“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges
Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.
A teen-ager wrote to me the other day, asking how he could build the habit of reading — he spends too much time on Facebook and playing video games.
The short answer: read amazing, fun, exciting, lovely books that you just can’t put down!
I’ve been a lifelong reader, so the pleasure of a good book is one of my favorite things in the world. I love to lose myself in the world of a novel, to become best friends with a character, to curl up in the silence of the early morning or late night hours, wrapped in the deliciousness of a book.
I think many people approach reading the wrong way: they try to force themselves to read, and see reading as a difficult and tedious chore. Well, if that’s how you look at reading, no wonder you don’t have the habit!
Instead, see it as a wonderful thing. Reading is a joy. It is a time of peace, of adventure, of exploration, of just enjoying a good story. If you learn to love reading, as I do and as many others do, it’s not really a habit you have to develop — it’s something you look forward to doing each day.
On Reading Being Good For You
First let’s take a look at a deeply entrenched concept: that reading is wholesome and healthy and Good For You. Well, I think it is, but is it inherently better than any of a thousand other activities? Maybe sometimes.
Is reading a book better than playing outside? Better than a good conversation? Better than exploring websites on a topic that excites you? Better than exploring nature? Better than playing sports? Better than drawing or painting or playing music or dancing?
I don’t think so. I think each activity has its own benefits and pleasures.
Is reading better than watching TV? I tend to believe it is, if learning is important to you, but not necessarily so if pleasure is your main concern. Both activities can be pleasurable in their own way.
Is reading better than playing video games? This will be controversial, but I’m not so sure it is. Read this article for more about the learning advantages of playing video games.
Reading might be better than many activities if your main concern is educating yourself and improving your chances of succeeding in various careers. However … reading is more than a means to an end … reading is an end in and of itself. It’s a joy, and that’s how you should approach it.
If you gain a side benefit of becoming better prepared for school and life, well … so much the better!
Reading and Children
Many parents are concerned because their kids aren’t readers. Well, I wouldn’t worry so much. What’s more important is that you are loving and compassionate towards them, that you instill a love for learning (by any means) and give them the tools they need to explore whatever they’re excited about.
How do you do that? By not forcing them to learn, but by being a role model for them and showing your enthusiasm for learning, by exposing them to all kinds of exciting things and talking with them about it and learning about these things together (when they’re interested), by helping them explore things that excite them (whatever those things are).
However, if you’d like them to learn the love of reading you yourself have, there are things you can do that are consistent with the philosophy in the paragraph above.
Start by reading to your child. You can start from the moment he’s born (or earlier), but whenever you start is good. Read fun books, exciting books, adventurous books. Here’s a good place to start: Best All-Time Children’s Books.
Make reading fun. Make it a time of bonding between the two of you. Make it something your child looks forward to doing each day. Do not make reading a forced thing — encourage it, make it fun, don’t force them to read if they don’t want to.
Make it a routine — do it at the same time(s) of day, in the same place, such as at night in bed or in the morning in a favorite chair or couch — because children find comfort in routines.
Also make it a habit to go to the library regularly — and read with your child there. Help your child find books that interest her. Visit used book stores (and new bookstores too).
Provide a variety of reading materials for your child, about topics she’s interested in. Lots of books, lots of magazines, websites, etc.
And be a model — read yourself. Do it every day, and let your child see how much you love reading. He’ll pick up on it.
Finding Amazing Books
Whether you’re trying to instill the love of reading in your child or yourself, the key is in finding books that you just can’t put down. If you find that, the rest is easy.
Easier said than done? True — every person will have different preferences for authors, genres and so on. You can’t just read a definitive list of books online, start from the top, and work your way down.
That said, you can start with my lists of amazing books:
- 50 Amazing and Essential Novels to Enrich Your Library
- 20 Amazing and Essential Non-fiction Books to Enrich Your Library
That’s just a start, of course. Check out sites such as GoodReads to see recommendations from others based on books you know you like. Explore books at the bookstore or library — just pick up a book and start reading for 10-20 minutes and see if it grabs you. Sometimes a good book takes a little while to develop, of course, but many great ones will hook you from the first page and keep you going from there. Read more: 20 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Books
For the aforementioned teen who is looking to develop the habit of reading, I can recommend some of my favorites from my teen-age years (or thereabouts):
- The Catcher in the Rye
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- Watership Down
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
- Piers Anthony’s Xanth fantasy series (starting with A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth, Book 1))
- Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (starting with The Color of Magic)
- Lord of the Flies
- The Giver
- The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series
- The Chronicles of Narnia
A couple really popular ones my teen or pre-teen kids have enjoyed recently include the Twilight series, Inkheart, Bridge to Terabithia, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Eragon and of course, Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-6).
The Habit of Reading
If you’re serious about creating the habit of reading, what’s important is finding a time you can read every single day — often that’s early morning or late at night (or both). For others, it might be during their lunch break. You only need to read for 10-20 minutes a day to form the habit.
Also find a place that’s comfortable, and read there every time. Make sure it has decent lighting, that the temperature is nice, that you’re in a good chair or couch or someplace that you can relax in without falling asleep (although there’s nothing wrong with sleep).
Be sure to shut off distractions such as the TV, Internet, phones, Blackberry or iPhone, radio or other music. Let reading be a quiet tim.
In forming habits, you want to be as consistent as possible. So mark an “x” on your calendar every day you do the habit, and try to keep your unbroken streak of “x”es going as long as possible (Jerry Seinfeld’s trick).
A habit is much easier to form if it’s something you enjoy, not something you’re forcing yourself to do. So make the time you spend reading a joy — see the next section.
“We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.” – B.F. Skinner
The Joy of Reading
The habit of reading is not as important as the joy of reading. As a bonus, though, if you discover or nurture the joy of reading, the habit becomes much much easier.
How to you discover the joy of reading? Well, start by finding amazing books, as I discussed above. If a book bores you, move on to another. Find a book with a main character you love, doing things that excite you or give you joy.
But beyond the book itself is everything else that surrounds you — where you sit, how quiet it is, how comfortable you are. You want the experience to be as pleasurable as possible. For some, that might be reading while taking a hot bath (reading in the shower is more difficult). For others, that might be with a hot cup of tea or coffee. For still others, it’s reading in the park, near a river or lake or ocean, on their front porch as the sun rises.
Whatever works for you, but make it something to look forward to.
Don’t force yourself to read — do it because it’s fun and enjoyable. If you treat it like a chore, it will feel like one. If you treat it like a treat, that’s what it will be. Make reading a voluntary thing, a hobby, a passion.
Learn to immerse yourself in the world of a book, and forget about the world around you. This is related to being in the moment, or finding the state of Flow — time seems to disappear, and nothing else exists but your book.
If you have kids or grandkids, read to them. Snuggle up close on the couch or bed, and read a good book. It’s great quality time, and it helps you enjoy reading more as well. Reading chapter books, such as BFG or Matilda or the Hobbit or Harry Potter, is a great experience for both child and adult.
You might also try reading groups in your area, or discussion groups online. Discussing a book is a great way to make reading fun, to motivate yourself to read, to get deeper into a book.
Finally, consider a reading log or journal, if you enjoy things like that. It can be fun to look back on what you have read, and writing in a journal is a great way to reflect on what you’ve read and amplify the joy of reading.