Day 30: How to Get in the Reading Habit

This is a bit supplemental, but along with my book list and thoughts on lit from yesterday, important.

I read a lotThis year I decided to track how many new books I read in a year. I set a goal of 175, to read before Jan. 1, 2013.

I hit that goal last week.

That’s a LOT of books. (No, to my father, who reads this: I did not BUY all of those 175 books!)

So, people always ask: “How do you read that many books?” or, its companion, “I never have time to read.”

Part of it is reading is in my DNA. I can’t imagine not having a book with me wherever I go. I might forget my wallet or my cellphone, but a book? Never. I read in the tub, for pete’s sake.

Where I’d spend most of my time, if I could.

Second, I’m usually reading several books at one time. This is carryover from college. Two liberal arts majors means a lot of reading, so I had to be able to juggle books for Brit Lit Survey with 19th Century American Lit, and foreign policy. Again, habit.  But this also means I can finish books faster, because if one book is lagging, or is dense (like Catherine the Great, which I’m reading now–it’s dense. Good, but dense), I can switch to something a bit faster or lighter. That’s an important thing to remember–not all books are “equal” in the time it takes them to read. I can polish off the new Alexander McCall Smith novel in an hour or so. Wolf Hall took me a lot longer, partially because I was enjoying the writing, and partially because there’s a lot going on there.

(This doesn’t mean I don’t love AMcS–I do. He’s in my top five contemporary authors. I just mean his books read very easily.)

One of my many bookshelves

Third, I like a wide variety of books. I will read just about anything. I love kid lit (I’m a huge fan of Rick Riordan’s mythology series–Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and the Kane Chronicles), but I also will read books on creativity or science or schizophrenia. (Yes. For fun. I’m weird.)

Fourth, I have friends who like to read, so we’re constantly swapping recommendations.

If you want to get into the reading habit, like anything else, it takes practice. But my first suggestion is to find what you like, and then go for it! I love discovering new authors just for this purpose, because there’s a whole new bunch of books to start reading. They don’t have to be classics (although I’d prefer if you didn’t read Dan Brown. Please? Plleeeeeeease?).  They don’t have to be big or impressive.

As a kid, I would go into the school library and just grab books that looked good, and then check them out. I suggest this as a way to start, if you’re really lost. Or check out those books you “should have” read, but never got around to (see my book list!). I did this post-college with the Russian authors. My focus was British Literature in school, so post-school, I did a “Big Russian Novel” for a few summers. That way I plowed through Anna Karenina, The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov. I have War and Peace, but that might just never happen. This summer, I read A Farewell To Arms, and Steinbeck, a few years back: East of Eden. Other books I read this way: almost all of Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton (I’m still working on both of them); Dante’s Divine ComedyMadame Bovary; Notre-Dame de Paris; Charlotte Bronte’s Villette (ring a bell?), Frankenstein; Dracula; Middlemarch, and essentially all of Dickens, except for Hard Times, which I read in college (and didn’t really like). A Tale of Two Cities is one of my all-time favorites. Now, these might all sound like hard, school-y books. Here’s a recommendation: watch the BBC versions (the recent ones, like Bleak House with Gillian Andersen, or Little Dorrit ) and then go read the books. This works especially well with Dickens, because his later books (like the two I just mentioned) are so dense.

Biographies are also a good place to start, or history. I love British, French and Russian history. Colonial history is my favorite part of American history, so I’ve read John Adams and 1776.  Pick a part of history you like and go for it. Kids books are actually a great place to start here. My love of royal history started with the Dear America diary series!

The point is, to read. Keep books around, dip into them at your leisure. It’s not school. There will be no test, no quizzes, no “which characters were in Starbuck’s boat in chapter whatever of Moby-Dick” (yes, that was a question on a pop quiz in my 19th Century American Lit class. This could be why I am so averse to Melville…)?

Part of the Jane collection, top shelf; autobiographies and memoir, second shelf.

Even when I’ve been able to do very little else–when sitting up was hard–I could always read. Granted, it might not make a lot of sense, but I did it! (I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the CICU post-transplant. Let me tell you, I had some plot twists in there that JK Rowling never thought of…) You don’t need a Nook, although I have one, and it makes sharing fun. Reading can be free!

What’s your favorite type of book to read? Do you branch out in your reading, or do you stick to one subject?

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