How to Start Reading for Pleasure (Again)—6 Tips for Getting Your Flow Back

Many of us wish we were better readers, and this might help you get there.   

Image by: Georgina Laskari

How to Start Reading for Pleasure (Again)—6 Tips for Getting Your Flow Back

By: Wiktoria Grzybowska

December 9th 2021

When I was in my early teens, I didn’t read books—I swallowed them. There were stacks of them all over my room and I held the record for the most borrowed-and-returned books within a single week in the local library. And then, something stopped clicking, and for years I could no longer read books for the pleasure of it.


This is a common story—I’ve talked to many people who used to love reading as kids, but once they stopped, they had a hard time taking it up again. Suddenly reading is no longer a pleasure, only a struggle. But! Recently I have successfully re-trained my brain not only to be able to read, but to enjoy it too. I figure, if I can do it, anyone can! So, if you want to get back to loving books, or if you’ve never been a big reader but feel motivated to become one, here are some tips for you. 


1. Ease into it 

Meaning: lay off the classics! The biggest mistake I made when trying to take up reading again many times over the years was reaching for books I thought I “should” read. Classic literature is fantastic, yes, but it can also be a chore. Language is gorgeous—but complicated; narratives meaningful—but not necessarily entertaining. Many people pick up a Hemingway or a Dostoyevsky after not having read for years and have a hard time digesting it. Don’t do that! It will make you feel like you can’t read at all and give up again. 


Remember: the goal is to read for pleasure, so there are no books that you “should” or “should not” read. To give yourself a fighting chance, after a long break from reading, reach for something light, easy, and short. Young adult fiction is a good bet, as is any book you had already read and enjoyed before. Read a Harry Potter, or a Princess’ Diaries. Anna Karenina will still be there once you’re ready for her, and the pay-off will be much greater. 


2. Know your tastes

Try and tailor your books after the content you consume. What kind of films and series do you watch? Do you like science fiction? Family drama? Comedy, horror, or true crime? Take what you already know you enjoy and apply it to books. Once you’ve got a nice, comfortable reading rhythm, you can start experimenting. 


3. Don’t bankrupt yourself in the name of reading 

Reading books and buying books are two very different hobbies, so don’t get them confused. Just because you made it to the bookstore and bought those gorgeous hardbacks, doesn’t mean you’ll ever read them. If you want to buy books, be smart about it. Many bookstores or even grocery shops often have great pocketbook sales—4 for the price of 3, or 3 for 100kr, etc. E-books are also a much cheaper option if you have something you can read them on. 


But first and foremost—don’t buy, borrow! The Malmö City Library has a fantastic, broad catalogue of books in many languages, with plenty of new and trendy titles, as well as oldies-but-goodies. Search the online catalogue and reserve the titles that interest you, if you don’t want to spend much time browsing the bookshelves. If you don’t want to go out at all—you can get an online library card and use it to borrow e-books, downloadable straight onto your desktop. If you still really want to buy those pretty hardbacks, then my advice is to buy books you’ve already read and liked.


Sidenote: if convenience is important to you, and you’re seriously dedicated to reading more, an e-book reader may be worth splashing on. It’s the best way of reading in bed and on the commute, and it doesn’t tire out your eyes the way a phone or a tablet does. 


4. Plan and prepare

If you’re waiting to start reading until inspiration strikes you, you will never get to it. Trust me—you have to make an active decision which times of the day/days of the week you want to read, and then stick to the plan. Then, prepare yourself and your reading space. Make sure you’re sitting comfortably (lying down is risky!), that you have good light, some drinks, snacks, and a blanket nearby. That way you won’t be getting up multiple times, to fetch whatever it is you need, and losing your focus. 


Speaking of focus—get rid of distractions. No TV in the background allowed, and when it comes to your music, try to avoid vocals. Lo-fi beats and instrumental playlists are the safest bets. Then there’s the biggest distraction—the phone. The best solution to the smartphone issue is to put your phone in another room and temporarily turn off all notifications (aside from calls). If you’re not comfortable not having your phone near you, go into your setting and enable grayscale. Making your screen black-and-white makes it less attractive, and thus—less likely to distract you from your reading.


5. Remember that books don’t have feelings…

…so you can’t hurt them. If you start reading a book and after 50-ish pages you decide you don’t like it, don’t be scared to abandon it. I know, I know, this is controversial. But remember that you’re only reading for yourself—there’s no teacher making you do it, no test at the end of the week. Forcing yourself to read a book you don’t enjoy defeats the purpose of reading for pleasure. 


Similarly, you don’t have to enter a monogamous relationship with just one book.
A lot of people read one book at a time, but I’ve found I like to have two or three titles always ready to go. Some books can be quite tough to get through, so it’s good to balance it with a light read. You may also want to mix fiction with non-fiction, long novels with short stories, etc. A to-be-read pile is always a good thing to have, whether you decide to read many books simultaneously or not. That way you can jump from one title to another without a long pause breaking your flow. 


6. Don’t be too hard on yourself

It’s completely normal to struggle to stay focused and motivated. No, you’re not stupid and yes, your brain is working fine. If you’ve had a long break from reading, or if you’ve never been a big reader, then naturally it will take time to find your rhythm. Don’t beat yourself up and never compare yourself to other people—there are literary freaks out there who can read over a hundred books per year, but we regular folk have to manage our expectations and set realistic goals. 


Consider tracking your reading with an app like GoodReads or Libib—figure out if you stay on track better if you aim for pages per day, or books per month. Start slowly and build up your confidence. Remember that you’re only reading for yourself, and not to impress anyone else. Give yourself a break if you need it—you don’t want to burn out and abandon reading again. And realize that sometimes as students, we read much more than we think we do—all the course literature and academic articles are no light reads. 


So go easy on yourself, and happy reading.

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