Do you look at the stack of unread books by your bedside table and feel a creeping sense of existential dread like I do?
The knowing that I probably won’t make much of a dent in it til at least 2025 is soul-crushing, and then I start spiralling – panicking about how I’ve only got a handful of books left before I die and what if these ones aren’t even good am I wasting my life and…
Okay, so the one thing I’m certain of is that stressing out like this is not a good use of time. Presumably you’re here because, like me, you’ve got a vigour for reading and you want to clear out that dusty pile of tomes once and for all. Don’t feel ashamed, we’re all in the same boat.
It’s a problem so common that the Japanese even have a word to describe us – tsundoku. I’ve done the research, so here are some nuggets of advice to transform you back into the voracious reader you were as a kid.
The most obvious strategy is to make it a habit, but that’s easier said than done. Behaviour scientist BJ Fogg says that there are three key factors in making behavioral change – ability, motivation, and a trigger. If you don’t have the ability, you’ll fail – you can fix that by reading to your linguistic level. Don’t start with Shakespeare is all I’m saying.
The next time you’re in a bookshop wrestling with yourself to avoid the ‘new releases’ section, consider that your ‘trigger’. Once all that’s sorted, you can start taking action, and Fogg says that the best approach is to take tiny steps and work up, like brushing your teeth and flossing one tooth. When it comes to reading, the parallel application of this theory would be to start by reading one page a day.
And if this method works for you, then great. If you want to calculate the precise number of words you can read in an hour and calculus the heck out of it to read 1000 books before you kick the bucket, then you do you.
But the Tim Urban approach of doing crazy math doesn’t work for everyone – sometimes, ambition gets the best of us and if we get busy and break the chain, it can be demotivating enough to give up altogether. Not to mention the fact that every time I’ve tried the ‘one page per day’ approach, I’ve ended up reading the same thing eight times over because it makes it way more difficult to follow the narrative. In my humble opinion, it’s better to look at your diary, and find a few gaps in your week for a more extended intimate encounter with a novel.
The next tip is to stop pursuing books that don’t interest you. You might feel like the clout you’ll get for referencing classic literature is a priority, but I’m going to be straight-up with you: no one is going to pin a medal on your chest because you read War and Peace. Get over yourself. Just dig into a copy of Twilight like the heathen you are – you’ll have a lot more fun reading if you indulge in things that aren’t ‘high culture’.
If you’re really suffering through a text, don’t let that feeling of resignation become the thing your brain associates with reading – that’s a recipe for disaster. The best thing you can do is thank the book and Marie Kondo it out of your life. Swap with friends and family, go to a book swap event, or (if you’ve kept the receipt) take it back to the store you bought it from. Most of the time, if it’s been a short period of time and you haven’t crushed the book at the bottom of your back, the store will let you exchange it.
Read paperbacks not ebooks wherever possible, or you WILL drift off into cyberspace. Tablets and smartphones are way too distracting to be conducive to full immersion, with pop-up notifications constantly vying for your attention. Can you honestly say you’re not going to be tempted to check Instagram fifteen minutes in?
Admittedly, ebooks are more affordable and convenient, so if those are priorities, invest in an ereader that doesn’t have other apps or connect to WiFi, like the Kobo range.
And not to sound like a broken record here but use *clap* the *clap* library *clap*. The prescience of a return date looming might just be the pressure you need to power through, and there’s absolutely no commitment to whatever you borrow.
And finally, there’s finding the right environment. What you really need is a comfy, quiet space to always go to, because then you’ll rewire your brain into prioritising reading whenever you sit there.
Do NOT make that place your bed. I get that everyone loves reading before they fall asleep and you’re all warm and snuggly but all it achieves is having your brain turn on the snooze button the second you flick the page over. If you struggle to fall asleep and reading helps with that, try having a second book for bedtime that doesn’t require as much critical thinking – it’s better for your brain and your reading habit.