How to Start a Weekend Reading Practice

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books and tea on a tray

There are lots of good reasons for wanting to incorporate reading into your weekends — it’s a way to relax while actually learning something (and yes, we learn from fiction, too — we develop empathy from putting ourselves in the place of others, and we learn creativity by using our imaginations). It can be cheap, or even free. It’s an exceptionally portable hobby. And there’s something that’s very seasonally appropriate about curling up with a good book — it’s so cozy and autumn-y.

But, while cozying up with a novel may sound relaxing and may look incredible on Instagram, it can be difficult to actually do. I know I’m not alone in this, because I’ve had several people ask me, sort of secretly and with a heavy air of shame, how I manage to read books. These are smart, literate people asking. They’re good at discipline and they’re high-performing in their careers. They are not lazy, and they are not stupid. They’re just out of practice — we all are.

Are there times when I can’t go to sleep before turning the last page, when I love a book so much that I’m reading every spare second, when I tuck my book into my bag wherever I go just in case I find time to read? Of course. But there are also times when I’m putting one page in front of another feels painful, and that’s when it helps to go back to basics and take things more slowly.

I wrote about how our culture makes reading difficult on yesterday’s blog, but I today I want to share a solution — practical tips on how to start a reading practice.

Read for 20 Minutes

Building a reading habit is kind of like building a meditation habit. In some ways, reading is a meditation — you’re quieting your mind, focusing on something other than your everyday problems and probably even steadying your breathing. When you’re just starting out in meditation, 10 minutes seems like an eternity, and the same can be true for reading.

Start out with a short goal; 20 minutes is a good reading stretch, and even 10 or 15 minutes can be enough to build on. Don’t beat yourself up about not reading for hours at a time; you’ll start to read for longer stretches naturally after a couple of sessions. You’ll find it easier to focus, for one thing. And the book itself will almost always get better — the more invested you are in the story or topic, and the more you get used to the rhythm of the writer, the easier it will be to keep reading. If your time is up and you want to keep reading, go for it, but give yourself permission to quit if you want to.

You can actually set a timer or not, but try not to use your phone to check the time; it’ll be too tempting to check your Instagram feed instead of reading.

Don’t Touch Your Phone

This is probably the hardest part. The amount of time most of us can stay away from screens without feeling their absence is pretty depressing. If it helps, you can leave your phone in another room; this does not help me, because I end up thinking even more about what I’m missing (sad, I know). It’s fine to bring your phone to your reading chair, but don’t get past the lock screen for at least 20 minutes. Give yourself a chance to really focus, and give your book a chance to earn your attention.

Start Early

You can read any time of day, of course. But it’s easier to begin when house is quiet, both literally and metaphorically. There’s something invigorating about accomplishing a goal so early in the morning. Reading early also gets you thinking about the story, and that curiosity/interest means you’re more likely to pick the book up later in the afternoon or evening.

Make Coffee

This doesn’t need to be coffee, of course. It can be tea. It cannot be a soda — sorry, but you can’t begin a weekend reading practice with a soda. It just isn’t done. The point is, choose something that seems contemplative, and preferably is warm. Incorporating coffee, tea or hot chocolate into your reading practice will help you develop the habit; the taste and scent and the sensation of a warm cup in your hands will help cement reading as a ritual. (Listening to the same playlist every week can also help with this.)

Keep Scratch Paper Closeby

There’s nothing like trying to focus on a book to remind me of all the things I forgot to put on a grocery list. As soon as I read the first sentence, I think of a million other things I need to do. These things plague me — unless I write them down. Once they’re written down, I know I won’t forget them, and I can get to them after my reading time. Normally, I make to-do lists on my phone … but we’re not touching our phones, remember? You can also use scratch paper for a bookmark.

Find a Book That’s Actually Good

If you don’t like to read like you used to, you might not be the problem — it might be that the books you’re reading just aren’t very good. There are lots of amazing books published every year, and there are also a lot of terrible ones. Most of us get recommendations from online reviews or other people’s social media posts, but those can be super misleading. (Twilight has some great reviews, for example, but there are still lots of readers who would hate it.)

Local bookstores are the best place to get book recommendations — find a staff member, mention a couple of books (or TV series or movies) that you like, and ask them to recommend two or three books. Whichever one of those books you feel drawn to the most is the book for you (read the first couple pages of each one if you’re having trouble choosing).

If you don’t have a local bookstore, find a friend, book reviewer or blogger that you trust; mine is Annie from The Bookshelf. She has tons of book reviews in her Instagram feed and stories, and her judgment is, in my opinion, pretty much perfect. You can also ask me through social media — I’ve been out of the bookselling game for a couple of years now, but I’ll certainly do my best to connect you with an idea or two if you tell me what kind of book you’re looking for.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores. She’s Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.

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