Read to relax (here’s why it works)

Read to relax (here’s why it works)

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.

Not me.

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?)

Neva-theless, in 2009, researchers at the University of Sussex found that six minutes of reading—just SIX minutes—reduced stress by as much as 68 percent.


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.

Let’s lose ourselves in books!

Let’s lose ourselves in books!

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.

55 Reading journal prompts that work for ANY book (fun & easy)

55 Reading journal prompts that work for ANY book (fun & easy)

If you’re here for reading journal prompts, then you’re likely:

  • a parent searching for your kid
  • an avid reader (like me!) who keeps a book journal

Either way, you’re in the right place, and you’ll find loads of thought-provoking prompts here in this blog post.

Keeping a reading journal is a great way to remember what you’ve read, but it’s also one way to dialogue with your book and the author, like having a conversation. 

And it doesn’t have to be hard work—on the contrary, it should be easy and fun!

Scroll down and you’ll find reading journal prompts for:

  • Students 
  • Adult fiction
  • Adult nonfiction
  • Book clubs

Before we dive in, let me lay a tiny bit of groundwork.

What is a reading journal, anyway?

It’s a notebook, bullet journal, or three-ring binder where you write things about the book you’re reading. That’s it!

If you’re an adult reader who simply wants to journal, then you do this for the sheer delight of it. A reading journal is a private, safe space (offline) where you can jot down your true feelings about a book, as they pop into your mind, without the pressure of anyone else reacting to you. 

For kids and students, it’s usually an assignment for language arts class. Why, oh heavens, WHY? To help students get into the habit of not just passively reading but responding to what they’ve read. That’s why it’s often called a “reading response journal.” And it’s the best way for busy English teachers with big classes to facilitate this learning activity (and grade it). 

But what to actually write in a reading journal? The possibilities are endless and therefore immobilizing. That’s why it’s super helpful to have prompt ideas at the ready.

Now for the good stuff!

Reading journal prompts for students

Here are my favorite prompts for your student’s reading response journal (or narrative journal, dialectical journal, independent reading enrichment, etc.) Use these to support your homeschool reading curriculum OR (my favorite) foster a book club atmosphere in your home.

11 Easy, imaginative reading journal prompts for kids

This is a non-traditional list of prompts with more of a book club vibe to them. The goal is for kids to respond with their own thoughts (instead of trying to get the “right” answer). 

  1. What’s something from this book that you never want to forget?
  2. Would you call this an “easy” book or a “hard” book? Why?
  3. What character in this book is most like (or unlike) you?
  4. Without thinking too much, write a list of words that describe how this book (or this chapter) made you feel.
  5. Does something in this book (a character, place, or object) remind you of something else from another book (or from your life)?
  6. What would’ve happened if a character had done X instead of Y?
    1. Example: What would’ve happened if Marilla hadn’t kept Anne Shirley?
  7. Would you like to live in this story world? Why or why not?
  8. Did this book teach you something new?
  9. Was this book what you expected it was going to be? Did it surprise you at all?
  10. If you could ask the author a question, what would it be?
  11. Would this book be more interesting if the events were NOT presented in chronological order?

If you’re a homeschool parent or if you simply want to connect with your kids through books, then you MUST check out Sarah MacKenzie at Read-Aloud Revival

10 Academic reading journal prompts for kids

This is a more traditional list of schoolish prompts that should satisfy your child’s reading teacher (but that won’t torture your student). To add more academic rigor to the mix, ask the student to provide textual evidence (quotes, page numbers) to support their answers. 

  1. At the beginning of the book, what does the main character want most? Does this change by the end of the book and how?
  2. Who (or what) is the antagonist (or antagonistic force)? What is it trying to stop the main character from doing? 
  3. Why do you think the author chose this title for the book?
  4. Was this book believable? Could it have happened in real life? Did the characters act like real humans act?
  5. Does a character’s name have special significance?
  6. Which fairy tale, fable, myth, or scripture story does this book remind you of?
    1. For example, are there any Cinderellas in this book? Is there a Christ figure who sacrifices for others? 
  7. Read the book’s back cover or inside flap. Does it accurately reflect the book or not?
  8. Which character had the biggest impact on the story and why?
  9. How would the story feel different if it was written from a different point of view?
  10. Would this book make a good TV show or movie? Why or why not?

BONUS! Reading-writing activities for homeschooling and distance learning

Take journaling to the next level with these creative writing prompts for kids. Use these in place of a tired, ol’ book report.

  1. Go to the library and check out a stack of wordless books. Invite your students to add words to the book based on the illustrations. Challenge them to write the book in a creative narrative format (for example, as a stage play, in epistolary form, or from the perspective of the bad guy). 
  2. Go to the library and check out a stack of books that are a few reading levels below where your child is at. Have your student rewrite the story for an older audience. Wouldn’t it be fun to read the 6th grade version of a super-simple Frog and Toad story? Or the 10th grade version of Strega Nona?
  3. Buy an inexpensive used copy of a book and have your student write their reading responses directly in the margins. You can even supply your student with emoji stickers that they can use to describe how they feel while reading certain passages.
  4. Try an interactive reading journal. This is where more than one student shares a reading journal, responding to the text but also responding to each other’s responses.

17 Reading journal prompts for adults (fiction)

You love to read books AND discuss what you’ve read. But you don’t always have another human being who is ready and willing to dive deep into your latest novel with you. The solution? A reading journal! Think of it as your own little Booklandia. 

Here are some of my favorite writing prompts for when I’m reading a novel.

  1. Why did you pick THIS book to read right NOW?
  2. Why is the title of this book the title? Is it straightforward or does it have shades of meaning?
  3. Do any of the characters’ names carry any special significance?
  4. Do any of the characters strongly remind you of people in your life? 
  5. Did this book hit on any of your “soft spots” or “sweet spots” as a reader? These are things that you just love and can’t resist. 
  6. Did this book hit on any of your pet peeves as a reader? 
  7. How would you describe the writing? Flowery, plain, poetic, emotional?
  8. Did you speed through this book or was it a slog?
  9. What morals underpin the story? Are they similar to or different from your own values?
  10. What does this book praise? Do you agree?
  11. What does this book put down? Do you agree?
  12. In what ways does the book nail its genre? In what ways does it depart from the typical genre conventions?
  13. Was this book what you expected it was going to be? Did it surprise you at all?
  14. If you could ask the author a question, what would it be?
  15. Would you consider this a favorite book? If not, what would it need to have (or what would need to improve) for it to make your list of favorites?
  16. What personality traits make the protagonist likeable? Unlikeable?
  17. What personality traits make the book’s villain likeable? Unlikeable? 

Starting a reading journal is a great way to get back into reading books if you’re rebounding from a slump. Also, many readers enjoy journaling at the end of the day. Responding to a couple of bedtime journal prompts is a great (screen-free) way to wind down, declutter your brain, and prepare for slumber.

11 Reading journal prompts for nonfiction books

It’s easy to inhale nonfiction—I’m talking business books, self-help books, and hobby books—and then completely forget what you learned or what you wanted to implement. Journaling as you go is one way to make meaningful connections to your life and get your creative juices flowing.

  1. Why did you pick THIS book to read right NOW?
  2. Without thinking too much, quickly write a list of Ah-ha moments you had when reading this book. Do it from memory first, and then flip through the book to remember any that you forgot. 
  3. Did this book teach you a lot of new concepts, or did it reinforce things you already knew?
  4. In what ways did this book inspire you (emotionally or spiritually)?
  5. Are you going to think differently or make any changes based on this book?
  6. Was this book what you expected it was going to be? Did it surprise you at all?
  7. If you could ask the author a question, what would it be?
  8. What does this book praise? Do you agree?
  9. What does this book put down? Do you agree?
  10. What important information from this book do you NOT want to forget?
  11. Did this book turn you on to other books or resources that you want to explore or check out?

6 Reading journal prompts to spice up your book club (FUN!)

Giving your book club members a few reading journal prompts upfront is an easy way to spark discussion when it comes time to meet up and actually discuss the book. First off, it gives you a place to start. And second, people arrive preloaded with a LOT to say because they’ve already been thinking about the questions.

The LAST thing you want is for your book club discussion questions to feel like a school assignment. Oh, no no no no. That’s why I’m giving you juicy questions that still manage to feel lighthearted and fun. 

You can print these prompts onto a journal page and give each member a copy to reference as they read. Or, if you’ve got a tech-savvy group, you can send out a Google form that contains all of the prompts, and everyone can respond electronically. Wouldn’t it be fun to read the responses aloud at your meeting but make everyone guess which response is whose?

  1. Do any of the characters in this book remind you of someone in our book club? BE NICE!
  2. If our book club could take the main character out for a night on the town, where would we go and what would we do?
  3. Pretend this book is being made into a movie or TV show, and you’re the casting director. Which actors would you pick to portray each character?
  4. Which type of social media account would each character in this book use the most?
  5. Which emoji (or gif or meme) best describes how you feel about this book?
  6. Choose one of the following to describe how you felt about this book:
    1. This was a good book, and I liked it.
    2. This was a bad book, but I liked it anyway.
    3. This was a good book, but I didn’t like it.
    4. This was a bad book, and I didn’t like it.

I hope that these reading journal prompts have you itching to grab your favorite pen and start scribbling!
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Why the world needs readers (like you)

Why the world needs readers (like you)

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.

I’ll be honest. It’s in my own self-interest to say that reading is important. I am the author of a book blog, after all.

But I believe—passionately—that reading is more than your average pastime. Much more.

Here’s why I think that readers, people like you and me, are critical to preserving civilization—and helping it flourish.

Reading teaches you how (not what) to think

In How to Read a Book (yes, that’s the actual title) Mortimer J. Adler frets over newfangled modes of mass communication, such as radio and magazines. He worries about how they “package” intellectual positions with the goal of helping Average Joe make up his mind with minimum difficulty and effort. But, Adler asserts, Joe doesn’t make up his mind at all. 

“Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and ‘plays back’ the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think.”

Doesn’t this sound frighteningly familiar? When was the last time you had an original thought of your own? Something that wasn’t fed to you by social media or the news? It’s a sobering question for me, no doubt. 

But reading great books is the gateway to (real) free thinking. 

Reading teaches you to reflect before you react

How different would social media be if people thought for a minute before they reacted to something online? 

Tweets and bite-sized videos make short, snappy statements. If we trust the source, then we take the statement as fact. We don’t mull it over for a few days. We don’t take time to reflect on it and form our own individual viewpoints. We immediately react by tapping a button—we don’t even have to put our feelings into words—hello, emojis.

Tony Reinke says, “The temptation is to react, not to ponder. I am quick to Tweet and slow to think. I am quick to Google and slow to ponder.” 

As we mature as readers, we tend to choose challenging books that don’t lend themselves to simple “likes” or “dislikes.” They demand we switch on our brain and puzzle it out. And this is good—for us and the world at large.

Reading forms your character, cultivates virtue, and encourages empathy

So often, I find myself reading to get information. I need to KNOW something. But, more than informing my mind, reading forms my character.

Tell a teenage girl, “Don’t flirt with boys,” and you’ve succeeded in informing her of something you believe to be true. But show her Lydia Bennet in all her foolishness, tell her Lydia’s story, how it begins and how it ends, and you may succeed in a far greater way.

Karen Swallow Prior says it in the fewest possible words: “Literary characters have a lot to teach us about character.”

Reading allows us to see life through another’s eyes, exposes us to things beyond the scope of our own experience, and enlarges our view of humanity.

Reading forces you to slow down and savor

I confess, I sometimes plow through a book brainlessly, just trying to get through. But often, especially when I’m reading something truly great, I slow down and linger over the language, bask in the storytelling, and hope it won’t end too soon.

There’s enough “rush, rush, hurry” in my life. Reading, for me, is an opportunity to stop scurrying and pursue peace. 

Experienced readers know that it’s not a race to read the most and the fastest. It’s about hopping off the hamster wheel, stepping into the fresh air, and receiving the gift.

“Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities. For a Christian, they can be God-glorifying, a gift from God to the human race to be accepted with zest.”

Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective

True readers are free thinkers. 

They reflect before they react. 

They cultivate character, virtue, and empathy by reading widely and well.

They know how to slow down and enjoy.

The world needs more readers!

I, for one, am grateful to be in company with so many, with you.

Be where the readers are

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What was THE book that made you a reader?

What was THE book that made you a reader?

I first fell in love with books when I was 6 years old. My mother decided to read Charlotte’s Web to me every night before bed.

It was our little ritual, unfolding the story together, one chapter a night. I loved snuggling close to her, smelling her smell, looking at the black-and-white illustrations of Fern, Wilbur, Templeton, and the rest of the barnyard gang. 

My tender heart broke when we finished the book, not because it was over but because of how it ended—with the death of Charlotte and the hatching of her children. 

The day after we read that last chapter, the story’s bittersweet ending was still tugging on my soul. I remember sitting sideways in a green upholstered armchair, trying to hide my tears and tiny sobs. 

My mom noticed. “Michelle, what’s the matter?” she asked. 

I burst into tears right there on the green upholstery. Mom patiently waited for me to cry it out.

“What’s wrong?” she asked again, clearly bewildered and, by now, a little concerned. 

All I could manage were the strangled words, “Charlotte died!

My mom stuffed a laugh. She was probably relieved that I wasn’t crying over some bad thing that was “real.” But, oh, it was real to me. Charlotte was as real as any person I’d ever known. Her death happened. And it deeply affected me.

You’d think, after that, I’d be too traumatized to read a book ever again. 

But nope. I was hooked.

Where can I get my hands on a book that will make me feel something like that again?

My next magical reading experience was Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I devoured as much Dahl as I could get my hands on. The BFG. The Witches. Boy.

After that, I had a love affair with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. It twisted me in its fantastical grip. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but I kept checking the thick, pink-covered volume out of the library time after time. 

There was no doubt about it. I had become a bonafide reader. Reading has instructed me in many ways, but it’s also given me hours upon hours of delight (and it still does). 

Why does it?

Why do I like reading so much? Why do you?

The answer, I suppose, is because we’re irresistibly drawn to stories. Life is a story. We are all living a story right now at this very moment. Reading other people’s stories (true or made-up) helps me interpret the one I’m living day to day.

I don’t know about you, but I love seeing my life reflected in the stories I read.

I love seeing people from my own life populating the pages: my great-aunt Betty who lived through the Great Depression and washes and reuses every food container and bag from the grocery store. The unhinged-looking guy from the DMV with the wild hair who failed me on my first driving test. They show up in the books I read.

Most of all, I love seeing the person I want to be portrayed in stories.

Could I possibly have retained my optimism like Sara Crewe in A Little Princess, even after everything good was taken away from me? Would I have the self-discipline to keep my own counsel (and others’ secrets) like Elena Dashwood? Would I stab Caesar with the other senators?

Stories make me grab my inner magnifying glass and examine my heart, but they also help reorient my gaze beyond the fine points. They guide my eyes upward to the heavens, the vast expanse of life that encompasses everyone who lives, has lived, and will live. Stories force me to ask supersized questions like, “Where is my place in this constellation of souls?” They invite me to grapple with these cosmic queries using both the reason of my mind and the feeling of my heart.

God, the Master Storyteller, has been weaving the story of humanity since time began. It’s a story of redemption. It’s a story with pattern, foreshadowing, and fulfillment. I see my own small life reflected in its wide, shimmering pool. One star among the thousands Abraham saw. Like him, I’m a stranger here. Stories help me figure out where I belong and why I matter. 

I love reading because, when I do it wisely and well, it points me to God.

It shows me a sliver of His infinity. It inspires compassion, gratitude, and virtue within me. It makes me treat others better, increases my focus, and fortifies my courage in the face of evil.

Why do you love reading? What was THE book that started it all? Leave a comment with your story. I’d sure love to know how it happened for you.