At the age of 27, I can finally say that I have fallen back in love with reading.
After four years of a rigorous reading load in undergrad, two years of working full-time and attending grad school full-time, and six years of reading mostly foreign policy articles for work, I concluded that it wasn’t worth finding time for pleasure reading.
In school, I mastered the art of skimming. While convenient for long hours of seemingly endless reading in undergrad, and also the main reason why I could work and attend grad school full-time simultaneously, there was something distorted about this approach.
The days of reading mid-afternoon, sprawled out on my bed, cat at my feet, or under a tree in the house I grew up in, were long gone. And along with it, my love for reading.
This year, I set out to change that. At the beginning of the year, I decided to simplify my goals for 2019. I made only three. One of them was to read 30 books in a year.
We are well past the half-way point in the year, and I am pleased to report that I have read 19 books, and, more importantly, I have fallen back in love with reading.
In order to start on this quest, however, I needed to convince myself that re-learning how to love reading was a worthy goal. I came to the conclusion that it was for 3 reasons:
- The primary purpose of reading is to grow your soul and expand your imagination. While I believe this is the primary purpose, it was no longer the primary purpose in my pursuit of reading. Instead, I read for work or because I felt like I ought to be reading challenging books to grow intellectually and compete with others. Not particularly good motivations and I wanted to change that.
- Reading more improves your writing. I want to constantly improve my writing and there is literally no better way to do this than to write a lot and read a lot, especially if you’re reading a lot of good authors and trying to emulate their form.
- By only reading foreign policy and international relations literature, I was becoming a more intellectually unidimensional person. My Mom always told me that I was more than any single activity I pursued. That meant that I wasn’t only Olivia-the-ballerina or Olivia-the-pianist or Olivia-the-student. Each of these was one of the pie pieces that made up the Olivia pie. She always stressed that I should seek to be well-rounded. I wanted that for my reading.
Once I concluded that the goal was worthy, I set about the task. My tips for falling in love with reading are as follows:
- Set a manageable goal for yourself. For me, if it wasn’t somewhat big, I would go home and resign myself to watching Netflix ad infinitum. So I wanted something that I knew would push my limits. 30 books seemed reasonable given my busy travel schedule, which permits for long periods of reading on the plane. Other possible manageable goals could be reading 2 to 3 books in a month. Reading fifteen books in a season, like in the Fall. Or just committing to sitting down and finishing a single book in a month. If you need to start small, that’s fine, but make sure you have a timeframe in mind and share it with someone else to hold you accountable.
- Truly read books that you want to read. It sounds simple enough, but for me, it wasn’t. I’ve always felt pressure to read books that others would find impressive, books that I got to the end of and hated myself for reading (because of their difficulty level or subject matter or otherwise), books that I thought would make me in-the-know. This is so stupid, and frankly speaking, embarrassing. When I started the challenge, I told myself that instead of reverting to these self-flagellating ways, I was reading books because I wanted to read them. That meant no reading books because someone said I had to read them, or I needed it to glean some iota of foreign policy knowledge that would give me an edge, or because everyone was reading it. Friends, this is really liberating. I’ve read so many books, some that have completely changed my life, and others that I just really enjoyed reading. The latter category of books were relaxing and I still benefitted from reading them because they expanded my thought life even if they weren’t especially intellectual.
- Get recommendations from friends and booksellers. This might seem contradictory to my second point, but I started asking my friends what books they had read that really affected them or totally changed their life. (No foreign policy books, please.) I didn’t read them to be in-the-know, but because you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite books. The recommended books have often been the ones that changed me most and really affected me deeply (Read: When Breath Becomes Air and A Partial History of Lost Causes). People have lots of favorite books for lots of different reasons, reasons different from why I might select a book to read myself. That is eye-opening, in and of itself. I think it helps with empathy.
The biggest surprise from falling back in love with books was how very easy it was to reignite my love for reading. The second thing is the effect the reading had on my writing. I knew it would affect my writing and thought life, I just had no idea how much.
Creative reading has led to more creative writing, even in my policy work. My boss has even commented on the change in my writing. I don’t think it’s any coincidence.
I believe that I have re-started (hopefully) a life-long love for reading that will stick this time. It might look different in various seasons. Sometimes, you simply don’t have time for reading. And that’s okay. But if you think you might have time, you might consider making the time — carving it out during small times in the day. Perhaps when you wake-up for 15 minutes, 30 minutes before you go to bed, perhaps on your commute. Maybe it’s on a vacation, or maybe it’s on a weeknight that you set aside just for reading.
I’m excited to hear about what works best for you. We are all different, but I hope that these small tips and rationalizations for reading, help you fall back into reading, too.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. ~ Colossians 2:8