it helps drive sales so publishing houses and authors have the resources to keep putting beautiful books into the world.
It’s also great to talk to friends and family about the awesome book you just finished—maybe you can even tempt a loved one into reading the same book, and you can be book hermits together!
5. Rinse and repeat.
Find another book as soon as you finish the previous one, so you maintain a consistent reading habit. Start collecting the names of authors you love, see what else they’ve written, and follow them on Twitter. Find what genres you enjoy, and maybe dip your toe into a genre you’ve never tried before. Be an explorer, and discover perspectives that you never considered.
There’s a huge world of books out there, and I can guarantee that there’s something out there that you’ll adore.
Have you had a similar experience of having to train yourself back into reading for pleasure? Can you think of any additional steps or tips that would help someone discover or rediscover a love for books? What special books helped foster your love for reading?
Writer, reviewer, bookseller, book nerd extraordinaire. Fiction reader at Waxwing Magazine.