Anne Bogel's 5 Tips to Restore Your Love of Reading
Author Anne Bogel is the creator of the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and the host of the What Should I Read Next? podcast. In her new book, Don't Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life (publishing in the U.S. on March 3), she offers her best advice on how to avoid being plagued by indecisions and the fear of making mistakes. Who better than the bookish Bogel to help us through our reading ruts and get us back into the pages?
1. Take a break.
Thanks to my job, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with thousands of readers about their reading lives. The reasons we all choose to read are many and varied: We read to escape, to explore other worlds, to sharpen our minds, and broaden our horizons. We read because it fills our hearts with joy. We read because we can’t imagine not reading.
We read because we love to read—and yet no one’s reading life is entirely struggle-free. Sometimes we let ourselves get intimidated by the books we love or the readers who read them. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed by all the books we could be reading that we don’t decide what to read, and read nothing. Sometimes we lie awake in bed at night, paralyzed by the thought that life is too short to read all the books on our To Be Read list. These are symptoms of overthinking, and it’s ruinous to your reading life.
If your reading life lately is characterized by bookish FOMO, analysis paralysis, and second-guessing, you may be overthinking it. Try these tips to bring the joy back to your reading life.
I love seeing what everyone else is reading on #bookstagram—that is, the bookish community on Instagram. My #bookstagram feed overflows with gorgeous photos of intricately arranged books and beautifully organized bookshelves. And the books themselves! Brand-new books that look amazing, classics I’ve been meaning to read for years, advance reader copies I don’t have but wish I did. On #bookstagram, I’ll never run out of ideas for what to read next.
But that’s the rub: On #bookstagram there are so many options—beautiful, enticing, “I want to read that right now” options—that instead of feeling delighted by the possibilities, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the books you haven’t read yet. And feeling overwhelmed is a common indicator of overthinking.
Bookish FOMO sucks the fun out of reading. If seeing all those pretty books makes you feel tired instead of inspired, give yourself a needed break from #bookstagram.
2. Stop saying “should.”
I hear it all the time: readers stuck in a rut because they’re reading the books they feel like they “should” be reading. They should read the latest bestseller because it seems like everyone else is reading it. They should read the book a friend’s begging them to read. They should finish all those books they never read in school, like Moby Dick and Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice.
Before you read a book because you feel you should, take a minute to examine your motivation. It’s great to feel inspired to pick up a book. It’s OK to feel obligated to read a title: for class, for book club, because your mom asked you nicely. But don’t let yourself be shamed into reading a book.
Banish the word “should” from your reading vocabulary: That’s a recipe for bookish unhappiness.
3. Take a chance.
Everyone loves a sure thing. As readers, we love picking up the new book from a favorite author or the next installment in a much-loved series. We’re pretty sure we’re going to love it—and that feels good.
But do you know what else feels good in your reading life? The joy of finding a book totally outside your comfort zone that blows you away. If you stick with the sure thing—whatever that looks like for you—you’ll never experience this brand of bookish delight.
Consider this: It’s OK to read books you don’t enjoy.
Reading is not a win/lose proposition. You’re not a winner if you pick a book you end up assigning a five-star rating, nor are you a failure if you read a book worth only two stars. If you consider only five-star reads to be reading successes, you’re letting perfectionism rule your reading life—and perfectionism never made anybody happy.
Try this instead: Check your expectations about your next read, and embrace a spirit of experimentation. It’s OK to not adore every book you pick up. You’re not a failure if you do; you’re a reader who was willing to give a book a chance.
The worst that can happen just isn’t that bad. And besides, haven’t you noticed that readers adore getting together and discussing books they didn’t enjoy?
4. Try a taste.
Have you ever stood in front of your bookshelves thinking, I have a hundred books I haven’t read right in front of me, and I have no idea which one to read next?
No need to panic; try this experiment to decide what to read next: Sit down with five promising titles. Read five pages of each, noting style and story and what you’re in the mood for right now. Then go with your gut to choose your next read.
If five pages sounds like too much of a commitment, try this tip from What Should I Read Next? guest Melody Warnick: Read just the first sentence of each one, and see what grabs you.
5. Put it down.
When you’re reading a book that isn’t working for you, do you give yourself permission to set it aside and read something else instead? I hope you are. Readers who are willing to set aside books that aren’t working for them are more satisfied with their reading lives. They’re happier with what they read, and they read more books overall.
That’s all well and good in theory. But in practice, the question of at what point to set aside a book you’re not inclined to finish is an invitation to overthinking. You can save yourself all kinds of mental angst by adopting a rule of thumb to guide you in deciding whether—and at what point—to set a book aside.
Some readers prefer a concrete page count, such as that recommended by librarian Nancy Pearl, who recommends that readers give a book “100 pages minus your age” before setting it aside. If that straightforward guideline works for you, great—but I don’t hold myself to a specific page count.
After pushing myself to finish too many books I wish I hadn’t, I created this personal guideline: If I’m inclined to believe I’ll get to the end of a book and regret the precious—and limited—reading time it cost me, I set it aside.
Guess what? Goodreads even has a shelf for that.
If your reading life could use a lift, don’t despair. Everyone struggles from time to time, but you don’t have to stay stuck. Don’t overthink it: Pick one of these strategies, and put it to work in your own reading life today.
Anne Bogel's Don't Overthink It: Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life will be in bookstores on March 3. Be sure to add it to your Want to Read shelf.
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