I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who thrives in a calm, quiet environment. I have friends who crave hustle and bustle. They love it when their home is crowded with noise and people.
I tire easily at parties. My mommy fuse is quick to blow when my kids are playing around wildlike and at top volume. I get a little blue when my calendar is crammed with this and that.
It’s no wonder that I love to read. It’s the perfect hobby for someone like me. A solitary space. A circle of quiet. A story to escape into.
I read to relax!
But did you know that reading is “scientifically proven” to reduce stress? (I have to put “scientifically proven” in quotes because I can’t personally vouch for the science, of course, and, really, who knows?)
Reading worked better and quicker than listening to music, drinking tea, and walking.
Why is reading SO relaxing? Even more than those other activities?
Here’s one possibility: It requires the mind to do work.
Wait, what? How can work be relaxing?
Hear me out. Because the brain is busy reading, it doesn’t latch onto anxious thoughts as readily. Reading activates the imagination, which switches on the prefrontal cortex in such a way that it stops the body’s emergency response (or so I’ve read).
As a result, your heart rate goes down. Muscles relax. Your body burns through the remaining stress hormones in your system, and voila. Calm.
Dr. David Lewis, the cognitive neuropsychologist who conducted the study said, “It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.”
It sure sounds to me like he’s referring to fiction—an enchanting story, a riveting narrative.
Now, if I’m reading something that scares or annoys the crap out of me, then I’m definitely NOT relaxed after. (I’m talking terrible Tweets or troubling news articles.)
But, if it’s a story, then I’m usually good. It relaxes me, even if it’s intense or heavy. And reading before bed is THE best prelude to slumber. When I read before bed, I go out like a light. (I always regret looking at my phone before bed—even with my blue-light blocker thingy.)
How about you? Does reading relax you? If you suffer from anxiety, does it offer any relief? Leave me a comment with your best reading relaxation routines.
You’ve heard it a thousand times, the phrase “get lost in a book.”
As in, “Oooh, I love to lose myself in a good book.”
What does it mean to “lose yourself” in a book?
It means to be so interested in the book that you don’t notice what’s happening around you. The book commands your complete attention, and everything else just sort of fades into the background.
What’s the best part about this?
For me, it’s that I literally forget myself for a while.
I’m a very self-focused person. I think about myself a lot. How do other people see me? Does this outfit make me look like I’m trying too hard? Does this email newsletter make me sound smart? Yada-yada, on and on forever. This has NOT been good for me, mentally or spiritually.
Self-care and self-love. I’m not fundamentally opposed to these concepts. (I don’t think we should neglect or hate ourselves.) But, for me personally, what I call “self-care” quickly turns to self-indulgence. Like immediately.
Reading a book is a blessed break from the habit of me-me-me thinking.
When I lose myself in a story, everything takes a backseat, including…me.
This HAS been good. Taking the focus off myself and putting it…um, anywhere else!
C. S. Lewis said that we read books because:
“We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. In love we escape from our self into one other. This process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it.’”
An Experiment in Criticism
What “old paradox” is Lewis talking about? He’s quoting the words of Jesus Christ recorded in Matthew 16:25:
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I’m not going to get theological, but I feel like the simple, humble act of reading a book is a small reflection of this great gospel-command. It’s not the fulfillment of the command, no! It’s a shadow of it. It’s one small way that I can lose myself, or, in other words, take the focus off myself and put it elsewhere.
Here’s another paradox: The more I focus on myself, the less content I am with life (it’s just not enough). The less grateful I am for what I have (I need more). The tighter I hold to what’s mine (Share? No way).
Reading connects me to people, places, worlds, and conflicts that are beyond the scope of myself. It’s an expansion and an enlargement, as Lewis said. Instead of thinking only of “my story,” the one I’m living in this moment, the one in which I’m the main character, my eyes open wider, and I see that “my story” is one of many stories, past and present, and those stories—even the ancient ones, foreign ones, fictional ones—resonate deeply with me, and I am not alone, not the first nor the last to experience and feel these things. I remember that I am profoundly connected.
Ironically, it’s only in the self-forgetting that I make those gains.
I have not mastered this. Who has? I remain largely self-obsessed. But…when I’m losing myself in a great story, not quite so much. 😉
Books to lose yourself in
Here’s my megalist of immersive, unputdownable books to get lost in.
Hey, it happens! Even the most avid readers fall into slumps.
And sometimes, avid readers stop reading altogether. For months. Even years.
You’re here because you want to start reading again. Yay—go you!
But, where to begin?
You need a few good recommendations, and that’s what I’m gonna give you. I’ve put together a master list of super-readable, entertaining books to get back into reading.
Yes, yes, I’m going to give you the titles of specific books that (I believe) will rekindle your literary flame. But first, I’m going to teach you what types of books are especially excellent at helping readers bounce back from a bookish dry spell. That way, if you don’t like any of the recommendations I’ve listed, you’ll be fully equipped to venture forth and choose the right book for you.
What exactly ARE the best books to get back into reading?
If it’s been a looooong time since your last book, then you probably have no clue where to start your book search.
The type of books you enjoyed back-inna-day probably aren’t the same books that your “now” self wants.
What to read to get back into reading?! I’ll help you escape this chicken-or-egg scenario.
Before I give you the booklist, I want to equip you to choose an amazing book without needing a booklist at all.
The first thing you need to know is this: Not every book is a good book to get back into reading.
For example, I love the venerable Jane Austen. I can read her anytime, anyhow. But, she’s probably not a great choice for someone who’s bouncing back from a book-less life. Austen can be rigorous. And confusing if you don’t know much about the customs of regency England. And, at times, she’s a little dull—don’t tell anyone I said that, k?
To rebound from a reading slump, you need a book that is:
Easy to read
Let’s break each of these down real quick.
A short book is a quick win.
Your ultimate goal is to get back into reading. So, you need a quick win. At this point, you’re not looking to conquer War and Peace. You simply need to get traction. So choose something short that you can finish quickly.
That way, you can swiftly check the box marked “I’ve read a book.” And that’ll motivate you to knock out another book, and then another. Pretty soon, you’ll be eyeing War and Peace, thinking, “Yeah, I can do it.”
Let me tell you a secret: You’re going to start reading your book, and then two minutes later, your fingers are going to go searching for your phone. It takes practice to build back your ability to concentrate. Hence, short.
How short? Try for a ballpark of:
300 ebook pages at standard font size
300 print pages if the words are densely packed
500 print pages if the words are spread out
These numbers aren’t hard and fast. Ballpark, people.
An easy read lets you fly through the story.
The writing shouldn’t be hard to understand. That’ll cause friction, which will burn you out before you know it.
Go for a book with clear, simple writing that isn’t difficult to comprehend at face value. You don’t want to stumble over complex, convoluted language. You need your eyes to race across the page.
Pretty much all modern genre fiction is easy.
Literary fiction, classics, and academic works are hit or miss.
Entertaining books keep you turning those pages.
Now’s not the time to prove to the world that you’ve read Les Miserables. Grab a page-turner with a well-paced plot that’ll suck you in. These are the books that make you say, “Just one more chapter…”
Mysteries, thrillers, romances, and young adult novels are hands-down the best fiction books to get back into reading. Why?
These genres are specifically designed to hook you (and keep you hooked).
And now, without further ado…
33 compulsively readable books to get out of a slump
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the booklist. I’ve separated the recommendations into categories, with young adult novels, mysteries, and romances at the top. And, naturally, I tried to follow my own bossy advice when handpicking this list. (I put a lot of thought into it, you guys, and I hope you love it.)
Heads up: It’s m’duty to tell you that this article contains affiliate links, which earn me commission at no extra cost to you. Here’s my disclosure policy.
Young adult books with addictive plots
Young adult books are fast-paced, full of drama, and very easy to read. That’s why they’re a fantastic choice to bounce back from a reading slump. Here are a few that I loved (but that aren’t too angsty or over the top).
Counting by 7s
By Holly Goldberg Sloan
This book is full of oddballs you can’t help loving. Willow, a brilliant 12-year-old girl, is suddenly orphaned and figures out a way to avoid getting scooped up by Child Protective Services. With the help of her utterly pathetic school counselor and the fierce friendship of some Vietnamese strangers, she stumbles toward a healing place.
Salt to the Sea
By Ruta Sepetys
This WW2 novel follows four desperate young people who meet each other as they’re caught up in Operation Hannibal, the by-sea evacuation of civilians from the war-torn Baltic states. You get the story from each young person’s perspective in bite-sized chapters. That’s why I like this one for a quick win. The pacing propels you onward.
Hope Was Here
By Joan Bauer
I just LOVE Joan Bauer’s humor! This book made me laugh from the first page to the last. Hope and her aunt are moving from the big city to a country town to restart their lives. They waitress at a local cafe, where the owner is embroiled in small-town politics. This is a feel-gooder through-n-through.
The Downstairs Girl
By Stacey Lee
Stacey Lee is great at writing YA historical novels that contain more than fluff. Jo Kuan is a Chinese orphan trying to make something of herself in Gilded Age Atlanta. A twist of fate lands her an anonymous advice column in a local newspaper, where she speaks her mind and sparks controversy. This was just plain FUN to read and is fantastic on audio.
YA series starters you won’t be able to resist
Series are serious money makers, so no wonder there’s a ton of them. If you’re seeking a long-term relationship with a cast of characters and the worlds they inhabit, then here are a few gateway books into several insanely popular young adult series.
Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1)
By Marissa Meyer
This is a funny, lighthearted retelling of Cinderella with a sci-fi twist. After you finish Cinder, you meet Scarlet (Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White). One thing I really appreciate is the complexity of the villain and her reign of terror. These are excellent on audio!
The Giver (Giver Quartet #1)
By Lois Lowry
I used to read this book every year when I was a teenager. It’s so intriguing, the way things unfold, quietly and terribly. Did you know that there are three sequels? And they are all classic Lowry. Please, please don’t watch the movie!
Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1)
By L. M. Montgomery
This is my all-time favorite comfort read. I can’t tell you how much I love sinking into the sweet, safe world of Avonlea. The relationship between impulsive, emotional Anne and the practical, prickly Marilla is the stuff classics are made of.
The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)
By Suzanne Collins
I know, I know. But Collins just nails the YA genre. She nails it. I mean, is there a more perfectly paced trio of books in the world right now? These always have me rushing from one chapter to the next, and addictively coming back for more.
Mysteries that’ll keep you guessing from page one
I’ve chosen “feel-good” mysteries that follow the cozy, classic style (but that are also smart and funny). What can I say? I’m too softhearted to read anything gristly.
By Anthony Horowitz
This is a modern novel, but it has all the charm of golden-era murder mysteries. There’s a colorful cast of characters—every last one of them has a motive to kill—and all the puzzle pieces fall into place with perfection by the end. (Heads up: This one has a super-fun structure that delivers two mysteries for the price of one.)
Death on the Nile
By Agatha Christie
This is one of my favorite Christie novels—and you can follow this up by watching the 2022 movie version. A glam girl is brutally murdered on a cruise boat in Egypt. The killer must be one of the passengers…right? If you can, listen to David Suchet narrate this on audio. It’s perfection!
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
By Alan Bradley
If you love all things British, then you will go gaga over this lighthearted mystery. Flavia de Luce is a brilliant chemist. She’s also 11 years old. It’s the 1950s, and the action takes place on one of those lovely country estates. This one is loaded with period charm for anglophiles.
Romance novels for a love buzz
These books will scratch that romance itch, but I made sure none have explicit sex scenes (a.k.a. open-door scenes). As with all romances, there will be cheese. But it’s totally worth it.
By Francine Rivers
The quintessential Christian historical romance! This book truly touched me when I first read it in my twenties. It’s a romance novel, yes, but it’s a beautiful story of faith based on the book of Hosea in the Bible. The Christian elements are in your face, but they aren’t pedantic. And there’s (finally) a movie version, ya’ll!
Me Before You
By Jojo Moyes
This book will have you reaching for tissues while you grapple with issues, namely the hot-button issue of assisted suicide. The love story warms up the otherwise wretched tale of a handsome paraplegic and his “nurse.” I thought the movie version was adequate, but the book is truly touching.
By Shannon Hale
An irresistible nugget for Janeites. I read it in less than 24 hours. This is a bubblegum book—and I mean that in the best way. This isn’t Shannon Hale’s best novel by a long shot—I love her!—but it’s catnip for the right reader. Remember, we’re not scaling mountains of literary achievement here. We’re just trying to start reading again for cryin’ out loud!
Historical fiction to sweep you away
If you love your books steeped in long-gone times and faraway places, then you’ll love these selections. Historical fiction does double duty. It’s entertaining, but it’s also informative; you learn a thing or two about the time period. (Side note: Isn’t it interesting how similar the covers are to each other?)
The Nature of Fragile Things
By Susan Meissner
Sophie is an Irish immigrant who moves to 1900-era San Francisco to be (of all things) a mail-order bride. She agrees to wed a devastatingly handsome widower with a 5-year-old daughter, who instantly bonds with Sophie. They enjoy peace and prosperity, so, outwardly, all seems well, but something is off… And then…then earthquake! Yep, The Big One hits San Fran. I really love Meissner’s thoughtful historical novels.
News of the World
By Paulette Jiles
This book is so much better than the movie, which is just okay. The book is fantastic! It’s a short, funny stunner. Joanna is a white child raised by Native Americans in reconstruction Texas. The elderly Captain Kidd agrees to deliver her to her only living relatives, and along the way, they bond. Tissues required for the last chapter.
By Christina Baker Kline
We modern women think we got problems? Try living in the 19th century, where you get framed for a crime you didn’t commit and then sentenced to exile in the wildland of Australia. What I adore about this novel is that these women, although imperfect and weak, rise above their hardship and refuse to be victims.
This Tender Land
By William Kent Krueger
Part Odyssey. Part Huck Finn. Part Peace Like a River. If you love stories with a “journey to the promised land,” then read this one! Four children flee the horrible conditions at a Minnesota boarding school in the 1930s. This is an episodic adventure with a tale-tellin’ protagonist and a colorful supporting cast.
Sci-fi fantasy books to get back into reading
True-blue fantasies are notoriously long, so these three novels lean hard toward the sci-fi side of things. But it’s not all spaceships and aliens. These are character-driven books that just happen to have insanely intriguing intergalactic plots.
By Orson Scott Card
It’s a classic; there’s no getting around it. This book sucks you in. It’s long and complicated, but it’s addictively readable, and Ender is such a sympathetic hero. (I didn’t care for the film version.)
By Emily St. John Mandel
“Is it a good idea to read a pandemic novel right now?” I asked myself when I picked this up in 2021. It’s an intoxicating mix of literary delights (a.k.a. great writing) and a page-turning plot with high stakes. This isn’t your classic popcorn thriller. It’s slower paced and focused on the internal journey as well as the external plot, but there’s a lot here to chew on.
By Octavia E. Butler
Part time-travel story, part historical fiction, this genre-bending book packs a ton of grit. You’ve gotta gird up your loins to read it, as it takes some very brutal turns. Dana, an African-American writer, inexplicably passes through time to antebellum Maryland, where she meets a white man who turns out to be an integral part of her own past.
Middle-grade novels that you (yes, YOU) will enjoy
Middle-grade books are written for kids ages 8 to 12. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like them. In fact, some of the best books ever written fall into the middle-grade category. Just let the story wash over you, and appreciate it for what it is.
By Jonathan Auxier
The less you know about this book beforehand the better you’ll like it. It’s London in the 1870s, and young Nan Sparrow is eeking out a sad, Dickensian existence as a chimney sweep. Until a lump of coal changes her life forever. This book deals with true misery, but it manages to feel light as a feather without falling flat.
By Gordon Korman
Korman writes the BEST middle-school fiction. Capricorn Anderson (great name, huh?) was raised by his grandmother on a failed hippie commune. Then, he’s suddenly thrust into the real world for the first time. And, by “real world,” I mean middle school. Hilarity ensues. And, in signature Korman style, the plot builds to a totally outlandish ending that’ll leave you with a huge smile on your face.
When You Reach Me
By Rebecca Stead
This book seems like nothing special at first. It appears to be your basic friendship book set in the good ol’ 1970s. But, add a dab of mystery, mix in some time travel, and splash in a lunatic, and you’ve somethin’. This book comes with a big payoff—the ending is worth every page.
By Kenneth Oppel
This is a super-addicting middle-grade thriller. One day, it rains all over the earth, and things are never the same after. Three young people find themselves immune to the rain’s destructive results, and it’s up to them to save humanity. Dun, dun, duuuuunnnnn!
Children’s books with loads of charm
Sometimes you just want to read something clean and pure. Children’s books offer a peaceful retreat from the relentless march of life. Sweet innocence may be just what you need to get back into reading again.
By E. B. White
This barnyard tale never gets old for me. It’s perfect if you’re in the mood for something gentle and a tad meandering. When I read this to my kids in 2021, I got caught up in the nostalgic scenes of childhood. A county fair. A hayloft. An apple tree. And, oh, that ending!
A Bear Called Paddington
By Michael Bond
I came to this book as an adult and was immediately smitten. There’s something adorable about Paddington. He’s a talking bear from Darkest Peru—and a total fish out of water in London. His good-natured antics and funny foibles are fun to read at any age. Don’t expect much plot. Just a clueless, loveable bear.
Astrid the Unstoppable
By Maria Parr
This is a modern reimagining of Heidi, featuring a spunky little heroine who worms her way into everyone’s hearts. Set on a pristine piece of Norwegian mountainside, with ski slopes in winter and a clear-running spring in summer, it’s a peaceful backdrop to the energetic plot (and fraught parent-child relationships).
Short books to get back into reading
If you love checking boxes and earning completion badges, then polish off one of these quick books in a weekend (or a day).
84 Charing Cross Road
By Helene Hanff
This book contains the real-life letters exchanged between NYC writer Helene Hanff and the employees at Marks & Co. booksellers in London. The correspondence spans decades. Books are purchased and mailed. But, as the friendships deepen, so are care packages, family photographs, and heartfelt gifts. If you can, read on audio—it clocks in at less than two hours. If you love classics, then you’ll adore the bookchat here!
By John Steinbeck
You read Of Mice and Men in high school, but it’s very possible you’ve never heard of this novella from the ’40s. It’s about a poor fisherman who happens to find a massive pearl inside an oyster. His good fortune, though, quickly turns dark and dangerous. Give this a try if you want something gorgeously literary but quick.
Flowers for Algernon
By Daniel Keyes
This classic “sci-fi” novel is written in the form of letters and notes, so it’s got that “short chapter” feel, which propels you forward. For as short as it is, the themes in this book are long-lasting. What does it mean to be happy? How should society treat the mentally disabled?
Nonfiction books that feel like novels
The best of both worlds! A true story that reads like fiction. These picks aren’t strictly “narrative nonfiction,” but they’re fascinating (all the more cuz they’re true).
By Alfred Lansing
Okay, this may seem a little stuffy at first, but it quickly becomes a swashbuckling adventure. It’s about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 quest to lead the first crew across the continent of Antarctica on foot. They barely get started before all heck breaks loose. This one had me breathless.
The Hiding Place
By Corrie Ten Boom
This book should be required reading for every Christian. I hate reading true stories about Nazi atrocities. But Corrie Ten Boom’s sincere, humble narrative is just as charming as it is disarming. There are dangers and threats that come with harboring Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland. But there’s also courage, discernment, and the outright miraculous. I don’t think I can recommend this one highly enough.
Didn’t see anything on this list that you liked? Here’s what to do…
Pick your own! You read through this whole article (even that beginning bit, wink-wink) so you know what kind of book to look for:
Try YA, mystery, thriller, and romance
And here’s one more bonus strategy!
Reread a favorite book
You may be thinking, “No way!” but an old, familiar book may be just the ticket. Why?
Because you already know the plot and all the characters. So, your poor ol’ brain won’t have to work overtime to keep track of it all. Instead of reading for plot, you’re reading for the sheer delight of experiencing the story.
I promise, you’ll notice things you didn’t the first time around. And you’ll appreciate those details in a whole new way. Also, you’ve grown as a person since that first reading, and you’ll experience the book differently, seeing it with new, “now” eyes.
When you reread a book, you bond with it. C. S. Lewis said that people who truly love a book should read it at least once every ten years or so.
10 Days to Bookish Bliss
It’s time to recover your long-lost bookworm days. Finding a good book is a huge piece of the puzzle, but I’ve got MORE for you—a FUN email-audio journey to help you get back into reading books. It’s everything you need to start reading again—and LOVE it!
You love books. But, it’s been a while since you’ve read anything longer than a social media blurb.
When did the reading stop? And why?
We’ve ALL felt this way. Plenty of us put reading on the backburner. Life is busy. Time gets away from us. We can’t find a minute to ourselves or a scrap of quiet in our day.
Reading feels like a luxury we can’t afford. But…
…that shouldn’t be. Things we love—like books and reading—shouldn’t get demoted to guilty pleasures. In fact, it’s NOT hard to get back into reading books. You can TOTALLY do it!
And this article is a goldmine for the hibernating reader (if I do say so myself, haha). Here, you’ll find everything you need to fall back in love with books!
But, it’s a ton of info, and you’re busy. Too busy to read it all right now, certainly.
That’s why I created 10 Days to Bookish Bliss.
Pop your info in the box below, and you’ll get everything in this mega-guide spoonfed to you bit by bit so that you can restart your love of reading step by step. (It’s 100 percent free, and I won’t sell you anything extra, promise!)
Here’s how it works: After you sign up, I will email you one chapter of this mega-guide each day for 10 days. As an added bonus, you’ll also get an exclusive audio version of each email so that you can listen instead! (The audio is only available when you sign up for Bookish Bliss.)
By the end of the 10 days, you’ll feel like a regular ol’ bookworm again!
Not only will you rekindle your desire to read, but you’ll know exactly how to pick the right books to get back into reading again. I’ll load you up with recommendations and help you overcome the reading resistance that’s gonna try to derail your efforts.
Sound like a plan? Get started right here 👇
Table of Contents
Why get back into reading books?
Get back into reading for pleasure—or productivity
Get back into reading books even if you’re starting from zero!
How to find new books to read based on past books you liked
How to pick your “comeback” book
Serve yourself a delicious slice of reading time
Fight the reading resistance!
Set yourself up for success with audiobooks
Avoid TBR overwhelm (a gal can only read so much…)
Don’t read just anything. Refine your taste in books (and strike gold)
Heads up: It’s m’duty to tell you that this article contains affiliate links, which earn me commission at no extra cost to you. Here’s my disclosure policy.
1. Why get back into reading books?
You loved to read, long ago, way back when. But for one reason or another, that desire diminished. Life got in the way, and—with work, kids, chores, and other commitments…
Reading has become a luxury you can hardly afford.
This is life; it happens—even to the most passionate readers.
Maybe you’ve been in a reading slump for a few months.
Maybe it’s been longer—years even. You can’t even remember the last book you read. Favorite authors? Um…no clue!
You may even be asking yourself, Can I even call myself a reader anymore?
If you’re really honest, you might even be wondering, Do I even have the desire to read anymore?
Reading isn’t a passive activity that asks nothing of you. It requires effort (and discipline) to actually do it.
You must carve out a circle of quiet so the reading can happen.
You must actually read the words on the page, which demands your mental focus and linear comprehension.
Then, you must wrestle with the subject matter—what does it mean and why does it matter?
Is reading worth all that effort?
If you’re one of those women who eats right and exercises, then you know about effort. Healthy habits are good for you, and you want the end-result benefits, so you make the effort.
The same goes for reading. We want the joy of having read good books…but, so often, when the rubber meets the road, we end up scrolling Instagram or watching a random episode of The Office while our book languishes on the nightstand.
Lit critic Harold Bloom calls reading a “difficult pleasure.” But reading a book repays you in riches. Riches that endure, that can’t be stolen, and that have the power to transform us.
You’re here. That means you remember what it was like…losing yourself in a book, reading into the wee hours, totally engrossed.
You remember what it felt like to be moved by a book in a way that went beyond entertainment.
There are books that you read long ago that you still think about even now. They’ve stayed with you.
Why start reading again? Because deep inside you know that experience is worth the effort.
C. S. Lewis said it best. Why do we read?
“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves.
We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.
In love we escape from our self into one other.
This process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it.'”
By reading words penned by others, we “occupy, for a while, their seat in the great theatre,” says Lewis, peering through their spectacles.
This love-motivated enlargement of the soul…we feel God’s approval in it, even if we’re not quite sure how or why.
Reading is good.
Author and literature professor Alan Jacobs says this about reading (the deeply attentive kind of reading):
“I’m confident that anyone who has ever had this facility can recover it: they just have to want that recovery enough to make sacrifices for it, something they will only do if they can vividly recall what that experience was like.”
That’s why I’m painting a picture of what a love of reading looks like. To remind you why you’re making this (of all things) a priority.
There are a million other pursuits out there. Why get back into reading books?
Here before you is Memory Lane. It’s open for strolling.
Can you remember the best reading experiences of your life? The ones that surprised and delighted you? I want you to name them.
Here’s one of mine: My mother read Charlotte’s Web to me every night before bed when I was 6 years old. This was the first book that broke my heart, and it was THE experience that ignited my hunger for books.
What are your best bookish memories?
Hold them close. Jot them down.
Let those happy reading memories remind you of why reading is so important to you.
This exercise is well worth the few minutes it’ll take you. Recall those beautiful books, and you summon the long-dormant desire to read once more.
Next, let’s shift the discussion slightly from desire to motivation. You have a desire to read, but what will motivate you to act on that desire and crack open a book?
Desire starts the engine. Motivation shifts the car into drive.
Let’s get motivated.
2. Get back into reading for pleasure—or productivity?
What motivates you most?
Reading for pleasure
Reading for productivity
Some combination of the two
I love feeling productive, so it was hard for me to admit that my best reading experiences were those of sheer pleasure (containing little to no utility).
How about you? Do you feel like everything that you do in life needs to benefit your family in some tangible way?
Perhaps that’s why reading has been on the backburner for so long, huh?
The act itself seems like a spectacular waste of time: sitting still in one spot, holding open a book, passing your eyes across the page. How is this useful?
You may even feel obligated to read books on motherhood, parenting, Christian nonfiction, even theology.
If these are your cup of tea, then go for it. But, if you’re choosing them because you want to “justify” your reading time by saying “it’s useful,” then I give you permission to drop the act.
It’s 100 percent okay to read for the pure delight of it.
Alan Jacobs says it better than I ever could:
“For heaven’s sake, don’t turn reading into the intellectual equivalent of eating organic greens, or (shifting the metaphor slightly) some fearfully disciplined appointment with an elliptical trainer of the mind in which you count words or pages the way some people fix their attention on the ‘calories burned’ readout—some assiduous and taxing exercise that allows you to look back on your conquest of Middlemarch with grim satisfaction. How depressing! This kind of thing is not reading at all, but what C. S. Lewis once called ‘social and ethical hygiene.'”
Certainly, I do believe there is a time for on-purpose “useful” reading, but on the whole, I couldn’t agree more with Jacobs here.
Maybe school flogged the love of reading out of you—it’s common. We’re trained to read with an end goal in mind: pass the test, prove to my teacher that I did read the book. This is a goal that falls woefully short in terms of delight.
Think back to the last book that you remember really loving. Did you, upon finishing, search the internet for a comprehension quiz that you could take? Did you immediately type up a book report? Did you make a list of all the ways you are now a better wife and mother?
I bet you didn’t.
Think about this:
The mere act of sitting down to read a book demands a level of self-discipline that scrolling social media and watching Netflix just don’t require.
Reading is a form of entertainment that needs you to make your body, brain, and soul fully available. So, relax. By opening your book, you’re “doing enough.”
Now, if you’re the kind of person who loves to read instructive nonfiction, then that is perfectly fine—there’s nothing wrong with that!
With how-tos and guidebooks, it’s easy to tie the act of reading to a tangible benefit. For example, “I’m going to read a book about prayer because my prayer life needs to improve.” It’s a lot harder to perceive a real-world takeaway when you’re reading cozy mysteries or YA fantasies.
My mission is to free you from any lurking “have to’s” that lay in wait to poison your reading life.
Reading comes with loads of intrinsic benefits (from upping your empathy to lowering stress levels and lengthening your attention span). You’re going to benefit, no doubt about it. So, since the best benefits are already baked into the cake…read what you love.
“Practice makes perfect, but pleasure makes practice more likely, so read something enjoyable.”
Now you may be thinking, “Okay, I’m allowed to read what I love. Great. But…what in the world do I love reading?”
If it’s been a while since your last book, then you may be at a total loss where to start. Don’t worry. I’m here to help.
Gotta run? Sign up to get the 10-day Bookish Bliss email-audio journey. It’ll walk you through everything on this page step by step so you don’t miss a thing.
3. Get back into reading books even if you’re starting from zero!
You are a reader. So, why are you at a total loss at the library?
There are shelves upon shelves loaded with books, and you have no clue where to go to find something you like.
Here’s my theory for why this happens.
It’s been a while since you were an avid reader. The types of books that you gravitated toward when you were, say, in your late teens aren’t the kind of books that your 30-something self wants to read. You know what you liked. You just have no clue what you like now at this present moment.
You are a reader. You’re just not the same reader that you were back then. So, you need to figure out who you are as a reader today.
You may have loved spine-tingling thrillers in your 20s, but now that you have kids, you’ve softened up, and you can’t tolerate reading about kidnappings and child molesters like you used to be able to.
Or, maybe your last great literary love affair was with Narnia or Harry Potter. These series are fun to read at any age, but you may be wondering what’s out there for adults these days?
So, our first order of business is to point you toward books that are most likely to align with your “now” taste.
Then, you taste them (read them).
The more taste-testing you do, the more refined your taste becomes—and the more aware you are of your taste. (Dare I call it shelf-awareness? Hm, better not.)
After a while, you’ll be able to waltz into any library or bookstore and pluck from its vast selection the tastiest books for you.
Doesn’t that sound delightful?
Now, I realize that some of you are starting from zero. You have no clue how to go about finding books to read. You’ve been reaching way, way back for those memories of bookish delight. Favorite genre? Favorite authors? No idea!
Others of you are a few spaces ahead on the game board. It hasn’t been all that long since your last book, and you can generally describe your reading likes and dislikes.
Here, I’m going to address the needs of the “starting from zero” crowd. (The next segment is loaded with strategies for the “couple steps ahead” group.)
So, to get past square one, I recommend asking yourself these two questions:
Question 1: What movies and TV shows do I like best?
Yeah, really! A great story is a great story whether it’s told on screen or on the page. Even if you haven’t read a book in 10 years, I’m betting you’ve seen a movie or watched a TV series in the past decade.
What types of stories do you enjoy most and get excited about watching? Which have stayed with you the longest? You now refer to them as your favorite films.
I’ll bet you’re answering with genres or tropes. Understanding these two bookish terms will point you in the right direction.
Genre is an overarching category in storytelling
Genre is when you say “I like Christian fiction, you know, like what Francine Rivers writes.” Here are a few examples of different genres:
Sports or performance
Fun fact: Genres are stackable. For example, a book can be a historical YA romance.
If you love watching Hallmark romances, then you’ll probably love reading cozy Christmas romances, too. Only stands to reason, right? Start there!
I know, I know. I can hear you saying, “But Michelle, I love food competition shows! What am I supposed to do? Read a cookbook?”
Well, my friend, guess what? There are a ton of books (fiction and nonfiction) where food plays a major role in the story. FromKitchens of the Great Midwest to Garlic and Sapphires, there are puh-lenty out there. (And the really good cookbooks do serve up some fabulous writing.)
How do you find books that match your interests? The internet. (Harness its powers for good!) Search for something like “novels for foodies” (or, if you’re a knitter: “knitting mystery novel” or for you Hallmark lovers: “Christmas romance novel.”)
Disclaimer: Your hobbies aren’t always going to overlap with your reading taste. For example, I’m an avid knitter, and I don’t enjoy knitting mysteries. But, when you’re starting from zero, you have to start somewhere. Remember, this is just a jumping-off point, not your final destination!
Another strategy is to start at the Kindle Store
What Kindle Store? This Kindle Store. Scan the sidebar for the categories list. When you click a category, the new page will load with a fresh list of subcategories. Keep niching down to narrow your results. You’ll also see a slew of other filters, such as “setting” or “mood” for the book.
Here’s an example of how deep you can go:
Main category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
A cozy, culinary mystery that features a female main character at the beach falling in love. Crazy-specific, right?
Of course, this isn’t a foolproof way to get the best recommendations ever. But it’s a great place to start when you want to get back into reading books after a slump.
Question 2: Am I a sucker for any story tropes?
First of all, what the snickers is a “trope”? Think of it as a plot template or character template. The author starts with a “classic” framework and then puts a (hopefully) fresh spin on it.
This is when you say, “I love stories where the main characters hate each other at first and then fall in love.” Here are some examples of common tropes found in the romance genre:
Enemies to lovers
BFFs to lovers
Fake online identity
Darn, we’re stuck here together and we can’t leave
The forced first kiss (that unexpectedly lights the spark of true love)
As you can see, some are huge, overarching tropes that affect every aspect of the story, and some are small, recognizable moments you’ve seen many times in books and movies.
Here are a few more tropes you may recognize:
The chosen one (Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and a gazillion others)
The lost prince/princess/heir
New in town
Fish out of water
Famous person in disguise
Lonely curmudgeon finds a friend
Protagonist has no memory of the past
The killer must be one of us
Protagonist discovers he has special powers
High-stakes competition or performance
A family member dies and her secret past is revealed
There are scads of tropes! Some make us melt. Others make us cringe.
Are there some tropes that you just can’t get enough of?
They’re sure to suck you in and hold your attention? Again, at this stage, use the internet. Search “the chosen one trope books” or “books about swapping identities.” See what comes up.
Another idea (that may fly with some of you and flop with others). Poll your friends on social media. “What are your favorite closed-door romance books?” Use #bookstagram or #booktok if you feel so moved. You never know—you may even find a book buddy who shares your taste.
Next up: Tips for finding new books by looking at books you’ve enjoyed in the past.
4. How to find new books to read based on past books you liked
Have you been reading off and on? You’ve got a general idea of what you like, but you really do need more guidance to expand your horizons.
I’m going to show you how to use past books you’ve read (and liked) to find new books that you just might love.
And I’m going from zero to sixty, my friends. Ready?
Find books that are similar to those you’ve liked in the past
Here’s how. Remember all those bookish memories we dredged up? Name some of the best books you’ve ever read. Then…
Go to the Kindle Store or Goodreads and find one of those books. Then, look for comps (books that are similar to yours). Scan the page for the following phrases:
Frequently bought together…
Books you may like…
Products related to this item…
Readers also enjoyed…
Other books by this author…
See similar books…
Click some comp titles. Read the book descriptions, and see if there’s anything that looks interesting. You’ll almost always be able to read a preview or excerpt of the book’s beginning to get a flavor for the writing.
Disclaimer: I’m not implying that you should buy your books on Amazon or use a Goodreads account to track your reading. These websites have robust algorithms and a vast database of books that return comprehensive search results.
This not really working? Try our old frenemy, the internet. Search for:
This is where you actually go—yes, physically go—to a bookstore or your local library. Snoop around. Feel free to judge books by their covers. Scan the endcaps and displays. Open a book and smell it. Take a stack of interesting books to a chair, and read the first page of each.
While you’re there, guess who knows a lot about books? Librarians and booksellers! Go find them. These people are paid to put books into your hands.
Now, I realize that not everyone who works with books is a book lover, or they may not have the literary chops to truly assist you. Try to talk with someone who has purchasing power: bookstore owners/managers, library directors/programs managers, anyone with “buyer” in their job title. They’re in charge of stocking the shelves, and they should know their Dickens from their chickens.
Keep in mind that these initial recommendations that you’re getting…they’re going to contain lots of chaff and a few pieces of grain. But—hey!—you’re no longer on the sidelines. You’re in the game, re-familiarizing yourself with authors, genres, and titles.
This is important because next, I’m going to give you some specific strategies for how to blow away the chaff and retain only that yummy grain so that you can pick the perfect book to get you out of your reading slump.
Too rushed to read more right now? I’ve got something to help…This is a long article, and you’re short on time. I get it. That’s why I created 10 Days to Bookish Bliss. It’s a 10-day email-audio journey that walks you step by step back to your bookish self.
5. How to pick your ‘comeback’ book
Alright, you’ve poked around the internet and maybe even a library or bookstore. You have an idea of what’s out there. You’ve likely got a list of titles that you think you may like to read. (That’s called a TBR or “to be read” list.)
So, we’ve come to the million-dolla’ question…
Which one should you start with?
My goal today is to help you put just enough thought into this so that you succeed (without overthinking it too much).
First, consider rereading a favorite book.
You may be like, “Nah, I want something new,” but rereading can be so rewarding!
First off, you’re a different person than you were back when you first read it, so you will experience the book in a different way.
Also, because you know what happens, your mind won’t be so busy tracking the plot. You’ll fly effortlessly through the story, noticing details and bits of foreshadowing that you didn’t pick up on the first time.
Okay, rereading = great! But I’ll wager that you’ve got your sights set on a shiny new book. Here’s what you need to consider.
This is your comeback book. You’re rebounding from a book-less life. Your ultimate goal is to rekindle your love of literature and get back into reading books.
Go for a quick win!
What I’m getting at is, don’t pick Dickens (or any of his ilk).
For the record, I love Dickens. Bleak House is a masterpiece. But his books are demanding. And long. And sometimes boring. They’re full of archaic references. And you must keep track of 354316864132 characters.
Your comeback book should be the opposite of this. Your goal is to get a quick win under your belt and gain traction. Once you’re back up and running, feel free to tackle Middlemarch and Moby–Dick (both very worthy selections).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about reading truly great books. But, for a comeback book, I strongly recommend erring on the side of “easy” entertainment versus a slogfest.
I suggest you pick something…
If you’re like most people, you’re going to quickly fatigue once you start reading again. It takes practice to build back your ability to concentrate for any length of time. So, make it short.
How short? I’d aim for under 500 pages give or take, depending on how densely packed (or spread out) the print is on the page. If the pages are packed with print, then aim for a 300-page max.
You may even want to start with a short story collection or a novella. Graphic novels are a feast for the eyes and perfect for short attention spans. If you love checking boxes and earning completion badges, then this may be your best bet.
Relatively easy prose
The writing shouldn’t be overly academic or mentally taxing. You want prose that’s clear and simple and easy to comprehend at face value.
Modern genre fiction (mystery, thriller, crime, sci-fi, romance, fantasy, YA) is going to automatically check the “relatively easy” box. Literary fiction and classic literature can be hit or miss in this area. If it smacks of academia, save it for later.
Go for a page-turning plot that grabs you quickly. When the story sucks you in, then you’re more motivated to “get into it” and return to it again and again until you finish.
Thrillers, romances, and young adult books are particularly good at revving their engines early. The target audience craves quick action, so these are specifically designed to hook you right off the bat.
And here’s one last essential piece of the puzzle:
Is it the right book at the right time?
A book may check all of my little boxes, but if YOU are not enthusiastic about it right now, then it’ll feel like assigned reading, and that’s a no-no at this point.
Desire is essential. I love when I’m able to read a book immediately after it’s enticed me. I capitalize on that first flush of excitement, and it always feels like a treat.
So, you’ve got a comeback book! (Or you’re on your way to finding it.) Now, you need the free time to read it. That’s what we’re discussing next.
6. Serve yourself a delicious slice of reading time
I’m going to give you some excellent tips on how to find the time to read that fabulous book you’ve picked.
But, I must preface this with a big, flashing neon disclaimer: Reading books is a priority, but it shouldn’t be your top priority where reading is concerned.
Scripture is your top reading priority. Without scripture reading time, book reading time is not going to satisfy you in the way you’re hoping. True satisfaction is found only in God.
So, having said that, how do you make time to read books for pleasure?
For some of you, this is a complete non-issue. You’ve got time and you know how to use it. If that’s you, then hallelujah!
But…I’m guessing this isn’t you, not exactly.
Chances are you’re pressed for time no matter your marital, motherhood, or career status. You may feel like your time is not your own—it belongs to your family or your work. There are a thousand other things you “should” be doing at any given moment.
Finding time to read can seem impossible. But, as I’m sure you already know, we never find time to do anything. We make time to do what matters.
I love author Tony Reinke’s straight-talk on this matter. He says to make time, not excuses.
“We neglect books because our hearts reject the discipline required to read them. And that is a spiritual problem, a lack of personal discipline, not a lack of time.”
If I’m honest with myself, I know that I fritter away time here and there each day. If I managed it better, then I’d easily have a nice chunk to read with.
So, here are my top tips to make the reading happen (no matter how much time you have to work with).
Redeem your time by “reading instead”
Scripture tells us to redeem the time (Eph. 5:16). Are there opportunities to swap a time-waster with a soul-nourishing story? Just think! You can rescue that precious time from going astray, and you can exchange it for something much better.
Read instead of doing something that…
just isn’t as important or meaningful to you (even if it’s not necessarily bad).
typically feels like a waste after you’re done. (Ahem, scrolling on my phone is a big one for me.)
you know isn’t exactly great for you. (Uh, bingeing five episodes per night of that series…)
Attach reading to an existing habit
This is a tried-and-true strategy that’s been praised far and wide by time-management gurus. You’ve already established many daily routines, so piggyback on one of them. Read at the same time you habitually do something every day.
You drink your morning coffee (or your bedtime tea)
You’re on your lunch break
You’re waiting in line to pick up the kids from school or extracurriculars
You know there’s gonna be a lull while dinner is cooking
Set a timer for 10 minutes
And read for the whole 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, you’re free to keep reading or put your book down. With this method, you know that you’re getting dedicated reading time each and every day.
(Forest is a nifty little timer app that stops you from using your phone when the timer is on.)
This last tip leads me to a very controversial question:
Should you read in the cracks? Or set aside a huge slice of reading time?
Reading in the cracks (like for 10 minutes at a time) can be a great way to just fit books in somewhere. It’s better than nothing, for sure. And it’s THE best way to get back into a daily habit of reading.
But it won’t allow you to really sink into that wonderful experience of immersing yourself in a book—that experience you really crave. And when you read in only 10-minute bursts, you tend to move slowly, haltingly through a book, and you may lose momentum and feel a little deflated.
I think reading in small snippets works best as a supplement to more substantial sessions. As for me, I need both. If I wait for the “perfect time” to read, then I’ll never do it. But, if I don’t dedicate any connected time to my book, then I tend to lose the thread of the story (or the will to keep going). Longer reading sessions help me bond better with the book.
So, short vs. long? I vote for both!
Okay, here’s my last tip:
Make reading irresistible
If the idea of you+book just isn’t enticing enough, then try sweetening the deal for yourself. I find this MUCH more motivating than setting a reading goal or hopping on the reading challenge treadmill.
Tell yourself that while you’re reading your book, you get to…
Eat a square (or three) of dark chocolate with a handful of almonds
Sip sweet tea from your prettiest teacup
Snuggle under your special, silky “book blanket”
Soak your feet in honey-scented Epsom salt
Sit in the glorious outdoors
This shouldn’t take a lot of effort—you certainly don’t want to put obstacles between you and your book. But it should be a convenient, quick strategy to make the experience more attractive to you.
It’s important to make reading as pleasant as possible during this stage in the game…because, when you start to read, your body is going to revolt. Your mind will wander. Your fingers will fidget for your phone. So, pleasure is paramount.
What is this resistance I speak of? Let me prepare you.
7. Fight the Reading Resistance
Do you feel like your attention span has dwindled to near-nothing? (Dang the internet! Dang social media!)
Do you dread sitting down with your book because it’s such a one-dimensional experience? I mean, hey, you’ve usually got at least two screens in front of you at any given time. A book is so flat.
How are you going to read for long periods? Or with any connected attention?
Meet Nicholas Carr. He summed it up like this:
“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”
(Was reading through that long block of text just now “a struggle”?)
I know priddymuch nothing about neuroscience, but something here is ringing my Truth Bell.
What’s been your experience? Do you feel like it’s harder to concentrate after the last 10-odd years of living in iPhonelandia?
I’m bringing this up because reading demands more than your screen does. When you first try to get back into reading books, you need to get ready for some serious “reading resistance.”
My phone has trained me in short-term focus—the kind of focus required to
read a tweet or a news blurb
and then jump to the next thing.
A book demands long-term focus, a completely different kind. Instead of telling us what to think, a book asks that we have original thoughts of our own. At some point, as you’re trying to read, your brain is going to say “I’m tired.” Your fingers are going to go searching for your phone. Expect the urge.
Don’t be surprised when you’re reading and you think, “Was it always this hard to concentrate?” That isn’t necessarily a sign that your book is boring. It might be a sign that you need to retrain your brain for a different kind of attentiveness than you’re used to.
It’ll take practice. (No shortcuts, sorry!) To quote Reinke:
“The Internet encourages superficial browsing, not concentration. Book reading, on the other hand, cannot happen without disciplined and sustained linear concentration. Instead of browsing for fragments of information, we must learn to become deep thinkers who work hard to comprehend (2 Tim. 2:7)…Our souls cannot delight in what our minds merely skim.”
When you crack open your comeback book, you’re going to want to stop reading after about two minutes. Just keep reading. Press on! Build back that mental muscle, and, eventually, it won’t feel like such hard work.
Here’s a little resistance-fighting tip to try:
Set aside 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to START your comeback book
What?! Thirty minutes, Michelle? I thought you said 10. For your comeback book, I do recommend setting aside a nice-a chunk-a time to get through the FIRST dozen-plus pages.
Why? By getting the lay of the land in a single session of reading, you set yourself up for success in terms of bonding with the book.
In this short span of time, you’ll meet most of the main characters, understand the mood and setting, and experience the first few essential plot elements. Most importantly, you’ll know if you want to keep reading or stop. (Yes, it’s okay to stop if the book is a bomb!)
Get past the first page of that book
I had Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest on my nightstand fo-eva before I got past the first page. I’d randomly pick it up, read the first paragraph, get distracted, put it down for a couple days. Then, I’d pick it back up, scan that first graph, read a few more sentences, and down the book went.
Finally, I caught a cold. I sat on the couch with my tissue box and read the first chapter. I kid you not, I finished the entire book that same day. It hit the spot. All I needed was a healthy chunk of time to get into the story.
Most novels won’t hook you with the first sentence. Or the first page, or even the first chapter. You’ve got to give the author a fighting chance to set the scene, introduce you to the protagonist, and start the main conflict.
Try and read for that full 30 minutes in one sitting—mute your phone and put it in a kitchen drawer. (Or, Forest.)
By all means, modify the 30-minute guideline. For example:
Read to the inciting incident (or just the opening hook).
Read the first three to five chapters (depending on how long they are).
Aim for the first 10 percent of the page count (if you’re ambitious).
Michelle, there’s just no way…
If you’re thinking that I am asking a lot of you, I get it. But do you know what will make getting through those 30 uninterrupted minutes so much easier? Listening to the book on audio.
Next up: my top tips for experiencing an audiobook.
8. Set yourself up for success with audiobooks
Does listening to an audiobook count as reading?
Can you say “I’ve read the book” if, in reality, you listened to it instead?
I’m not going to pretend that reading a book and listening to a book are exactly the same thing. They’re not. But, as far as I’m concerned, Yes! Audiobooks count as “having read.”
Whether you use your eyes or your ears, you’re consuming the story. The narrative passes from the book to your brain regardless of the mode of transmission. And that narrative is asking for your sustained attention and linear comprehension. The story demands that of you, whether in print or audio.
Some people may say, “Audiobooks are cheating. It’s not real reading.”
Listening to an audiobook isn’t any less demanding than print reading. But it’s a different kind of demanding. It uses a different part of the brain, the part that decodes the words you’re hearing, not the part that decodes symbols on a page.
One of the best audiobook experiences of my life was The Count of Monte Cristo, and after 52 hours, I can personally attest to the fact that it wasn’t a passive activity that required nothing of me.
Audiobooks count, and they can be incandescently freeing. Especially for those of us who really do need to squeeze books into a jammed life, and those of us who are just too antsy to sit and read print.
Before you run and grab your earbuds…
Here are my top tips for listening to audiobooks
Many people who want to get back into reading books confess that they have a hard time getting into an audiobook. (Do you feel this way?)
Here’s why I think audiobooks fail some folks. The beginning of an audiobook is often the most mentally taxing. Why? Because
everything is new to you, and
you don’t (really) care about the story yet.
Characters, places, years, settings…it’s a lot to remember. And if you’ve got multiple POVs or you’re jumping back and forth through time, then whew! In a snap, you’re all jumbled.
The beginning is also when you are least invested in the story, and it’s when you’re earnestly asking, “Do I care enough to keep listening, or should I bounce?”
As you progress through the book, you don’t have to work so hard to remember who’s who and where’s where. And, hopefully, you care about the characters and what happens to them enough to keep pressing play.
So, these tips focus on setting you up for success in that critical stage of beginning an audiobook.
1. Pick a story you’re already familiar with
Little Women. Emma. Dune. Station Eleven. Shadow and Bone. Redeeming Love.
Have you seen any of these book-to-screen adaptations? Pick one that you loved, and listen to the book on audio.
You’ll be surprised by how easily you sink into the story—your poor ol’ brain doesn’t have to sort out characters, plot points, or themes. You already know that stuff.
Remind yourself that you’re not reading for plot. You’re reading to experience the story—the full story as originally conceived.
Don’t worry about getting bored. A familiar story has its perks!
As characters come onstage, they do so as old friends (or enemies).
When the timeline jumps ahead or falls into a flashback, you aren’t blindsided.
Plot holes get filled.
A character’s motivation is explained.
The backstory that got clipped from the film is revealed.
Personally, I love listening to stories I know well. I can let the narration wash over me, and, in a way, it’s calming.
2. Start with 1x playback speed, and then adjust
I usually listen to the first few chapters of a new book on 1x speed, which is the original recording speed. It often sounds s-l-o-w to me. But starting slow helps me better follow the setup at the beginning of the story, which is the most mentally taxing part for me, the listener.
After I get a strong foothold, I up the speed. My comfort zone is 1.4 to 1.6x speed, but some people (ahem, my brother-in-law) can listen at up to 2x.
Perk! Upping the speed reduces the total time it takes to listen to the book. A 10-hour book on 1.5 speed becomes a 6.7-hour listen. Nice!
3. Reduce background distractions when you’re starting a new audiobook
As I said before, the beginning is the part of the book that requires the most effort on your part. If you want to give the book a fighting chance to capture your attention, then try to reduce background “noise” during this critical part of the story.
I love listening to audiobooks when I’m doing chores or driving. Every now and then, though, I realize that a brand-new recipe I’m cooking or the unfamiliar streets that I’m driving have overtaken all my mental faculties, and I’ve stopped listening to the book altogether.
So, I try to START new audiobooks when I’m doing something mindless and can give the story my (nearly) undivided attention. I know that this has made the difference between me loving vs. abandoning an audiobook.
4. Cut the cord (er, wires?)
I never understood wireless earbuds until I got a pair. They are the definition of convenience. I do a lot of listening when I’m cleaning or cooking, both of which can get loud. Both of which take me to and fro around my house (or my kitchen/dining area).
It’s neat to be able to walk wherever I want and be as loud as sin with my blender and not miss a syllable of my book because the sound is flowing directly into my earhole.
5. Keep a paper copy handy
This isn’t required for all audiobooks, but it makes sense in some instances.
For example, when I’m listening to nonfiction, I like to have a sense of the book’s organization. Sometimes I skip chapters that don’t apply to me, and it’s nice to have a library copy that I can flip through.
Another example: When I tackle an insanely long audiobook (over 20 hours long), I try to get the print version from the library so that I have the option of reading both ways…and finishing quicker.
What should you do while you’re listening to an audiobook?
Chores. It’s only natural for our minds to go in this direction. Pairing an audiobook with a chore or commute is great for a few good reasons.
It helps us feel like we’re “getting more done” and that our reading hobby is “productive.”
It adds enjoyment to the drudgery of tasks we’ve done 1,000 times before.
It can “get us through” the pain of an exercise routine or weary road trip.
But, I will say this: Try not to limit your listening to just chores.
For me, the most relaxing thing on earth is to listen to an audiobook while knitting. Or crocheting. The rhythmic motion of my hands with the flow of the narrator’s voice…It’s my happy place.
Any handsy hobby will do. Puzzles, coloring, needlepoint, card-making, paint by number, beading, sketching…
If you’re more of an outdoorsy gal, then there’s always gardening or a good ol’ fashioned walk in the park.
Or go for pure R&R: Listen while you sink into a bubble bath or soak your feet in some scented Epsom salt after a long day.
Next, we’re digging into a problem that every reader faces at some point: too many recommendations! Lots of books, so little time…
Speaking of not-enough-time, do you need to pause and pick back up later? Pop your info into the box below, and you’ll get this entire mega-guide emailed to you over the course of 10 days so you can pace yourself on your way back to Booklandia.
9. Avoid TBR overwhelm (a gal can only read so much…)
Becoming a devoted reader adds a lot of delight to your life, but it’s not without its dilemmas.
When you try to get back into reading books, one “problem” you’ll face (if you haven’t already) is an overflowing, overwhelming to-be-read list (TBR).
How is this a problem exactly? Isn’t a toppling TBR a blessing?
Sure! It’s most definitely a blessing to have access to millions of books and enjoy the freedom to read whichever of them we want.
But for some of us, TBRs put a damper on delight.
How? Here’s how it happens for me:
I subscribe to a handful of daily emails that contain book recommendations and deals, and I always see a few titles that I’m interested in.
I listen to podcasts dedicated to bookchat, so I get loads of recommendations there.
I see books at the library or on Goodreads or in a friend’s hands.
All those titles pile up FAST!
Before I know it, my TBR is outta control!
And I’m getting FOMO.What amazing books am I missing out on?!?!
A mile-long TBR produces a low-grade anxiety that sort of hums in the background of my reading life.
It tells me to read FASTER! There are so many more books to devour…go, go, go! Not a moment to lose!
It puts undue pressure on me when I’m selecting my next read. There are SO many. Is this one THE ONE?! Or is it gonna be a big, fat WASTE?!
It promotes a vague, consumer-driven discontentment that’s akin to what I feel like after watching too many ads. It makes me feel like the books I have read just aren’t enough. There are MORE and I WANT them.
It’s silly, I know. But it’s there. And it doesn’t have to be.
Are you feeling a little overwhelmed by the number of book recommendations you’re up against? If you are, don’t worry.
The most important thing to remember is this:
Prioritize quality over quantity
I love being able to say, “I read more books this year than I did last year! Go me!” I love discovering new books and authors, especially if I’m early to the scene. And I aspire to be one of those amazing people who seems to have read everything.
But, what’s the point of reading a thousand books if none of them really impacted me in any real way?
Why do we read? To brag about how many books we’ve read? To enjoy a grand sense of self-satisfaction at the vast quantity of pages we’ve consumed?
No, we read to think. To grapple with big questions. To practice vicarious virtue. To encounter beauty.
I often have to remind myself of this when I find myself reading but not appreciating what I’ve read. (Like when I shove a cookie in my mouth and it’s down the hatch before I’ve even tasted it.)
What is the point in having read books if I haven’t received more from the experience than the satisfaction of crossing that title off my TBR?
I’m constantly reminding myself that it’s not about the number of books that I read but how well I read them.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
You may find it helpful to keep a very short TBR of fewer than 10 to 20 titles. These are the books you’re most excited about reading and intend to read soon. Bibliotherapist Anne Bogel calls this a “priority TBR,” and I love that name.
But what about all those other books you’ve heard about and may want to read someday?
Dump them into a save for later (SLF) list. Your SFL is a repository for books that piqued your interest at some point along the way. You may never read these, but you don’t want to forget they exist.
You decide which titles from your SFL graduate to your TBR and when.
I find that Goodreads is the best way for me to keep an ongoing SFL because it has pretty much every book in its database. I can add and remove books with a couple of clicks, as well as categorize them for quick filtering when I’m looking for something. I can easily click a title to refresh my memory about a book or read a sample.
I know people who use their digital library app (like Libby or Hoopla) as an SFL, hearting or saving interesting titles to a personalized list within their account. Adding Kindle books to an Amazon wishlist is another easy way to keep a SFL.
Lately, I’ve been keeping a hand-written TBR (in pencil). It forces me to be more discerning about which books are going to win my precious reading time. I know other people who keep a stack of physical books on a TBR shelf so they’re literally right there. When I’m deciding on my next read, I look at my TBR first.
Purge your TBR of anything that makes you say “I should” or “huh?”
“Oh, THIS book. 😑 Yeah, I should really read it. Everyone else has. It’s won awards.”
“What is this book again? How did it get on my list?”
If either of these thoughts pass through your mind as you scan your TBR, do yourself a favor and prune those titles.
You don’t need to read a book to prove to yourself that you’re intelligent or current.
Don’t keep a TBR at all
Gasp! What?! If putting a book on your TBR kills the joy dead, then why keep one at all?
You can do as Alan Jacobs recommends and “read at whim.” Reading at whim, per Jacobs, is when you read for what you need at the moment you need it. (Easier said than done, but greatly fulfilling when mastered!)
In fact, Jacobs says that adding a title to his TBR automatically makes the book feel like an “assigned text.” He says the book becomes “as broccoli unto” him.
I’ll say it out loud: Not every book is worth finishing. It’s okay to stop reading when you know you’re done.
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”
Sir Francis Bacon
You don’t need to read every book cover to cover. It’s okay to taste and then decide “no more.”
(Just like you don’t need to deeply reflect on chick lit. Just like you don’t need to speed through a literary masterpiece.)
So, when can you abandon a book?
Early is okay: If the first chapter (or paragraph) clearly reveals that this book isn’t for you, then close the covers and call it good. No need to push through a book that has turned you off right from the start.
Twenty-five percent of the way through: If you want to “make an effort” and give the book a chance, then read the first 25 percent of the page count. That’ll most likely get you through Act 1 of the story if it follows a traditional plot structure. You’ll meet the main characters, get to know the setting and story world, experience the inciting incident, and move through a few plot points. If, after all that, you still don’t like it, then you can walk away with the satisfaction of knowing that you tried.
Cherry-pick: Cherry-picking works great with nonfiction, essays, and short stories. Flip through the book or scan the table of contents. Find the information you’re most interested in, and read that only. Read one page into a short story, and skip to the next one if it’s not grabbing you.
Just because you stop reading a book doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll never finish it. You may just need to shelve it for a while and return when the forecast is more favorable.
Giving yourself permission to not finish can make your TBR feel more manageable and take the pressure off.
If you’ve made it this far through the guide, may I congratulate you? In the final section, I ask the question, How do we pick better books and read them…well…better?
10. Don’t read just anything. Refine your taste in books (and strike gold)
Picture this in your mind. A kid is reading a book. The book is not, shall we say, a classic of children’s literature. Let’s pretend it’s more Captain Underpants than Charlotte’s Web.
Uptight Reader sees the kid and objects to the book. “It’s utter twaddle!” she exclaims, clutching her pearls.
Then, Relaxed Reader comes along sporting a three-day-old messy bun. She objects to Uptight Reader’s objection by saying, “Well, at least the kid is reading! Does it matter what the book is as long as the kid is reading?”
Who is right? Uptight Reader or Relaxed Reader?
I’ll say it. There is a time for twaddle in every reader’s life, young and old. (Sorry, Charlotte Mason.)
Sometimes we reach for a popcorn thriller or a cute Christmas romance, and it hits the spot, an easy read that releases the tension we’re living in day to day. The book doesn’t bring a lot of literary merit to the table, but oh well!
However…a steady diet of candy books is NOT going to nourish a healthy reading life. Pretty soon, you’ll unconsciously say to yourself, “I can get the same amount of entertainment with less effort by just watching Netflix.” And then, your reading life will stall in monotony and apathy.
So, that leads me to my point, which is…don’t read just anything.
After a while, “just any ol’ thing” won’t do. It won’t satisfy you or make you feel like your reading time is well spent. You need more.
How do you add this magical thing called “more”?
By refining your taste.
Healthy people don’t eat just anything. Sure, they munch down a few Oreos from time to time, but that’s the exception. They make a point of regularly consuming nourishing and beneficial food. And know what? They like it! They have a taste for it.
As readers, we need to refine our taste.
That doesn’t mean you read only from the Ivory Tower Buffet.
It simply means that you select books with godly discernment.
It means respecting yourself enough and loving God enough to say no to too much twaddle (or outright trash).
What makes a book ‘better’ than another?
This is a fascinating question that I love to discuss! What elevates a book from the Candy/Twaddle category to the Nutritious/Worthy category?
Honestly, this is something I’m still figuring out myself.
Here’s what I tell myself to try and incorporate “better” books into my reading diet.
I tell myself, Michelle, don’t necessarily aim for…
“Important” books that “everyone” has read
Prize-winning or bestselling books
Ultra-rigorous books (to prove you can handle them)
Flat, sanitized books that don’t deal honestly with issues
Books that tell me what to think about an issue
Then, I tell myself, Instead, try for…
Substantial books with some meat on their bones
Books that encourage me to think, without telling me what I should think
Wholesome books that won’t trash me up
Books that offer a perspective other than my own (windows)
Books that reflect my experience and help me make sense of it (mirrors)
If the notion of reading “worthy” books intrigues you, then drop me a note. Tell me what topics you’d like to explore next on your reading journey.
What happens next?
I truly hope that this guide has helped you move toward your goal to get back into reading books.
It’s worth all the effort!
As you get back into a reading habit, you’ll need encouragement from time to time to keep going.
That’s why I created the Book Devotions email newsletter. When you sign up, you get a weekly email (completely free) that will keep your reading life fresh and resilient.
How? With a note of encouragement (and a heap of nerdy book talk) from me, as well as a shortlist of books to keep your TBR full (but not stress-packed).
If you signed up for Bookish Bliss, then you’re already on the list. But if you didn’t, pop your info into the box below, and you’ll get the goods.