Reading. It’s the latest thing, you know. Everybody’s doing it. Well, except for squares. You don’t wanna be a square, do ya? Come on. It’s easy. I’ll get you started. Take this book and see what you think. Don’t worry. The first one’s free. You’ll be back… They always come back… Mwa-ha-ha-HAA!
Okay… That cheesy drug dealer impression was not a joke. My aim right now is to get you truly, endlessly, and hopelessly addicted to reading.
I won’t rest until I see you cutting up lines of Hemingway, Conrad, and Woolf, rolling up a vintage copy of Faulkner and snorting it straight to your brain.
It’s my mission to see you slumped over in the alleyway next to the library, stack of freshly stamped books by your side, and a hypodermic copy of the complete works of Shakespeare sticking out of your vein.
If you’re not bent over a toilet bowel, vomiting Chaucer, Camus, and Capote and cursing the names of Mann, Marlowe, and McEvoy, I have completely and utterly failed.
My aim right now is to tell you….
6 Ways To Become More Well Read in 2017
I know what it’s like to go from reading zero books a year to more books than you can possibly remember.
When I graduated from Oxford (studying English Literature) I was suffering from book burn-out. I had read so much and in such short intense bursts of time with such a focus on being graded that I never wanted to see another book again.
My one true love my entire life was reading. But after 3 years in Oxford, my love was dead. I thought it was dead forever with no hope of being pulled from the grave and resuscitated Pet Sematary style.
After graduating, I spent an entire year not reading a single book.
By the end of that year, I had gained enough distance from Oxford to look at things rationally. What a shame to let something I always loved die. Was it possible to get back to a position where books were as much a part of me as the blood running through my veins?
The next year I read maybe 3 books. I can only remember 2 of them: Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and MJ Demarco’s The Millionaire Fastlane.
Both great books but I was nowhere near happy with the quantity of books read that year. Nor was I happy with how difficult it was to get through just a few books.
I tried harder. The next year I began following a reading programme that would become a staple of my life year after year from then on. That was the Bradbury Trio.
I began reading a minimum of 1 short story, 1 poem, and 1 essay every single day.
That same year, I started reading more Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker Prize winners. A minimum of one a month. I later called this the Nobel Challenge.
Then, having slowly exorcised any literary snobbery left over from Oxford, I started bombarding my brain with pulp and guilty pleasure reading. If my reading philosophy was a diet, I would have called it the Pulitzers & Pulp Diet.
The year after that, I started visiting bookshops more. I tried to live near bookshops and often went several times a week. It played havoc on my bank account. I would always leave the store with a big stack of whatever took my fancy from every single genre imaginable.
Looking back over those years today, I’m now in a position where reading is once again as natural, effortless, and compulsive as breathing. In short, I taught myself to once again be well read. And I’ll teach you.
If your current state of well-readness is lacking and you’re committed to fixing it, here are a few tips that will help you.
1. Take the Love Reading Book Challenge
The Love Reading Book Challenge is my own personal attempt at boosting my reading in 2017. It’s a list of 24 different book challenges (2 per month) that will get you reading outside your comfort zone and hopefully falling in love with something new and wonderful.
As I write this now, I’m currently ticking off the “read a book in serial form” and “read a biography chosen by someone else” categories. That means I’m currently reading The Turn of the Screw and The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I’m doing that in addition to the Bradbury Trio and also reading whatever else I come across. And I’m LOVING the challenge so far.
Why don’t you join in?
There’s something magical about working from a list. You could say “I want to read more books this year” or “I want to read better books”. But what do either of those things mean? That’s such a vague goal that you are highly likely to abandon it.
But work from a list and you get a burst of excitement, a sense of adventure, and a sense of obligation, determination, and drive. You want to tick those books off the list. You can see how well read you’ll be by the end of the year if you just follow along. You also get a sense of community because you know you’re in it with someone else…
Okay, it’s probably just me and a couple other people at the moment. If you want a bigger community check out Book Riot’s awesome list of suggestions. But if you like my list or you want a less crowded, more intimate challenge, follow along with mine. Which leads to my next suggestion…..
2. Join a book club or get a book buddy
I love getting lost in a great book. But what makes a book even better is sharing it with others. I love listening to people talk with passion about what they’re reading.
I don’t care if you’re seven years old or seventy years old. I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl, gay or straight or bi or other, British or American or Japanese or Chinese or Ugandan or Russian or Nigerian or Israeli or Colombian or Martian. I don’t care what your politics or religion are. And I definitely don’t care what you look like. What I do care about is listening to your opinions on the latest captivating book you’ve read.
You get so much more out of a book when you share it with other book lovers.
If you want to be more well read, you should give yourself a reason to be more well read. And what better reason is there than connecting with other wonderful people?
You can make your own little bookclub with friends or family members. Even just one other person is great.
You could find a pre-existing bookclub on MeetUp or start your own in your area.
Or you could talk to me about the great books you’re reading…. Come on, I’m clearly desperate for more friends. Don’t leave me hanging.
I’m serious. If there is just ONE person who wants to shoot the shit about the latest lit, I’ll open up a little forum right here just for us where we can post our book reviews and recommendations. It would be a bit more personal than the mammoth that is Goodreads.
3. Get some easy wins under your belt
Being “more well read” is a tall task. It can be overwhelming. I mean, reading isn’t like Netflix where you can now inhale multiple seasons of the latest TV shows. It takes time to be well read. You have to do it book by book.
So make it easier for yourself.
If you’re following the Love Reading Challenge and you want to read an biography, read Man’s Search for Meaning instead of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. The first one is a very slim volume that will only take a few days to finish at a leisurely pace. The second one is nearly 1,000 pages and is dense AF.
If you’re following the Love Reading Challenge, you might want to start the challenge with the final item on the list: read a guilty pleasure. Start off easy. Grab something you already know you’ll enjoy. Grab something trashy and easy to read and build on the momentum from there. Save the “massive classic” category to last.
4. Write book reports/keep a book journal
Being well read is all about consolidating the information you read. That’s why we need to talk to other people about what we’re reading. That’s also why we need to write book reports, keep a book journal, open up a book blog, or scribble our thoughts on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Writing book reports are great because…
- They give you a deeper understanding of what you’ve just read.
- They allow you to see connections you normally would have missed.
- They make the book part of your world and force you to apply it to your reality.
Book reports force you to become a more conscious reader. And that’s a good thing because you can’t really be “well read” if you forget everything you read the second you put down the book. You can say you’ve really read a book if something – even just one thing – sticks with you and affects you.
And if it doesn’t look like a book is going to leave a lasting impact on you….
5. Fire your books if they aren’t working for you
Life’s too short to….
- Eat lousy food
- Drink lacklustre wine
- Bone people you don’t love
- And… read books that don’t move your soul
Do NOT feel like you have to finish every book you start.
Make liberal use of Amazon’s free samples and spend time dipping in and out of books at stores.
If you get halfway through a book and you are bored to tears, DITCH IT.
There is a limitless supply of books in this world. More than you could ever hope to read in your lifetime. And many of them are life-changing. Don’t spend another second longer with a book you are not thoroughly enjoying.
6. Buy what you need and have it on hand
It’s a busy world. A lot of us are working multiple jobs. Some of us have families to look after. When would we ever find the time to read?
Well, you already know this but… We don’t find the time. We make it. And we can make the time a lot easier if we just stack the deck in our favour.
Don’t wait for reading opportunities to arise. They never will. You’ll always be too tired, too busy, or too hooked on your favourite TV show.
Instead, buy what you need and keep it where you are likely to see it and make use of it.
- Buy a couple of paperbacks and keep them stacked by your bed.
- Download a couple of audiobooks and have them loaded on your phone so you can listen while driving or exercising.
- Download a couple of ebooks and have them ready for whenever you’re stuck waiting in a line or on public transport.
Reclaim your time by making use of typically blank snippets of life. Fill those snippets with beautiful stories.
You can read A LOT of books by the end of the year this way. That’s how I’m doing it.
Grab life by the books
Reading is one of the greatest simple pleasures in life. With a good book in your lap, a nice meal in your belly or a gourmet cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate cradled in your hand, and a brief respite from worldly worries, you can’t ask for much more.
By the time the big glittery ball drops and 2017 becomes 2018, we’re going to look back over the year and think, “Damn. I read some pretty great books this year.”