How I Became a Reader Again

When I was a kid, I was always reading. My mom would take me to the library and I’d leave with an overflowing tote bag, reading them all before we returned a few weeks later. Our family would go into a bookstore and I’d drool over all the books I wanted to read. My parents were always so encouraging and supportive of my reading habits, and it was a huge part of who I was.

But then college happened. And then my first full time job, along with other commitments like volunteering at church. I stopped reading except on the occasional road trip or new release.

As someone who truly loves to read, I was always frustrated and disappointed by how little time I could find in my day to read. I also felt like a bit of a phony, because I was an English teacher at the time — telling students it was important to be life-long readers when I was reading myself.

Then in 2017, Jon Acuff rocked my world by sharing the 147 books he’d read that year on Instagram. It seemed like every two days he was posting a different book he’d finished. I was jealous. And I wanted to know how he did it so I could do it, too.

So I aimed to do better in 2018 — with Jon’s help. His reading experiment is part of his book Finish, which I listened to on Audible last year and loved. He released a PDF of ways we can all increase the amount we read.

A few of Jon’s reading strategies that work for me:

  • Start with my bookshelf. I had way too many books that I already owned, but had never read. No reason to spend money when you already have resources available to get started.
  • Don’t prioritize. AKA, don’t choose your books in advance. I tried planning all my books several years ago and it tanked. I wasn’t excited to read what I’d chosen anymore, or I was frustrated that I’d confined myself to certain books, which resulted in me not reading.
  • Have more than one book going at a time. At first this was really uncomfortable for me, but as long as my books are different genres or styles, it works out. It also means if I’m not in the mood to read one, the other one typically fits the bill.
  • Reread your favorites. Another way I had trapped myself was by feeling like I could only read new books. Or only count new books. Nope. No more. I’ll gladly enjoy my favorites year after year, thank you.
  • Listen to audiobooks. Audiobooks changed my life last year. I’m in the car for almost 2 hours every day, and rather than dread my commute, I look forward to diving back into whatever I’m listening to when I get in the car.

And the most impactful tip I took away from Jon that I’m still figuring out:

Read instead of ___________.
Instead of scrolling through Instagram for the 5th (or 20th) time.
Instead of bingeing Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time.
Instead of complaining about being bored.
Instead of playing a game on my phone.

The list goes on. It takes so much self-control and discipline to read instead of, but I’m always glad when I do.

In 2018, I set a goal of 75 books, and ended up only reading 60. But I was so happy to be reading that it didn’t matter. This year, I’m determined to read 100 books. I know it’s an audacious goal, but I want to make it happen.

I took Jon’s advice and made my reading a public thing. I post the books I read each month here on the site and on social media. It’s fun to hear friends’ reactions to the same books I’ve read, and I love that people reach out to me for book recommendations.

One of the most common questions I get is about the resources I use to read and track my reading. These have helped me stay consistent with my goal:

Goodreads
Now when people recommend a book to me, or I see something I’m interested in, I add it to my Goodreads Want to Read list so it doesn’t get lost in my crazy brain. I also have a few separate Want to Read lists so that I can make sure I’m not always reading the same type of book. For example, I have a work-related Want to Read list and another one that consists only of authors of color. Another one that is helpful is a Want to Read list of the books I already own — I’ve put a freeze for myself on buying new books until this list is as zero, with the exception of a few pre-orders.

The other part of Goodreads that I love is tracking my completed books. I created a 2018 list where I filed away every book I read last year, and I did the same for 2019. This makes it easy to track my progress specifically for the year without messing up the overall Read list.

I wish Goodreads was around my whole life. My complete Read list looks pathetic because I can’t remember everything I’ve read previously, but I try to add them when I see them.

Overdrive
I struggled to ever get on the e-reader train — there’s something so satisfying and special about holding a book in your hands. As I mentioned earlier though, I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks. The narrators are truly fantastic and bring the stories to life so well. It’s especially meaningful with the author reads his/her own memoir.

I started 2018 using Audible, which is a great resource, but those books can really add up when you go through them as fast as I was. So I did some research and discovered that our library uses Overdrive to distribute audiobooks.

I have both the rbDigital and Libby apps on my phone. They have different selections than one another — I find that rbDigital is better for classics I’m trying to catch up on, while Libby tends to have more contemporary reads.

I almost always have the max amount of holds put on books because it can take a while for the audiobooks to become available. This helps ensure that I don’t end up without a book to listen to on my commute, with the exception of a random day or two (and I just listen to a podcast on that day instead).

For those of you who prefer e-readers, Overdrive provides ebooks as well.

Kindle Unlimited
In all fairness, I’ve only just signed up for this service. But the great thing about it is that you have unlimited (duh) access to eBooks and audiobooks for only $10/month. A friend at work swears by it and says it’s an incredible deal for how much she reads.

Audible
Audible is what got me started with audiobooks. You pay $16/month and receive a book credit each month for that membership fee. We managed to get all the Harry Potter audiobooks over the course of last year using those credits, which is so much cheaper than the $35+ each one costs.

I don’t use Audible much anymore because of Overdrive, but if there’s ever a book I know I’ll want to listen to again, or if it’s just too new for Overdrive to carry, I use an Audible credit. It’s very rare that we spend outside of each month’s credit, but it’s worth it when we do.

Book of the Month
Another exception to my not-buying-new-books rule is my Book of the Month subscription. Each month, I get to choose 1 of 5 books (and can buy as many of them as I’d like if I can’t choose) to receive. This was how I landed One Day in December, which was a December favorite. This month, I chose Angie Thomas’ new book because I loved The Hate U Give so much. Also, every book is a hardback. Score.

Book Recommendation Lists
As for where I get book recommendations, I follow several blogs like Modern Mrs. Darcy and Laura Tremaine’s 10 Things to Tell You. I keep an eye out for new releases from my favorite authors, along with other writers they endorse. I also love the monthly recommendations from my Real Simple subscription.

That’s it! Those are my reading tips and tools. I’d love to hear about anything you use or do to make reading a priority, along with any good book recommendations!

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