Christmas is over, the decorations are away and the pressure of keeping those New Year resolutions is looming. If you are one of many who have earnestly written ‘Read More’ on your list and are now wondering just how you’re going to achieve it, then don’t panic, we’re here to help.
If you’ve needed to make it a resolution, the chances are that it’s not going to happen naturally. So let’s try to work out why that is. Not everyone needs to enjoy everything of course but a love of reading fiction is such an awesome thing that it’s worth investigating. And I know you agree because there it is on your list of resolutions.
So what is preventing you from enjoying reading? Here are 5 common frustrations:
1. I struggle with words
Any difficulty processing words creates a genuine challenge but it doesn’t mean you have to miss out. There are various strategies that can help, such as covering the part of the page that you’re not currently reading so it’s easier to keep your place, reading aloud to train your brain to interpret the visual clues, and taking time to break down unfamiliar words to make sure you understand them instead of guessing the meaning. Practice really will help but for times when you simply want to chill out and enjoy the story then audio books are a fantastic option. This goes for anyone, dyslexic or not.
2. I read too slowly
Reading slowly is not a bad thing. Reading fast is no fun as you end up zooming through a book and reaching the end far sooner than you’d like. If you’re a slow reader then you will get to stay in the world of your book for longer and all the fast readers out there will be jealous of you, trust me. Just relax and don’t put any time pressure on yourself. How long it takes to finish your book is nobody’s business but yours.
3. I get bored
This is a real issue but it doesn’t mean you’re not built for reading, it simply means you’re reading the wrong book. Even the most passionate readers find themselves slowing down and dragging their heels with a book they’re not into. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to finish every book you start. Use this simple rule. If you’re not hooked by the end of the second chapter then give it up as a bad job and find something else to read. Life is too short for books that don’t grip.
4. Fiction is a waste of time because I don’t learn anything
Just because a book is fictitious doesn’t mean everything in it is made up. A novel set in a particular place can teach you masses about the culture of that place, the atmosphere, the way of life and what it feels like to live and work there, through the eyes of characters who do. It’s the closest way to being there without actually getting on a plane. Reading a historical novel is akin to a dozen history lessons and reading any novel at all teaches you to see the world from a different viewpoint – which has to be a good thing. Again, it’s all about finding the right book with things in it that you want to read about.
5. I never achieve my reading goals
This can be very disheartening but it’s easily fixed by making sure you set realistic goals. Don’t commit to reading all the books in the house that you haven’t read. Or every literary prize winner from the last year. Or one book per week. It’s ridiculous and you’ll never do it.
So how do you choose the right book?
There are lots of ways but you have to stay true to yourself. Asking friends for recommendations might seem like an obvious answer but it can be your biggest mistake. If you like action and horror and they like literary poetry it’s unlikely that you are going to be onto a winner. Having asked them, it seems rude to say no and before you know it you have a growing stack of books in your spare room and an increasing list of friends you have to avoid in case they ask how you’re getting on. Book clubs can be great but how many people end up googling a quick summary on their way to the meeting because they haven’t got round to reading the actual book?
That’s not what reading is about. Reading is becoming so lost in a world that you completely forget where you are. It doesn’t matter whether the story is believable or full-on fantasy and escape. Real life feels like an interruption and the thought of your book, waiting for you when you get home, is like the best secret ever.
Sometimes you will like a book for the period in which it’s set. Or the place in which it’s set. Or you will like the characters – maybe you see yourself in them. Maybe the book is funny and makes you laugh or maybe it’s sad and makes you cry. Sometimes you will just love the feeling of escape. Once you have found one book you like, it’s much easier to find the next one. Check out other books by the same author or investigate the genre.
So I recommend that you get a pen and change your resolution from ‘Read More’ to ‘Discover Which Books I Like’. That’s the best way to crack the secret of reading and turn it into a treat rather than just another chore along with hoovering up the Christmas tree needles.
Helen Harbord has a degree in linguistics and is the founder of Yonndr.com where you can search for novels set in real places. Finding a novel set in your next holiday destination is a great way to get into reading.