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So, you want to read more books? Here's how

Last year I read 47 books — a number I’m pretty proud of. Of course there are plenty of people who read more than that — Agatha Christie famously read 200 books a year, and if my online research is any indication, 200 seems to be the number that super-readers aim to reach.

Why bother keeping track? Considering the myriad benefits of reading books — which include higher rates of empathy, stronger neural connections in the brain and even a longer life — many people want to read more books because they think it will improve their health. And many of us just want to read because we find it rewarding. Whatever your motivation, life can be distracting. It’s worth remembering that TV, social media and smartphones are all designed to distract. Books sit quietly and wait for us. Here’s how to give them more of your time in the coming months.

Set a goal

Each year, Goodreads (a really excellent app for book-lovers that also works on desktop) has an option to set a “Reading Challenge” for yourself. Not only is the app a great way to keep track of the books you read in a given year, but the Challenge — which is only public among your friends group — is motivating. I wanted to read 50 books last year, but set my challenge at 38 books, since I’d read 35 books the year before. It was pretty cool to blow past my own challenge and come close to my “reach goal.” It might seem silly, but exceeding my challenge made me feel great. As I entered my last book of 2018, Iris Murdoch’s “The Unicorn” (an excellent read), I had a big grin on my face.

It’s also fun to see your friends’ challenges, which may be higher or lower challenge levels than your own. Plenty of people I know have challenges of 12 or 15 books. (And I gaze with envy at those who set 100-book challenges for themselves!) A little gamification can work for those of us with a competitive streak, even if we mostly like to compete with ourselves.

A snap of Starre Vartan's Goodreads page from her reading challenge. Last year was one of my best for reading more — and that included plenty of ‘fun’ reads alongside literary fiction and nonfiction. (Photo: Starre Vartan)

Read what you love

To get into the reading habit, or to keep a good reading streak going, keep books around that you know you’ll be excited to pick up. It’ll keep you motivated and wanting to pick it up as soon as you can. Even though I’m a fairly avid reader, I know how easy it can be to drop off on reading time if I don’t have a book I’m super-excited about, so I always keep a cozy mystery like one of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels, or one of the new thrillers in my rotation. Which brings me to another key in my reading ritual:

Read more than 1 book at a time

This one might seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

I’m not always in the mood for the same kind of book, so if I have more than one going on, if I’m in another kind of mood, I can still keep reading. Sometimes I need something that helps me escape my world (I like mysteries and thrillers for this) and other times I want to dive deep into a subject I don’t know much about because I’m bored with what I already know (so I get into one of my nonfiction books, or maybe historical fiction). Other times I really want inspiration in the craft of writing (for which literary fiction is the only option), and if I’m having a terrible case of wanderlust, I read a travel memoir. Having options means I’m less likely to pick up my phone and start scrolling or to reach for the TV remote.

Book club Reading on your lunch hour can be social if you do it with coworkers. (Photo: Vitchanan Photography/Shutterstock)

Put your phone down, pick up a book

You know how you sometimes mindlessly scroll around on your phone and you wish you did it less? If you have something tempting — like a great book — it’s motivating to put your phone down. But if that’s not enough, think about putting a reminder on your phone that pops up every so often that says “Wouldn’t you rather be reading a book?”

Once you’ve picked up your book, keep your phone face down, in a bag, or ideally, in the next room. Remember that it’s designed to distract you, so if you want to get your reading in, the phone needs to be hidden.

Schedule it (to make it a habit)

Some people might actually need to put reading in their day-planner to get it done, and if that’s you, then do it. (I get it; I love the satisfaction of checking off stuff on my daily to-do list!). To get into the groove of regular reading, you need to make it a habit. Many people read when they are tucked into bed for 20 minutes before they go to sleep, for example. This is a great time to read, since you want to calm your mind from your day and a book can definitely help with that.

I actually read first thing in the morning in bed for 15 minutes after I meditate. I love starting my day slow, and reading a book rather than the news is more enjoyable for me. (I read news later in the day when it’s easier to deal with.)

Listen to some books

Audiobooks are easier to access than ever; there’s Audible, of course, which is a great subscription-model service that my book-devouring partner swears by. We have different reading tastes, so I rarely listen to one of his books (though couples and family members can share Audible plans), and I also prefer free stuff when that’s an option I’ll use consistently. For example, I take full advantage of Libby, which is an app my regional library group is a part of. Libby works like borrowing a physical book, except you hold and wait for digital copies to be available, or browse from what’s already checked in. There are other services that other libraries have for digital audiobooks, so make the call and ask. I listened to 10 free-to-me books last year via my library.

A woman listening to a recording with headphones on in urban setting. If you don’t feel like you have time to cram in an hour of reading each day, consider listening to books on a single subject during your daily commute. (Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock)

Sneak in reading time

There are a lot of 10- to 20-minute gaps in the day that you could be reading or listening to an audiobook. I listen when I clean up the kitchen at the end of the night, while I’m folding laundry, and to alleviate the boredom of running errands. I read when I’m waiting at the bank, to pick up take-out, or when I’m taking the train or other public transit. I always carry a book with me, so I’m never stuck wasting time on my phone when I could be reading.

“If your goal is to read more, you can’t be picky about where you read or what mediums you use,” Charles Chu, who reads 200 books a year, explains in the Observer. “I read paper books. I read on my phone. I listen to audiobooks. And I do these things everywhere  —  on park benches, in buses, in the toilet … Wherever I can. Make your reading opportunistic. If you have a chance, take it,”

Become a browser

I’m always on the hunt for new books, even if I have a few I’m reading and enjoying. I’ll randomly stop by the library or the used book store for a quick look to see if there’s anything new or that I’ve wanted to read that’s become available. This way there’s always something new in my reading queue; it also takes the pressure off feeling like you have to find something to read when you’re all out. Which, like any kind of shopping, can lead to bad choices.

Think of it this way: Reading is like any habit — except unlike many things that are good for you, once you get into the regular swing of it, it’s much more enjoyable.

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

So, you want to read more books? Here’s how

If you want to read more books, these tips — setting goals, making it a habit, reading what you love and more — will help you up your book game.