Taking a break from reading for pleasure is totally normal. Whether you’ve been devoting time and energy to education, work, caring for others, or caring for yourself, I’m glad you’re back to carving out some time to read. You might feel a lot of pressure to make the most of that time or to read the “right” things. But there are plenty of other sources of pressure in life, and reading really shouldn’t be one of them.
Instead of pressuring you to read in any specific way, I’ll give you a few tips that I think can help alleviate some of the negative feelings that can surround reading. I’ve also got some advice that can help zero in on finding the joy in reading again. It’s okay to feel grief about a past self who used to drink books like water. I know I grieve that version of myself! Getting back into reading may not mean a return to that kind of reading life, but you can still expect to find a book you love. One of the best experiences in life is reading a book that reminds you why it’s so great to be a reader. Those books don’t come along every day, but we’ll chase that feeling nonetheless.
Let’s get started.
Don’t Be Afraid to Quit
There can be a lot of negative feelings attached to quitting books, but it can also be incredibly liberating to set a book aside and say, “not for me” or “not right now.” If you’re getting back into reading, you don’t need to give a book 100 pages or even 50 pages. You can see if the first chapter hooks you. Heck, you can see if the first page grabs you.
Quitting a book today does not mean quitting a book forever. When I finally got into Daughter of Smoke and Bone, it transfixed me like almost no other book ever has. But I bounced off it a couple of times before it stuck. You don’t have to develop that persistence yet. If the goal is to finish a book, make it as easy for yourself as possible by choosing one that really pulls you in from the start.
Seek Out Quality Recommendations
I really can’t stress this enough: recommending books is a skill people learn and develop. Having a friend who reads doesn’t mean they’ll recommend good books for you. All my friends eat food. It doesn’t mean they know what I want to eat! I’ll never forget when I asked someone for a recommendation for a lighthearted but immersive fantasy series and they suggested Game of Thrones to me with a straight face. Don’t make my mistake. Leave it to the pros.
There are plenty of people who specialize in recommending books. Librarians, booksellers at your local bookstore, the bibliologists at TBR, the podcasters at Get Booked, to name a few. These folks know the questions that will start productive conversations about what you’re looking for. Seeking out expert opinions is a good practice in general, and it definitely applies to getting back into reading.
Don’t Let a Sense of Obligation Guide You
FOMO can be real when it comes to reading. Whether it’s a bestselling book everyone seems to be talking about, or some classic you feel ought to be under your belt by now, books can feel like obligations. But the book you should be reading right now is the one you feel like reading.
Even if you ever prided yourself on reading lots of capital-L Literature, you’re allowed to go through different reading phases. You might be drawn to genre fiction right now, like romance or mystery. If a young adult or middle grade book grabs your attention, great. If someone makes a judgmental remark about what they see you reading, or if you’re worried about that happening, it’s time to work on caring less. There are plenty of things to care about; other people’s opinions on your reading choices are not among them.
Try Something New
If you think reading only happens when your eyes scan words on paper, consider expanding your idea of what counts as reading. Some of my best reading happens when I take an audiobook on a walk. If art paired with words sounds appealing, there are comics and graphic novels for any kind of reading taste. And if you like the idea of reading about characters you already know, go ahead and dive into some some fan fiction. It’s all reading.
If your time or attention span are running a little thin, try reading one poem a day until you’ve completed a collection. Do the same with a book of short stories or essays if that sounds fun. Ultimately, there are so many kinds of writing, and you might discover a latent interest by branching out.
Try Something Old
A reliable way to break out of a reading slump is to pick up a book you already know you love. Rereading books is always so enlightening for me. Apart from the fact that I remember vibes much better than plots, I will almost always notice or appreciate something new. And some books hit me differently because of my life experiences since I last read them.
It’s also fine to reread parts of books. I know that if I really needed a pick-me-up, I could read just the first part of Little Women. Or select favorite chapters from Moby-Dick. What can I say, I love 19th century New England. And then, reassured that I can still derive pleasure from text, I could look for something new.
Go Easy on Yourself
I just threw a lot of advice out there, so take what works and leave what doesn’t. I’ve already mentioned discounting the opinions of others. So now I’m telling you to discount their reading habits, too. You might have friends who read 100 books or more a year. Let them do their thing, and keep your eyes on your own paper. Because if you’re going from reading zero books to one book, that’s already a big accomplishment worthy of celebration. You’re reading again, and we’re so happy to have you back.