Updated: Jan 1
Plus, my reading goals for 2021
If you've read my 'Best of 2020' blog post, you'll know that I set a reading goal of 70 books in 2020 and exceeded it by reading, at current count, 84 books (lockdown life!). It's not as many as some of the Booktubers out there, but it's my record number since I've been recording these things so I'm pretty proud of myself! I've seen a few blog posts and videos on YouTube where people are debating whether or not reading goals are a good thing (for an excellent video, check out Spinster's Library on YouTube here), so thought I would share my thoughts and my goals for 2021, as well as some of my top tips for cultivating better reading habits.
1. Set goals
I began setting a reading goal on Goodreads about five years ago soon after I started tracking my reading. It's a strangely compelling activity that I am now fully hooked on. I find a level of accountability to be a useful tool for me with habits and reading is a habit that, believe it or not, I really have to work at. Thankfully, I'm also an obsessive list maker and I get huge satisfaction from ticking things off. This is where reading goals and tracking books come to my rescue!
If you are someone who doesn't find accountability that motivating or the act of creating lists satisfying, then setting goals and tracking your reading may not be for you. However, quite often, setting manageable targets can at least trick us into beginning a task. For instance, if you tell yourself you will just study for ten minutes, you kind of trick your brain into starting and, once started, it is inevitable that you will study for longer. I think the same will be with a manageable reading goal: baby steps! Set a goal of one book if you haven't been reading at all. Set a goal of a book a month if that seems manageble to you. Whatever seems super achievable to get you started. Some people think that setting goals can take the fun out of reading, but I never worry about whether I am hitting my target or put pressure on myself - that would be bad! Only set goals if you find it useful and fun to do so. You can take a look at some of mine below.
2. Track your reading
If you do find satisfaction in lists, then start to log what you are reading. I have faithfully logged my reading on Goodreads since about 2014 and I love this record that I can look back at because I forget so much of what I read. Goodreads is convenient and easy to use, but you can also just keep a regular paper and pen tracker or reading journal or blog! Once you start recording your reading and your thoughts on it, you actually begin to remember more of what you read.
3. Try a reading challenge and create a TBR
Since getting into the online book community, I've also been having fun creating TBRs, which stands for 'To Be Read' and is now used as shorthand for a planned list of books to read. Your TBR could simply be the unread pile of books that you haven't got round to, or it can be more intentional, such as a list you make when joining a readathon or challenge. You can find lots of these in the online book community. Whether they are called challenges or readathons, they are essentially the same: they often have criteria for you to fulfil based around a theme and can be lots of fun. One of my favourites is the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which isn't themed, but designed to get you to expand your reading horizons. Some examples from this year include: read a debut novel by a queer author, read a middle grade that doesn't take place in the US or UK and read a book about climate change. There are discussion groups on Goodreads where people share the titles they are reading to meet the challenge. It's great fun.
4. Reduce tech distractions
There is so much to distract us these days that reading, which requires concentration, can often seem just too much effort. As a young adult, the idea of having to build good reading habits would have seemed preposterous to me, but that smug madame didn't have the Internet, smart phones, YouTube, social media and streaming services to distract her.
Fast forward twenty years and the amount of things vying for my attention is overwhelming. We are living in a post-boredom age - remember boredom? Probably only if you are of a similar age to me! It is so easy for me now to just pick up my phone, switch on Netflix or YouTube and get absorbed for hours. I am a marathon TV watcher now. Whilst it is a golden age for television, this is bad news for books. I have several rules that I try to stick to (not always successfully!) to help reduce distractions from modern tech:
Don't have your phone next to you. If you need it in the room, then have it out of sight. Research has shown that having our phones next to us, even face down, reduces cognitive capacity and makes it hard to focus.
No screens in the bedroom unless it's an e-reader. This can be tricky if you read on a tablet or smartphone, but well worth doing. If you happen to read on an iPad or iPhone, activate screen downtime so that you can only access your reading app, but also think about investing in a good e-reader.
Prioritise reading in the morning. I don't touch my phone, tablet or social media until I've read a few pages with my coffee in the morning. I get so much more reading done with this rule, plus, it's a far less stressful start to the day than reading the news or your emails.
Be intentional about your TV and Internet use. If you find yourself aimlessly scrolling, doing quizzes or deciding to re-watch something on Netflix because you're not interested in anything new, then you could be reading. I have a screen saver on my iPhone which says 'What would you rather be doing?' to remind me to be intentional when I pick up my phone. Switch off all unnecessary notifications (Android, iOS) and remember that smartphones and apps are designed to be addictive so try to be mindful of how much you pick them up.
Set some daily screen downtime on your phone or tablet or just turn them off altogether after a certain time.
Read 'Digital Minimalism' by Cal Newport. It is life changing!
5. Mix up your formats
The biggest game changer to me as a reader in recent years has been audiobooks. I started listening to audiobooks when I took up knitting around 6 years ago. The knitting is long gone in favour of crochet, but the audiobooks remain. I get so much more reading done this way. And, yes, it is reading! You still have to comprehend what is being said, you are still consuming the story or the information and, if you finish the audiobook, you can legitimately say you have read that title! Audiobooks are also great motivation for doing other tasks, so any chores I have to do become an absolute pleasure. They also accompany me in the car or on walks. As an insomniac, I also listen in the night when I can't sleep and don't want to wake my partner by putting on a light.
However, my most indulgent habit is to buy the same book in multiple formats, so that I can switch between them and pick my book up no matter what I am doing. This is not for everyone and it can be expensive, so I don't do this for all books, but I find it particularly useful for big books! You can always see if your local library has the audiobook available. Another good benefit of lockdown life has been discovering the Libby app, which is used by the public libraries here in the UK. It has excellent functionality and you can find lots of audiobooks on there, as well as ebooks. A cheaper alternative to buying the audio!
I am also not a 'real' book purest. Although real books are my preferred format and I adore holding a real book and having it on my shelf, there is only so much shelf space in our house. Plus, whilst I love hardbacks, I often avoid them because of their lack of portability, so my Kindle saves me waiting until the paperback release for any new big books I want to read. Joy.
6. Life is short, buy the book
If you see a book you are dying to read, then do all you can to get it. You are far more likely to read a book if it is one that you are excited about. I made a promise to myself that if there was ever a book I wanted to read, I would do all I could to acquire it after I read this blog post by Ryan Holiday. He says that books are so important to him, he will forego most other things in his life in order to have them. I am in complete agreement. However, I have also been in a position where I had little to no spare money, so I had to get creative with how I got my books. This was when I discovered that many books are much cheaper on Kindle and began reading more ebooks. Also, if you join your local library, you can request that they purchase newer titles if they don’t have them, particularly noteworthy ones. You can request books to be transferred from other libraries as well for as little as 65p in the UK. If you use the library app, Libby, you can place holds on popular books and it will cost you nothing! I also made sure when I had no money for books that I made wishlists for my birthdays and at Christmas to ensure that books were gifted to me.
7. Try mood reading
If a book feels like work, then ditch it. Sometimes this is just a temporary cessation and you can always pick the book up another time when you are in the mood for it. Ditching books I’m not enjoying is a hard rule with me now, but it wasn't always. I used to be a die-hard 'I've started, so I'll finish' reader. But as I've gotten older, I know that life is too short and there are just too many good books out there to be wasting my precious time on something that is not enjoyable. I think this is the main issue for so many people when they say they find reading a chore. Don't let it be a chore. If you aren’t itching to read another chapter of your book, ditch it and find something you really want to read.
I will follow my moods and interests when selecting what to read, even if it deviates from anything I've planned. I make lots of TBRs and, quite often, I don't get through them. But I still make them because I find it fun to research new books and compile lists around a theme, particularly for challenges or readathons. For instance, I took part in Jane Austen July this year and had to compile a TBR based on the categories the group set, which was great because I discovered lots of titles while seeking out books to fit the criteria. I didn't read them all, but I may do one day. In fact, I got so into Jane Austen that I just carried on reading her books well into August until, one day, I was just done and I moved onto some YA fantasy for lighter relief. If you go with your interests, moods and tastes, you'll be a much happier reader, I guarantee it.
8. Speed reading
You can increase the speed at which you read. There are lots of videos on YouTube which will teach you how, but I first encountered the method through this video here. Speed reading is essentially training your brain to read groups of words at a time, rather than word by word and it really does work. Experienced readers don't actually need to read word to word because we are no longer sounding out, we are 'sight reading' and using our visual memory of the word to recognise and read it. When you practise speed reading, you are shifting from bouncing your eyes off each word to bouncing across two to three points along a line of text. This is not to be confused with skimming a text because that involves skipping words; when speed reading, you are reading every word, just four or five at a time rather than one at a time! At first this feels unnatural and takes concentration, so it does take some time and conscious effort to get used to. I still prefer to read slowly if I really want to savour the book, but it's a super useful skill.
9. Listen at a higher speed
If you are an audiobook listener, you can increase the speed at which you play your books. When I first saw this recommended, I tried it and couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly get any enjoyment out of it. However, like speed reading, it takes practice. I started out increasing the speed gradually and allowed my brain to adjust to one speed before cranking it up to the next speed. I have listened to a fiction book at 2x the speed, but I have to say that it wasn't as enjoyable for me and for fiction my preference is to listen at normal speed. However, it is a really useful way of increasing the amount of information you consume, so I often increase the speed on non-fiction, YouTube videos or online classes where I just want the information as quickly as possible. It's a great time saver. Once you start doing this, you'll find your ears adjust and you lose patience when listening to things at normal speed! I do wish I could do it for fiction though and perhaps will give it another try in the new year.
10. Reframe your mindset
Finally, these tips won't do you any good if you are not making time to read. In fact, a general tip from one of my favourite YouTubers, Ali Abdaal, is to eliminate the words 'I don't have time' from your vocabulary. Instead, you should say 'I'm choosing not to make the time' because this reframes the situation entirely. If you say 'I'm choosing not to make the time to read', that is much more powerful and less forgiving than saying 'I don't have time to read'. If something is important to you, you will make the time. You will never increase the amount you read if you don't make time to read, so my most simple but important tip is: choose to read.
My 2021 reading goals
Read at least 75 books
This is only up by 5 books on 2020's target, which I know I exceeded, but I think we can all agree that this has been an unusual year! I'm going to be so much more socially active next year (I have to believe this!), that 75 books is actually a really high target given that in previous years I only managed between 50 and 60 books.
Read more books by authors of colour and fiction set outside of Europe and the US
Only ten percent of the books I read this year were by authors of colour. I want to make much more intentional choices to read books by authors of colour across all genres and age ranges next year and increase this percentage. Only three of the fiction books I read were set outside of Europe or the US, which I was quite shocked at. When I was younger, I adored books set in other countries that had different cultures from mine and I always felt so much more enriched for reading about them. I am looking forward to meeting this goal!
Finish the Discworld series
I will write another blog post on this at a later date, but Terry Pratchett is one of my all-time favourite authors. I have been reading the Discworld books since I was about 13 years old and of the 41 books, I have not read the last 11. Since Terry Pratchett died, I put off reading them because I didn't want there to be no more new Discworld books that I haven't yet read. But it's time.
Read the last two Jane Austen books
I have never read Northanger Abbey and I couldn't finish Mansfield Park when I tried it many years ago. As I have gotten older, my enjoyment and appreciation of Jane Austen has increased, so I'm hoping to find both of these novels as enjoyable as her other work. I also don't feel I can call myself a true Janeite if I haven't read all of her novels!
Manga is the catch-all term for Japanese comics and graphic novels. It is one of the fastest growing markets in children's books in the UK, so it is definitely a genre that teachers should get to know! Plus, I also really like anime (Japanese cartoons) and adore Japanese culture, so it is pretty ridiculous that I have yet to read any manga! This also ties in with my goal of reading more books set outside of Europe and the US, so it's a two-for-one goal!
You might wonder why a single book has made it onto this list. I bought a second-hand copy of House of Leaves about three years ago (it is expensive) because it has amassed somewhat of a cult following. Check out the link above to find out more about this extraordinary book. The reason I have yet to read it is that it exists in only one format, which is an enormous (think university text book size) paperback. This book is so unwieldy I have to read it with the book resting on my lap because holding it up for any length of time results in sore wrists (I have ridiculously tiny wrists for a fully grown person) and I certainly can't carry it around with me. While we are still effectively locked down here in the UK, I really need to use this time at home to get stuck into this tome and a few of my other bigger books. I have some gorgeous coffee table books that deserve more attention too and perhaps I’ll get round to them as well, but House of Leaves is my Everest!
Authors whose work I want to read:
Octavia E. Butler
Take more notes on what I read.
Read physically (as opposed to just listening to books) every day.
Catalogue my book collection.
Will you be setting yourself any reading goals or making some changes to your habits? I'd love to hear from you on this. Please leave a comment or contact me with your thoughts. Whatever your plans, I wish you a wonderful year ahead full of health, happiness, love and reading!