You’re convinced that books are magical (they are) and you want to be part of the reading family (and why not) but there’s one small problem: Where do you start?
How do you turn an interest in books into a lifestyle that supports your avid reading? Or if you’re new to this whole reading-for-pleasure thing, how do you know which books are wins and which are wimpy?
Here are the steps you can take, gleaned from my 29 years of readership.
1. Start with topics or genres you love.
If you don’t care about it, you’re not going to enjoy reading about it. Why waste your own time? This isn’t school; there is no test. There is no official reading list.
All your friends love Jane Austen? That doesn’t mean you have to love her. Maybe all your friends are into sparkly vampires, or young sorcerers, or heroines with a thing for archery, but… that’s just not appealing to you? No problem.
Start with what does appeal to you. What do you love talking about? What do you love learning about? What do you love doing? What kind of people do you enjoy talking to? What topics do you never, ever get tired of?
Jot down a few of those and then go on a book hunt.
2. Hunt down the books that you like.
Back when I started reading, in the 1980s, the Internet was not around so much. We had a little thing called a card catalog at the local library.
Lucky for you, Dewey and his decimal system do not have to figure into your search for the perfect book.
Instead, use some of these great websites to find a book that you will love:
- WhatShouldIReadNext.com: start with an author or book you love, click the closest match from the list that pops up, and then this site will generate a list of books you’ll probably like based on your initial author/title. Pretty cool.
- GoodReads: This is social networking for readers. Join (you can use your Facebook credentials) and then find friends and see what they’re reading, find interest-based groups, search book lists, or join a discussion.
- BookBrowse.com: The “Read Alikes” service here is similar to WhatShouldIReadNext but the lists of comparable books is handpicked by other readers.
- WhichBook: Choose your book by mood or other fun factors, like Happy or Sad, Beautiful or Disgusting, Conventional or Unusual.
3. Use these book lists for even more reading options.
You can also make use of the plethora of booklists available to you. I’m currently reading through NPR’s Top 100 Sci Fi & Fantasy list with some friends.
Here are some great lists you can use to find your next read:
- Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels (Board List and Reader’s List)
- Modern Library’s 100 Best Nonfiction (Board List and Reader’s List)
- The 100 Best Business Books of All Time
- Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books
- 25 Recommendations for Life-Changing Biographies
- Telegraph’s 110 Best Books List, divided into genres
- The 50 Best Food Memoirs
- Ultimate Travel Library: Around the World in 80+ Books
- 50 Essential Mystery Novels
4. Skim, baby, skim.
There’s a classic book on reading, aptly titled How to Read a Book, written by the illustrious Mortimer J. Adler. In it, Mr. Adler gives a recommendation about how to approach a book you’re about to start reading:
“First, you do not know whether you want to read the book. You do not know whether it deserves an analytical reading. But you suspect that it does, or at least that it contains both information and insights that would be valuable to you if you could dig them out. Second, let us assume—and this is very often the case—that you have only a limited time in which to find all this out. In this case, what you must do is skim the book, or, as some prefer to say, pre-read it. Skimming or pre-reading is the first sublevel of inspectional reading. Your main aim is to discover whether the book requires a more careful reading. Secondly, skimming can tell you lots of other things about the book, even if you decide not to read it again with more care.”
What’s neat is that, O Internet Reader, you already know how to skim; it’s what you do on social media and sites like this all day long.
Use that skill on each book you pick up. Read the introduction; scan the paragraph headings; flip through and a read a line or two here and there; read the back cover; look at the blurbs.
Does it sound interesting? Do you want to know more? Then start reading. But what if it doesn’t sound interesting? Put it down and find another book. There are plentyout there.
5. Use the 50-Page Rule.
Once I’ve skimmed a book enough to know that I want to read it, I put this little rule into place. This is a personal rule I developed as I found that sometimes a book looked great but just really didn’t do anything for me; but I would feel weird about quitting the book.
As if the book cares.
I also have found that sometimes a book that is a little difficult to start can turn out to be amazing if I just stick with it.
Hence, the 50-Page Rule.
50 pages is usually a good enough chunk to know whether this book is worth it or not. If you’re so into it at 50 pages that you don’t even notice you’ve passed the fiftieth page, well, awesome! Keep reading.
But if you’re struggling to stay interested, or to keep up with the vocabulary, or to relate to the characters, or understand the backstory, or care about the information, give it a full 50 pages. If you still don’t care when you hit page 50, you’ve got a legitimate case of “Not a Good Fit” and you can pass the book on to someone else, knowing you gave it a fighting chance.
6. Start a Reading Notebook.
This doesn’t have to be an actual notebook. It could be a Pinterest board, a note on Facebook, a list on your phone, a folder of photos, your GoodReads account etc.
Or it could be an actual notebook.
There are two lists I recommend keeping in your “notebook,” whatever format you use. The first is a list of books you’ve read. Pin an image on your board, jot the title on your note or list, or take a photo of the cover, or write it in your notebook. Give it a rating, and, if you feel like it, a few words about it: what you liked or didn’t like, anything that stood out, a quote or character, whatever.
The second is a list of books you want to read. The more you read, the more you’ll discover new authors, genres, and series that you want to dig into. Keep track of these, somewhere, because it’s oh-so-easy to forget. If you have a list handy, though, you can always refer to it when you’re at the bookstore, going by the library, or ready to download another ebook
7. Find the time to read.
You don’t need a lot of time to read. You just need to start using those in-between times.
How many times a day do you need to check Facebook, really? Do something better. Read your book.
The key is to have your current read with you at all times. Throw it in your bag and next time you’re on the train, on the bus, waiting in the office, waiting at the restaurant, or enjoying the sunshine for a few minutes… pull out your book.
Wind down at night with a book. Studies show that the blue light of computer and tv screens can actually disturb your sleep.
You know what doesn’t disturb your sleep? A book.
Unless you get so interested you can’t put it down, and find yourself still awake at 4 a.m. because just one more chapter. Yeah, that could happen.
But hey. That’s why we have coffee… which, you know, is really perfect to sip while reading a book.
Featured photo credit: CollegeDegrees360 via flickr.com