When we were all in school, we were forced to read books. We had no choice in the matter of what books (for the most part), only that they were on our list of Unfun Things to Do Instead of Hanging With Friends. From textbooks to book reports to those pesky college nonfiction treatises with pretentious titles like On Liberty and Utilitarianism, our shared educational experience about books was often boring and stressful.
At any rate, kids separated into two distinct factions: those who found enjoyment in recreational reading and those that...did not. I was one of the first group. Once sometime in my early years of elementary school, I remember getting caught up in my book during our sustained silent reading time, so much so that I didn’t recognize that we had moved on to the next portion of the day. Ten or fifteen minutes later, the teacher realized I never made the leap along with the rest of the class and chastised me for reading.
But for those in the second group—wherein reading was a thing you never did on your own because why do that when there were other, ostensibly better forms of recreation and, besides, reading wasn’t cool—an odd thing happened when adulthood came knocking on the door: the pendulum swung the other way. Suddenly, reading books was a thing that entrepreneurs and successful people did. Famous politicians, musicians, and movie stars found enough value in books to, you know, write them themselves. That movie you love? It was probably a book first.
And so, to members of this second group who I know are out there, who struggle to read books but think they should, I offer some tips from a seasoned first grouper.
Read What You Enjoy
This may sound like a dumb suggestion. It is not; I promise. Want to read more? The single most important thing that you can do is read things that you like. It’s extraordinarily simple. However, it is way easy to get sucked into the infinite vortex of Things You Think You Should Read and Things That People Recommend for You and The Next Book In the Series You’re Kinda Just Done With. Over and over again, the books I read the fastest are the ones I enjoy the most. Crazy how that happens.
How do you find out what you enjoy if you’ve never hopped on the book train? It’s easier than you think. Start with the move and TV genres you like the most—mystery, horror, sci-fi, true crime, supernatural vampire romance, whatever—and then pick a well-known book within that genre to read. Alternatively, peruse the New York Times bestseller list and pick a few books that you think sound interesting. Once you have a small collections of elements you like and don’t like, you can infinitely iterate on them to find new books.
Don’t Care About Your Image
Building off the previous block, it’s also extremely important to not care about your image when you’re trying to enjoy reading more. Unlike film, TV, or video games, literary history goes back thousands of years and there are a near endless selection of classic books with immense cultural weight behind them. It is awfully easy to fall into the trap of being preoccupied with what the books project about your personality as opposed to selecting books that you will actually read or enjoy.
This is especially true if you plan to use social media to constantly let your friends and family know what you’re reading. Look: if you post a picture of yourself reading a Tolstoy, great, fine, whatever. But unless you are genuinely interested in Anna Karenina and the Russian aristocracy, or are actively trying to expand your palette, you’re doing yourself a disservice by attempting to tell people that you are cultured.
Abandon Books You Don’t Like
Ah, the sunk cost fallacy in action. If you spend a few hours trudging through a story feeling more like the soldiers in World War I trenches than a person reading a novel, stop! You don’t have to continue feeling miserable every time you pick up your book to read it. You’ll be much happier abandoning books you don’t like. There is no achievement for finishing a book you hate, and if you spent money on it, well, you spent money on it whether you’ve read it or not.
This applies to series as well, as I alluded to before. If you’ve been super involved with a book series and something big changes—a character dies, the plot changes drastically, a time skip happens that you’re just not into, or whatever it may be—you can stop reading the series. It’s ok. The author isn’t going to come to your house and berate you.
In Conclusion: Books are Dope
Books, both fiction and nonfiction, are unparalleled ways of experiencing stories, interacting with characters, and taking in facts. There’s a reason why people love reading, why bookstores around the country do what they do, and why novelists have become famous figures throughout history. Books are a direct conduit to your imagination, and reading is one of life’s great enjoyments. In other words, books are dope. Find one you like and read it.