The thing about books…: 15 tips to help you read more and better books

Who needs books when you can jump on YouTube, kick your feet up and rest your eyes, right?

I get it. I’ve been there. I used to be repulsed by sight of books and libraries. Silent reading time? No thanks. That bookworm on all those library posters? A little creepy. The school librarians? Downright scary.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered my love of books and reading.

Why bother to read books?

Dr Seuss wrote in his classic book I can read with my eyes shut!:

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Books can be mind expanding and life changing. The words of a good author can trigger new insights, knowledge and act as a catalyst for change.

When you read a book, you’re also training your brain to ignore everything else that’s going on and focus on the page. With deep focus comes deep learning.

In contrast, when you read online the presence of hyperlinks propels you to click. Before you know it, you can be lost in a sea of information. What were you supposed to be doing again? You have no idea!

This is why reading a book (with pages you can feel and turn with your hands) is so valuable: it’s so much easier to stay focused.

Tips to kick-start your reading adventures

Want to read more books and develop the skill of finding a good book? Then resist the urge to click away. Stay with me and keep reading!

Below are some tips to help you discover a love of reading (and trust me, it’s never too late to get started).

1. Choose books that are easy to get into

Some books can feel like a hard slog. Go easy on yourself and start off with some graphic novels. For me, graphic novels were like a gateway drug into the world of books. Since illustrations are the star of the show, you can churn through a graphic novel and find yourself engaged within the first minute.

And graphic novels are not just about super heroes. You can find graphic novels that are adaptations of old classics (e.g. The Great Gatsby). They can also cover a range of real world issues. Check out Joe Sacco’s graphic novels that cover the human impact of conflicts around the world.

2. Don’t worry about your reading speed

I used to think that I wasn’t good at reading because it took me longer than the others to read. So when I finished high school, I signed up to a speed-reading course.

The teacher taught us how to read multiple pages in less than a minute. I felt like an absolute champion! That was until they tested my reading comprehension. It was close to zero.

You have to ask yourself the question, “What’s the point of reading so fast if you don’t understand anything?”

Over the years I’ve learnt to embrace my slow reading speed.

No one cares about how fast or slow you read. Remember, this isn’t a race. The whole point of reading is to learn new ideas and improve your life.

3. Don’t be afraid to make a mess of your books

A few years ago, I was looking through my best friend’s book collection. I noticed that she had highlighted sentences on every page of every book. At the time, I was horrified. Why in the world was she making a mess of her beautiful books?

A few years later, I realised my friend was onto something. While working on my PhD I noticed that after reading a book, the ideas would be fresh in my mind for about a week. But after that I couldn’t remember what the book was about. I just had some vague sense of whether the book was good or not. That was about it.

I took a step back and asked myself, “What’s the point of reading?” The answer was simple: we read to learn. If you want to learn information and remember that information, then you need to make a note of it. So I’ve let go of the idea of keeping my books in pristine condition.

For the love of learning, I now give myself permission to make a mess (unless it’s a library book). I’ll write in the margins, highlight key bits of information and post-it note paragraphs that make me go ‘A-ha!’. A week or two later (once the ideas have had time to simmer away in my brain), I’ll go back and mind map out the key ideas.

4. Join your local library

If you don’t make good use of your library, one of two things is going to happen:

1) You’ll go broke; and/or
2) You’ll end up like the hoarder next door with piles of books in your bedroom.

I will often walk out of my local library with a huge stack of books. Do I end up reading all of them? No. Do I care? Not really. It’s a free service. If at some point I want to read those books, I’ll take them out again.

Set yourself a challenge to spend 20 minutes walking around your library to explore the books. Get a sense of the books and different categories on offer. Don’t just limit yourself to the young adult section. Go and explore the psychology section, the cookbooks, the magazines, the art books, etc. Get a feel for what you like and don’t like.

5. Use inter-library loan services

Not a fan of the books in your local library? No problem! Remember, local libraries tend to cater for a general audience. So if cake decorating, backyard poultry or DIY home renovation ain’t really your thing, I get it!

This is where you’ll need to refine your reading tastes by jumping on Amazon. With Amazon, you can find books on all sorts of obscure topics. Make a list and then go ask your local library if they can source the book from another library through the inter-library loan service.

6. Spend some time in a good bookshop

The great thing about bookshops is that they stock the latest books. Libraries will eventually get these books but it may take a few months for them to be processed through the system.

Most bookshop owners are happy for you to browse in their shop. They’ll often have a couch or chair for customers to sit on. If you’re going to sit and browse, just make sure you take good care of the books.

While I’m all for supporting local bookshops, resist the urge to purchase every book you like the look of. Before you make a purchase…

7. Jump on Amazon

Amazon is great for three things:

1) The reviews/ratings;
2) Showing you similar books to ones you really like; and
3) Allowing you to preview the book.

Use Amazon as a research tool to pin point great books. Copy down the titles and call your local library (see point 5. Use inter-library loan services).

Warning: you can spend hours and hours of your life on Amazon. I recommend you grab a timer, set it for 20 minutes and have a browse. Once the timer goes off, stop and go do something else.

8. Ignore reading snobs

One of my relatives tells me I should read books about Croatian history. “Do you know anything about history?” she’ll say in a condescending tone.

This relative is what I’d call a reading snob.

So how do you know if someone is a reading snob?

They look down on particular types of books. They’ll say things like, “I like reading proper books” when you mention an interesting graphic novel you’ve just read.

Don’t worry about what other people say or think. You know what you enjoy reading. Stick with that.

9. Always carry a book with you

People say they don’t have time to read for pleasure. But you do. You just need to make it a priority and look for little pockets of time that are available.

This is why I always carry a book with me. Even if it’s just 20 minutes of reading while I’m waiting for an appointment or a few minutes before a gym class, some reading is better than no reading!

10. Work out how you read best

Do you like reading on the couch? Your bed? Or do you prefer to read outside under a tree? Do you like paperback books or prefer reading off a kindle?

I don’t like reading off my laptop (it’s too distracting). I prefer a paperback book in my hands. Sometimes I’ll read at the kitchen table. Other times I’ll read at my treadmill desk. I like to mix things up.

Health blogger Dr Mercola reads hundreds of books on his kindle every year by walking up and down the beach. He gets reading, exercise and a dose of vitamin D in all at once!

Spend a little time working out what feels best for you.

11. Tackle the book in little chunks

I recently finished a brilliant 400+ page book called The Telomere effect. But I’ll admit, I don’t normally read books that are so big. Why? Because big books are scary for my brain. Even if the book is on a fascinating topic, my brain thinks, “Ugh. That looks like hard work!”.

The Telomere Effect sat on my bedside table for quite some time until I finally opened it up and started reading it. I read a little chunk of text every day. Before I knew it, the book was done!

12. When your brain gets tired, stop

There’s no point reading when your brain feels tired. Reading with a tired brain will only kill your love of reading. Stop before you start to hate it. Stop when things start to feel really painful.

Remember this, one hour of reading with a fresh brain is better than three hours of reading with a tired brain.

13. Feel free to skip entire sections of a book

You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover. You don’t have to read every single word or chapter for that matter.

This is where reading with a clear purpose comes in handy. Ask yourself, “Why am I reading this book? What do I need to find out?” Then turn to the contents page and/or index and pinpoint the sections that are relevant.

Don’t get bogged down with a book. Get what you need from a book and then move on. On that note…

14. You don’t have to finish the book

If you’re not getting anything good from a book, call it quits. This can be hard to do though. Once you start a book (no matter how bad it is), you feel like you need to push through until the end. It feels like you get no “points” or gold stars for a book you don’t finish.

I’m a firm believer that if a book doesn’t grab you in the first one to two chapters, then say sayonara to it (for the time being).

Release the burden of the book by returning it to the library. If you purchased the book, pop it back on your bookshelf. Don’t get rid of the book just yet because the book may not actually be that bad. You just may not be ready for it.

15. Every book has its time

I recently picked up a book that I had read 10 years ago. I remember thinking when I first started reading this book, “This book is terrible. I hate the way it is written”. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 10 years later when I picked up the book again, I actually enjoyed reading it. It was full of practical advice that my younger self couldn’t fully appreciate.

You’ll either be ready for a book or not. If you’re not ready, don’t stress. Maybe next year you will be.

Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Do you have any tips for reading more and better books? If so, feel free to leave a comment below.

4 thoughts on “The thing about books…: 15 tips to help you read more and better books

  1. I like reading books from the library because it forces me to have a timeline for completing them.

    1. So true Adam!
      Facing an overdue library book fine certainly helps to create a sense of urgency 🙂

      When I was facing a $50 book fine from my university library, I churned through 10 books in 2 days (not something I’d recommend!).

  2. I like that you said that it is okay if a book gets a little banged up while you’re reading it. To me, this is the physical trophy of learning something new! I love looking at all the books my mother has read, and seeing all the pages bent. I know someone has loved that book.

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