Beyond the simple pleasure of getting lost in a compelling story — expanding our perspectives and our vocabulary as we escape the doldrums of everyday life — reading brings along with it a host of other health benefits: It can improve memory, it may reduce stress, and, y’know, it gives you something to talk about other than memes at parties.
But as much as we’d all love to carve out more time for good reads, life’s obligations and distractions (lookin’ at you, social media) can often get in the way of our best intentions.
Not to mention that if the reading muscle isn’t one you’ve stretched in a while, it may be difficult to get the ball rolling again. Just like any other hobby, you’ve gotta keep up with it to gain a better understanding of what you enjoy most — and if you’ve been skimping on the book front, you may not even necessarily know what you like! No judgment, only recommendations: Allow us to suggest NPR’s Book Concierge reading guide, or even (ahem) the BuzzFeed News Books section and newsletter for some inspo to create your 2020 reading list.
But also, though, if you’re here, congrats and welcome! It’s the first step in being proactive about making books a bigger priority in your life. Below are some very feasible suggestions for how to consistently integrate the stuff you want to read into this coming year.
Sign up for a subscription.
If the very idea of seeking out new books to read every month fills you with overwhelming anxiety, a book subscription can eliminate the stress of deciding what to pick up amid a sea of seemingly limitless options. Book of the Month Club ($10 for the first month; $15 each subsequent month), for instance, presents five hand-selected reads every month from which members can choose one. And if you see more than one that catches your eye, you can choose up to two add-ons; alternatively, if you’re traveling or you’ve found yourself up to your eyebrows with a stack of unread books, you can skip months too.
There are also tons of genre-specific subscriptions available for virtually every taste: Literary Dream Crate ($6+/month) sends gently used mystery and romance novels, Fantasy Monthly ($17+/month) delivers books for fantasy YA fans, and My Thrill Club ($16+/month) offers horror, thriller, and mystery reads. And then, of course, there are plenty of book subscriptions tailored for children, like Reading Bug Box ($18+/month), Our Little Book Club ($14+/month), and OurShelves ($15+/three months). Coffee and a Classic ($40/month) ups the ante by sending a classic novel every month, along with a beverage like coffee or tea, two “bookish” items, and a bookmark. Cute! For e-books, Book Riot offers a subscription called Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR) that, after you’ve filled out a profile, matches you with a real-life bibliologist who suggests personalized books that might interest you; there’s a hardcover subscription plan but also one for digital-only recommendations ($15+/quarter).
Get into audiobooks.
Stuck behind a wheel for a good chunk of your day or just want to make the most of your time while working out, cooking dinner, or putting the laundry away? Audiobooks to the rescue! If you’re jonesing to immerse yourself in a story but your day simply isn’t going to accommodate your aspirations to hold a book in your hands, consider checking out Audible ($15/month for one audiobook and two Audible Originals; first month free), Scribd ($9/month for unlimited audiobooks; first month free) or Audiobooks.com ($15/month for two audiobooks; first month free) for books you can listen to as you’re doin’ your thing. (Bonus: A 2016 study “found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously” when an audiobook was pitted against an e-reader.)
Join a book club.
Or start one of your own! Whether it’s among friends or coworkers, or via a neighborhood app like Nextdoor, book clubs provide incentive for staying on track and keeping yourself accountable for setting aside designated reading time. Where to find one? Public libraries often host regular book clubs, you can ask employees at local bookstores for recommendations, or check in at your neighborhood community center or YMCA. You can also try searching Meetup (which admittedly can be a bit hit-or-miss, but it’s a good starting point), or join an online book club via Goodreads. If a book club perhaps isn’t your scene, you might want to consider swapping books with friends or getting into book exchanges — for a similar sense of community without the mandatory discussions.
Reprogram how you unwind.
Hey there, it’s me, your broken record: Put down the screen and pick up some paper! (Or, I guess, your e-reader; just make sure to slap a blue-light filter on it.) We’ve all been warned of the adverse effects that blue light from our various screens can have on our sleep habits, yet detaching ourselves from our smartphones is laughably easier said than done. But if you really want to commit to making more time for reading (and getting a sounder sleep to boot), aim to put that phone facedown at least 30 minutes before bedtime and swap it for your newest read. If you like to read in bed but your bedmate is on a different sleep schedule, or if you often travel, invest in a book light.
Read multiple books at once.
If you’re finding it hard to get through a book that you’re just not feeling, it’s okay to call it quits — whether it’s temporarily or permanently. No need to keep at it with something that isn’t coming through with an engaging narrative or helpful information. After all, the whole point of books is to punctuate your day with a little bit of joy, right? Instead, just treat reading like watching stuff on Netflix. Have a book for whatever mood you’re in: a memoir, fiction, maybe a graphic novel. Be open to switching it up and reading two or more books simultaneously. A great way to make sure you have a stockpile to choose from? Get a library card and go wild! (Just remember to return your books on time, please.)
Give something gimmicky a try.
Consider adding something a little extra to motivate you to breeze through those books this year. BookRiot has an annual reading challenge made up of 24 varied tasks (e.g., “Read a book about a natural disaster,” “Read an edition of a literary magazine”) that encourages readers to reach outside their comfort zones. It might lead you to discover a genre you didn’t realize you enjoyed — plus it lets participants engage with others taking the challenge with the #ReadHarder hashtag. Or how about this fun scratch-off poster? Perfect for a birthday or holiday wishlist, it’ll encourage readers of all ages to get through 100 iconic books, from classics like Jane Eyre to more contemporary books like American Psycho.
Learn how to read faster.
No, really! As this Quartz newsletter describes it, the premise behind “speed-reading” is a contentious one — some scientists argue reading faster equates to sacrificing some comprehension — but at the very least you can train yourself to eliminate distractions as a means to getting through more words per minute. Scour YouTube for tutorials or even pick up a book with tips (how meta!). There are also plenty of online classes to choose from: Udemy, for instance, offers several speed-reading and memory-boosting classes (often on sale), like this bestseller and this top-related class.
Happy reading, everyone!