It started in Belgium. One sizzling summer in a third-floor flat, my parents came strutting through the lounge to find their fat little fellow merrily leafing through a copy of War and Peace. I was two years old. Impressed? You shouldn’t be. To say that I had read and digested Tolstoy’s loathsome work at such an early age would be a half-truth, because the reality is this: I wasn’t reading it. I was eating it.
Read one book a week.
A taste for reading
Why my folks never stopped me munching away is obvious: They were too busy laughing their tits off and taking photographs, the copies of which I have sadly misplaced alongside similar artefacts from a strip poker evening I never attended 18 years later.
Evidence aside, it’s likely that Count Lev Nikolayevich’s words still course through my veins. Some say that I speak Russian in my sleep and have long demonstrated a thirst for ‘fine Vodka’, a challenging contradiction in terms bettered by few others.
In case you weren’t fed on a diet of poorly-translated illiterature from an early age, I want to swipe two ticks of your time and inject a deep passion for reading into your lovely behind. Relax and bend over. This won’t hurt a bit.
More specifically, I’d like to delicately convince you in a suitably charming manner that reading one book a week is not just perfectly comfortable, but life-changing and jolly good fun too.
So here’s the challenge: Starting next Monday, I’d like you to read one book a week for one month. Choose your first book and follow-up text right now. Go on. I’ll pop the kettle on while you do it. Don’t do it for me, though. Do it for you.
One book a week?
That’s right. One every seven days; about four to five a month. Perhaps you’re already doing it? Regardless, read on!
If the thought of developing a book fix in addition to your other dark habits is terrifying, you’ve probably been approaching it wrong. With some simple changes that will help you to see reading as a hobby and not a chore, you’ll find it dead easy. It’s all in the mind.
Here are five tips to help flick the mental switch —
Wait a minute! Why one a week?
The goal is to flip-start a healthy reading habit together.
Forming a habit requires a change in your life and, since no one likes change, we’ll transition from your current reading rate to the new pace so rapidly that we’re simply swapping out one brand of normal for another — a trick, by the way, that I found in a book.
In case you need more convincing, here are some great reasons to become a regular reader overnight —
Solve any problem. Think you’ve got problems? So did billions of unlucky buffoons before you. The cheerful consequence is that some of them took the time to write their answers down for the rest of us. Today, there are very few issues that haven’t been solved already (only new ways of solving them).
Escape your mother-in-law. It’s a little-known fact: Gutenberg created the printing press purely to escape his mother-in-law. What a gift! Don’t let it pass you by! If you want to get away from it all, books trump shotguns every time.
Build your vocabulary. How was the last book you read? Was it really nice? You’ll find, if you haven’t already, that reading becomes something far more expressive over time. And yes, there is a balance between claiming your crown as Chief Phraseologist and rendering yourself utterly incoherent.
Expose yourself. I have a dreadful confession: In my eight-hour-a-day computer gaming era, I used to think that a Mongoose was a type of small wading bird, and that gaiters were those horrible green creatures that climb out of toilets in parts of Florida.
As well as correcting some hazy definitions, becoming a regular reader forced me to wake up to a new hemisphere of fact and fantasy that I’d now be lost without. Exposing yourself to new thinking and ideas is a wonderful experience — read outside of your usual circle of authors and try it today.
Spend time offline. How many hours a week do you currently spend online? Scary, isn’t it? Are you actively working and playing in that time, or just screwing around? My guess is that we could all swap a little online time for some hours offline with a good book. It’s time to phase out idle mouse clicking and passive TV watching for something that’s genuinely worth doing: Getting more paper cuts than you can shake a box of Band-Aids at.
Support authors and publishers. Getting a book to market is hard. Those who’ve self-published an e-book or printed a novella will be nodding now. The other brave souls amongst you who work in the word-pimping industry won’t be able to nod, because your vertebrae will have fused from trawling through proposals.
Do it for George. In a sense, we should be rushing to adopt the altitude of George Leigh Mallory, the great British Mountaineer who lost his life on Everest, and all read a good book simply because it’s there. As I sometimes remark when praised by a kind soul for my own short stories and guides, “Thanks. It wouldn’t be the same if no one read them.”
Now that you’ve read about why you should be reading, let’s make it work for you.
Five tips to become a regular reader
Learn to chain-read. I recommend that you choose and purchase your next book before you even start your current one. That way you’ll always have something waiting in the wings. When you’ve turned the final titillating page of your current tome, the first thing to do is thump the cover shut, exhale in deep satisfaction, and rush off to get the next one. It’s a great habit to get into and, unlike chain-smoking, it won’t screw up your lungs.
Read for pleasure. Learn how to identify and buy books that you’ll love. It’s a skill in itself. Over time, reading as little as one book a week will train your ability to choose more wisely.
Forget speed-reading. Want to ruin your love of reading? Skim through a book as fast as you can. In the great pillared halls of academia there is some benefit in reading quickly, but reading for pleasure is a very different monkey. It’s okay to skim through the dull bits once in a while, but it’s not a race.
If you’d like a light-hearted tidbit to suggest that speed-reading, retention, and enjoyment don’t make a good threesome, just look to Woody Allen, who quipped: “I just speed-read War and Peace. It’s about some Russians.”
Use the 50-page rule. It’s simple. It goes like this: “Whenever you pick up your book, read 50 pages or more”.
Using this neat idea, you can comfortably read a 350-page book in a week by simply picking it up once a day. The concept encourages you to start reading only if you intend to relax and immerse yourself into a good chunk of your latest literary tipple. Forget about chapters as natural breaks; read through the chapter endings and you’ll find you complete books faster. Of course, it’s not always possible, but make the effort anyway.
Learn to bail out. When travelling to London by rail long ago on a wet November day, I once watched a well-dressed gentleman physically tear the pages from a novel with his own teeth, then dispose of the remains into the rushing air through an open window. A fellow bookivore, I thought, delighted to find a member of my own species. Then I legged it as fast as I could to the quiet coach. The episode taught me that a) by the glorious blessing of diversity, people react very differently to Margaret Atwood and b) we should never be afraid to give up on what we consider to be a bad read.
If you’ve gotten 50 pages into a book and it just doesn’t feel right, don’t force yourself to continue. There is no shame in swapping books if you’re not enjoying the first one. (There is, of course, a deep well of shame in half-eating one and throwing it from a speeding train.)
Quick bonus tips
Read more non-fiction. Some of my favourite books never mentioned drunken underage broomstick flights, teleporting interplanetary teapots, or dodgy encounters in Bangkok bars. Many of my most treasured reads simply fixed one or more of my varied problems, or changed my view of the world forever. Non-fiction is awesome. Read more.
Try e-books. E-books, much like Ewoks, are cute little fellows that are easy to handle with very little fuss. Whilst some shun screen reading as a nasty pastime, you’ll find increasingly that e-books are being designed with more white space and less words per page, which makes the experience much more pleasurable.
Try audiobooks. It’s not cheating; it’s smart. I’ve met a lot of avid readers who’ve never listened to an audiobook, and they’re all missing out. In particular, if you struggle to find time to read, audiobooks are a great solution. Try one in the car or while you torture yourself on the treadmill.
Read aloud. Quite unlike Girls Aloud, reading aloud is a pleasant auditory experience and a lost art form in its own right. When’s the last time you enjoyed a book with someone else? Try it out. Bed time works best.
Write reviews. It’s fun to summarise a great read on your favourite bookseller’s website. Try writing a quick review; you’ll find in time that you start to appreciate good books even more.
Join a book club. Other people like books too. Consider joining a book club to keep track of your reading, get extra tips, and share tidbits and recommendations with other readers.
Pick up your first book and get going. Besides, if it’s crap, you can always eat it.