I’ll always remember Jane Eyre as the book that started my love for literature. In that book, I learned that novels could explore every facet of the human experience—goodness, suffering, darkness, and beauty—in unexpected ways.
That being said, my relationship with reading has been anything but linear. In college, I pursued an English degree, and reading as recreation soon turned into a daily chore. After college, I subconsciously stepped away from picking up books in my free time. Not only was life much busier, but, as I later realized, I had to take a break from reading to enjoy it as a leisurely pastime again.
It wasn’t until I took a break from social media, long after college, that I began intentionally reading again. Instead of scrolling on feeds, I found myself trying new books. Needless to say, I was intimidated—tackling a novel is nowhere as easy as reading posts or articles, and I’d been out of practice for a few years. In just the first couple months, though, I had already read three novels. During that time, I learned a few simple strategies for leisurely reading that can help the lapsed, seasoned, or fledgling reader.
Kiss some frogs
When I first approached reading for pleasure, I reached out to an old college professor about developing literary taste. Although there were plenty of novels I had enjoyed during my education, there wasn’t always a clear theme to what I enjoyed; additionally, I knew the depth and breadth of literature and was overwhelmed at where to start. He cleverly told me, “Kiss some frogs.” To find your particular taste in novels, it requires some trial and error.
Every seasoned reader was once unseasoned, and you figure out what you like simply by trying anything and everything. For me, I’ve always had a list of books I’ve wanted to try, whether that was literary classics or others’ recommendations, so I began there. First, I made a reading plan for the year, and I picked the book I was most interested in to read first.
When you dive into your first book, it’s important to remember that—like film or music—every reader’s taste is different. Just because a book is on Oprah’s list doesn’t mean it has to be on yours! Explore different genres and writing styles, but don’t be afraid to put a book down if you’re not engaged after three chapters. There’s been plenty of times where, only a couple chapters in, I knew I was forcing myself to read a book but was not actually enjoying the novel. The purpose of leisurely reading is rest and enjoyment (hopefully you’ll learn something, too), so don’t make yourself finish a book you don’t like. Going down that road usually results in reading less overall, because who wants to read a book they don’t like? You’ll know you like a book if you’re interested in the story and have a desire to know how it unfolds.
As you’re exploring what you like, it can be helpful to keep a list of what worked for you and what didn’t. Goodreads is a great site to keep lists of books you want to read and to rank the ones you’ve read. So, once you finish the first book, try the next one on your list. There’s always another book to read, so don’t get discouraged. Plus, the more you read, the better you’ll know your taste. Don’t like mysteries? No problem. Loved biographical novels? Perfect. Research popular or classic biographies and go from there. Bored with reading the same genre? Try something new from your reading list, or ask around for recommendations. The possibilities are endless.
Use your book like your phone
This has less to do with reading than it has to do with habit: it’s as easy to pick up a book and read as it is to unlock your phone. (This can even be true in a direct sense, if you’re so inclined: the Kindle app keeps your personal digital library within reach, while apps like Libby allow you to borrow from your local library’s ebook collection.) When I took a step back from social media, I kept whatever novel I was reading easily accessible during my day so that, in the moments I’d usually take a “break” on my phone, I opened up my book and continued on with its story.
It seems simplistic, but this trick was actually the most important when it came to taking up leisurely reading again. By choosing to pick up a book every time I was bored, it eventually became an enjoyable habit that I had built. Not only did it benefit my life in terms of less screen time, but I felt fully invested in the story. I looked forward to the next chance I had to open up the book and read, particularly if I had to stop at a pivotal moment in the novel. It worked so well, in fact, that I was able to finish John Steinbeck’s 600-page novel East of Eden in under three weeks (while taking care of two kids under three)!
Don’t read by chapter
While setting goals is great when learning new skills, it can sometimes work against us if it’s also something we’re meant to enjoy. Reading is an experience tailored to the individual’s likes, often determined by the unique perspective the reader brings to the book as they read it. Even if you don’t like reading but want to become a more regular reader, allow yourself to enjoy what you read instead of creating assignments for yourself.
When I first took up reading again, I would grow discouraged if I didn’t read a certain amount of chapters in a sitting. It was only when I chose to let go of those expectations that I was able to read with more flexibility and practicality. Some days, I could find a good hour to myself in the evenings to read; other times I would read at random, usually in 10 to 15 minute intervals of free time during the day. This method allowed me to read more in the long run: instead of waiting for huge chunks of time to read, I made more progress by reading whenever I had the time, however long that ended up being. Ultimately, this made my reading a truly leisurely experience, giving myself more time to enjoy the story line without the pressure of completing a goal.
Whether you’re a seasoned reader or just beginning, it can be intimidating to make time for reading, but making space for it in our busy days gives our brains a rest while allowing us to enjoy something beautiful or inspiring. So give yourself a moment of leisure and rest within your busy day—it’s as easy as opening up a book.