Most people wish they read more, or—at the least—have the wisdom gleaned by those who are well-read. As Christians, reading books can be especially helpful to our spiritual lives as we encounter books that help us understand God better and walk in humble obedience to him. If you want to become an avid reader, though, where do you begin?
I have friends that read one hundred or more books every year, and I typically read thirty to thirty-five. Before you judge me for book-flexing, hear me out. I share these numbers because I used to read only a few books each year, but I made some discoveries that I implemented in my life that have helped me become what some would call an “avid reader.” I’m sharing them because I think they are simple, common-sense ideas that can help anyone increase their book-reading.
1. Read What You Like
The easiest way to read more is to read what you like. Do you enjoy mysteries? Theological tomes (aka: large, heavy books about the nature of God and religion)? Do you prefer essays on gardening or poems about housecats? If those things keep you reading, then read them!
I used to labor through books that I had absolutely no interest in because “everyone” said I should read it, only to find myself reading less and less because I wasn’t enjoying it. Other times, I thought I would like a book, but after a few chapters it became clear that the book was boring me. Let me say this to my Type A, achiever friends: it’s OK to start a book and not finish it! Why put yourself through the pain of forcing yourself to read something that you aren’t enjoying? You are wasting time that you could be using to read something else. Reading what you enjoy will make reading more enjoyable. Read what you like!
2. But Read New Things
Now, I don’t want to give you the impression that you should only read the types of books you most naturally gravitate toward. It is good to try other things. Do you find yourself reading only fiction? Vary it with some non-fiction. You might especially benefit from devotional classics like Pilgrim’s Progress or Mere Christianity. Maybe there is a leadership-related book that could help your job, or a parenting book that can give you new, Christ-like insights into raising your kids. If you tend to read mostly nonfiction (like me), challenge yourself to read a few books that tell a story.
It’s OK to read purely for entertainment. As you do, remember that you don’t have to stick to a single genre. Reading outside of your preferences can challenge you in good ways, bringing growth.
3. Watch Less TV
There is no way to spend more time reading without spending less time doing something else. We have only twenty-four hours in a day to work with. To read more, you need to think less about how to “find more time to read” and more about shifting time you are spending on other activities toward reading.
I suggest watching less TV. Why? Because the time in the evening, after dinner but before bed, is prime real estate in your day. You’re going to spend that time doing something, and it is often something involving a screen. It could be a show on Disney+, a sporting event, or just aimlessly scrolling on your phone through social media. What if you read for an hour before you returned to the screens? I think you would find that you hit your reading goals faster than you expected.
4. Read with Others
A great way to read books is to read them in community. Book clubs, Small Groups, friends, family—all these will help you stay engaged in reading in a few ways.
Firstly, they’ll provide accountability. When you know you will meet with others by a certain date to discuss a book, it builds in motivation to read so you are prepared and can participate. Secondly, discussing books with others helps you solidify what you may be learning from the book, and gives you important outside perspectives that might make you consider what you’re reading in a fresh way. There are books that I finished and learned from mostly because of the people I read them with. Without the discussions we had, I might not have stuck with them. If you struggle to read, find someone to go through a book together.
5. Surround Yourself with Books
Another great way to get more reading done is to surround yourself with books. Try to have a book in all the places that you find yourself with extra time. Keep one in the car for when you’re waiting at the doctor’s office for an appointment. Keep one at work to read on your lunch break. Keep one on your nightstand or in your backpack. In many of these instances, you will probably pull out your phone and “read” the latest news or watch cat videos anyway. Why not give your brain a break from the screen and read something for those ten minutes? If you have a book nearby, you’re much more likely to pick it up in those moments.
The Goal Is More
You may have noticed that my list of tips does not include setting a goal to read a certain number of books. That is intentional! Setting a goal is not a bad thing, but I have found that a goal gets me nowhere if I have not first focused on building the habits that help me achieve that goal. The same is true when we talk about how to become an avid reader.
I’m confident that if these five habits become a part of your life, you’ll hit whatever reading goals you set for yourself. That said, I’d suggest that you not try to jump from reading one book every year to fifty. Wondering how to become an avid reader? Just make your goal to read more than you read last year. If you read nothing in 2021, Shoot for five books in 2022. There are so many life-giving benefits of reading to reap if we’re willing to become the type of person who reads.
Here’s to some happy times with good books, and if you see me around, please tell me what you’re reading. I’d love to know!