If you lost the habit of reading in the pandemic, you’re not alone. Continue reading below to discover 5 tips to help you get back in the habit of reading.
Like many people, you may have resolved this new year to read more in 2021 and spend less time on your screens. And now you must be wondering how to find the time to do this, especially in blocking conditions, with different time constraints and anxieties putting pressure on us.
One solution is to use shorter reading intervals. Our summer 2020 pop-up project, Ten-Minute Book Club, was a selection of ten excerpts from free literary texts, drawn from a wide variety of English writings around the world.
Based on our larger project, LitHits, each week the book club featured a 10-minute excerpt framed by an introduction by an expert in the field and suggestions for free reading.
We found that the two main things people responded to were the central idea of brevity — one of the most common terms in tweets about the project was “short” — and the quality and diversity of the literature. Our analysis showed that readers entered and exited the project over the 10 weeks, instead of following it regularly. One possible reason for this is that finding regular time to read literature is not easy, especially now.
So, perhaps surprisingly, this article does not contain any advice on time management or habit-building. Instead, our five tips for reading are about fragments: interrupted literature.
That’s not news. It is sometimes easy to forget that the 19th-century novel developed by names like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Gaskell, which looks so scarily dense in book form, was first read in magazine issues with one or two chapters at a time. Brevity was a significant part of its original appeal.
1. Don’t start from scratch
Start positively by observing how much you are already reading in your life, without even thinking about it. Even if you haven’t opened a book in over a year, remember that we are in an era of hyper-literacy and our days are saturated with words. You can take advantage of that.
You probably flex your reading muscles all day, without giving yourself credit for it. Recognizing this is a step towards choosing different content if that’s what you want, or simply considering how you engage with the texts you’ve already read (even though they are usually 280 characters or less).
2. Quality, not quantity
Prioritize the quality of the attention you are paying to words. Reading well is the practice of observing carefully and with an informed perspective — it is not so much what you read, but how you do it.
Throw away your inner “reading activity tracker” and enjoy curious and provocative engagements with what you’re reading, without worrying about accumulating literary miles. This will also dispel the feeling of guilt for not reading “enough”, which can make reading seem more of a chore, similar to “not doing enough exercise”.
In his introduction to Sudden Fiction International (1989), an anthology of very short stories or “ flash fiction ”, the American novelist Charles Baxter stated that the duration of our attention is not as important as its quality: “Nobody ever said that sonnets or haiku were evidence of short attention spans. “
3. Losing track of time
In addition to not keeping track of the books you read, try to notice how the time spent reading is different. Many people assume that reading takes time, which is what most of us lack. However, there is another more subtle temporal element in reading that has more to do with the cognitive experience of the text itself.
Centuries can pass in seconds and moments can span ages. Jia Tolentino captures this brilliantly in her characterization of reading Margaret Atwood’s work: “nothing was happening, but I was fascinated and scared as if someone were showing me the footage of a car accident one frame at a time”.
4. Be opportunistic
You can find pleasure in a few brief moments of reading, and they are worth it for the immersive experience they bring through the encounter with language, images, and ideas. There is no ideal environment or place to read — do it whenever you can and whenever you have some free time.
5. Connect and take control
Choose what you read and find ways to test your own texts to help with your research, instead of relying on recommendation sites. These sites are generally not as objective as they claim. For example, Goodreads, the social network where people can compile books they have read or would like to read, as well as find recommendations, is owned by book sales giant Amazon.
Also, recognize the difference between buying a book and reading more. In her 2019 book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Books [without editing in Portuguese], Leah Price emphasizes that each reader finds the text through their own journey, in conversations, forums, and different devices that they could have brought up.
Rita Felski also, in Uses of Literature, talks about the ways that texts need to connect with us, and “ make friends “ — surviving the story necessarily because they make connections with people over and over.
So, are you going to read more in 2021? Reader, you already are.