Note from Nick: This a year-old repost that I’ve updated. It’s a good post, and I didn’t want it to go unnoticed in my archives. I’m still a book-aholic, and this was one of the first posts I wrote to “answer” some reading questions I’d had back then. So buckle in and start reading habitually! I had just finished tagging every single book in my house into my Delicious Library 2 app–enjoying the “beep” it made as it scanned the barcode, and I looked back in my room to find my wife sleeping soundly in bed; long ago having passed out and given up waiting for me. I sighed, closed the laptop, and headed to bed. Still, however–after hours of finding, scanning, and reorganizing each and every book I could lay hands on–I felt somewhat unsatisfied. Unfulfilled. I’d read a few chapters of my current book; even written a few pages of my novel. But I knew as I lay down that night: I was addicted to books. Not just reading them. Hell, not even just reading and writing them. I was a voracious consumer of fiction, a fanatic for non-fiction ancient histories, and I couldn’t fill my kitchen with enough cookbooks to satisfy a pre-culinary Julia Child wannabe.I wish I could say I have a happy ending in store for you, but nay–I’m still helplessly addicted to books and all the wonder they hide between those gloriously-smelling pages. I have stacks of books next to the bed, in the bathroom, and in my briefcase, and a few audiobooks in the car for the uncommon longer car trips. Even after having sold/donated/tossed about a thousand books no more than a year ago, my bookshelf in the laundry room is already starting to (again) overflow with mass-market thrillers, favorite textbooks, and the occasional autobiography. Why all the fuss? After fighting back against my love affair with reading for my entire life, I’ve finally accepted my fate as a bookworm. Or nerd. But I’m okay with it now, and I feel like the world should be, too. I’m no genius, and I certainly didn’t do very well in most of my classes, but I’ve always felt as if I had some kind of edge, some kind of secret knowledge, over the general public. I’m here to tell you–whether you’re more interested in catching a summer blockbuster or going out and having a life with friends, it may be in your best interest to develop a habit for reading. Why?
- It’s basically free. Reading is one of the few activities that most people can enjoy completely free-of-charge. You might need to spend a little gas money going down to the library, but you’ll be hard-pressed to not find something to read when you’re there. Having trouble making ends meet? Get into reading as a hobby, and you’ll have found yourself a way to not only cut back on expenses like going out for entertainment, you’ll also have found a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
- It offers virtually endless possibilities. Maybe, like me, you were severely burnt out from high-school advanced-placement English, when you were forced to choke down Heart of Darkness back-to-back with Jane Eyre, followed by Wuthering Heights. You justifiably swore off of books again, vowing to get your literature fill from CliffsNotes, bad Hollywood interpretations, and that weird cat lady from your local Half Price Books. Nevertheless, I was able to kindle my reading flame yet again with my current favorite fiction genre: fast-paced action thrillers, in the likes of James Rollins, Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler.
- It makes you smarter. Or at least it makes you seem smarter. I do know that it can positively augment one’s bellicose endeavor to supplement their nomenclature, help with your memory, and even improve your health. At the very least, it’ll help put you to sleep.
- It’s something the whole family can enjoy. Aww, how quaint. Yeah, I know, it’s not the quintessential American dream, but I do remember nights spent downstairs in the living room, Dad reading sophisticated engineering journals, Mom’s nose stuck in a dog-training manual, my brother consumed by an “all about trains/planes/something like that” picture book, and me wrapped up in a classic Goosebumps masterpiece.
- It will expand your worldview. It makes sense–the more you read, whether it’s the Sunday paper, Al Jazeera, or fantasy novels, you’ll quickly begin to develop an appreciation for the world around you–and the worlds your authors have created for you.
So, what if I already hate reading? We all know reading is a part of life–we can’t escape it. Go ahead and try: try to look at a single word on this page and NOT understand immediately what it is. Reading, like most other skills, takes practice though. Lucky for you, you don’t need to revert back to the basic fundamentals of reading–see spot run, see spot squat, yada yada. You’ll be able to increase your reading speed and comprehension by doing little more than just simply reading. But how, you ask, do you get to the point where reading actually becomes an enjoyable task and not a dreary chore? One step at a time. Here’s what I think to be a good approach: How to become an avid reader:
- Do it. Most habits take a basic foundational level of willpower, and reading is no exception. The best way to fight through the lack of desire is to read something every day, until you find something you really like.
- Find a reading spot and time. If you have a favorite chair, time of day, or don’t mind setting up the bathroom throne as a personal reading station, you’re best bet getting into reading will be using this locale as your designated “spot,” used for comfortably slumping into a relaxed reading mode. I like to read pretty much anywhere, but starting out I was more apt to read while in the car (as a passenger, not driving!), in bed, and in the bathroom (I used to rate books by the number of “poops”–no joke. Les Miserables is a whopping 120-pooper, while the Matt Christopher young adult sports series titles were always much more manageable 3-4-poopers. My wife, by the way, hates this anecdote, while my 9th-grade English teacher thought it was quite droll).
- Find your “guilty pleasure” genre. One great tip for finding your reading spot are to not read anything “heavy” or “dense,” and instead opt for a “guilty pleasure”-type novel. Again, my weakness is for high-octane thrillers that feature lots of guns, grandiose plotlines, and minimal character development. Pretty much the antithesis of “refined” literature (take that, undergrad Brit Lit professor!).
- Keep turning the pages. It sometimes can be difficult to keep going in a book that’s off to a slow start–but take it from me: sometimes, the slow-starting thriller packs a rewarding punch that makes it all worth it. Think of it as the almost-a-dud-but-oh-shit-not-really M100 firecracker on the 4th of July; when you’re ready to throw in the towel and give it up, something explodes.
- Don’t waste time on a crappy book. Somewhat contradictorily, this tip warns that if your slow-starter doesn’t eventually pick up (like, maybe, by halfway through)–put it down immediately. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted wading through a snooze-fest that ends up worse than that abysmal disaster Waking Ned Divine. I admit that some of the better-known authors actually don’t keep me engaged enough to get through their stuff–Michael Crichton (Airframe, specifically), Tom Clancy, and Dean Koontz are a little too far on the science/explanation side of things to keep my mind occupied most of the time.
- Expand. After you’ve found a book you like, see if it’s the author’s writing that you prefer, or the genre itself. When I first started with the James Rollins books (as an on-duty lifeguard–no joke), I read Amazonia, followed by Excavation. Having been thoroughly satisfied after, I quickly snatched up the other three available at Half Price Books, and a few more from Amazon. Now, my wife is halfway through his non-series titles and is making quick work of his Sigma Force novels. My point is–you’ll eventually find a “favorite” author, even if it’s just a formulaic approach in a tried-and-true category. Finally, branch out into other authors in the same or a similar genre–I like to use a tool called What Should I Read Next–or Yahoo! Answers. Again, some of the authors might be a little slow for you, but don’t give up.
- Have a book-acquisition and downsizing process. This is my fancy term for ensuring that you not only don’t break the bank finding new books to read as well as finding a decent way to dismiss of read yet not “keepworthy” titles. I, like most avid bookies, am a pseudo-collector, wanting to keep as trophies the books I’ve purchased and consumed. However, this is not reasonable for most sane people, as books are heavy and very expensive if purchased new off the shelf. They take up a lot of space, and aren’t usually worth their weight in paper when they’re used. However, here’s a brief outline of the ways I’ve found to keep a nice cultivated bookshelf:
Keeping a Book Collection: First, you’ll need to figure out how to get your books:
- Library. Again, this is by far the cheapest and most “green” way of reading–no space taken up in the home, and no money spent acquiring or shipping the few hundred sheets of paper. The downside is, of course, that you can’t keep the books.
- Amazon. Duh. This is like the new de facto standard in online shopping, and as it was originally the web’s first largest bookstore, it’s still an amazing place to find super-cheap books. Usually, you’ll be able to only get as low as $4.00/book, since the lowest price you can set for an item is $0.01, and the common shipping price is $3.99. However, Amazon is still one of the first places I’ll go to check reviews, ratings, and cultivate my beloved wishlist. With the advent of smartphones, I can even scan in a barcode on my Android and have it quickly added to my list.
- Other bookstores. Don’t always assume that Amazon will have the lowest price available for a specific title. Sometimes authors have specials through their websites, but more than likely another discount books provider will have a match-price policy and/or will be able to beat their overbearing Goliath contender.
- Friends. If you’ve got a reader in your family or circle of friends, check out what they have and see if they’d be willing to lend you a few of their favorites. If not, check out Goodreads and Bookmooch. You’ll be able to trade books with other people around the world, with the price of only shipping and waiting (which is often too much for me to handle!). Again, the social aspect comes into play here, so you’ll be able to find what others recommend and are currently reading.
Second, you’ll want to make sure you have some “rules” in place so your books collection doesn’t get too unmanageable. Here are mine; tweak as needed:
- If a book is not one that I will finish, I put it in the “out” pile.
- If a book was good, but not that great, I put it in the “out” pile.
- If a nonfiction book has given me a few ideas but not a reason to refer back to it, it goes in the “out” pile.
- If a fiction book was great, I hang on to it for at least six months/a year. The reason for this is that I may think I’d like to keep it, but I’d be better off selling it back and then possibly “rediscovering” it years later–rather than let it sit and collect dust in my home. After said amount of time, I’ll flip through it again and either throw it out or keep it to reread.
- If a book has sentimental value (a gift from a loved one, a story behind it, etc.), I’ll have a little more scrutiny, but I still want to only keep books that I’ll reread.
- If a book has a collector’s value (it’s signed, first-edition, etc.), I’ll put it aside to keep or to track the resell price.
Finally, how to get rid of books:
- Returns. Usually only allowed after a week or less at major bookstore chains, this option is best if you’re just not “feeling” it after a few days’ worth of reading.
- Give it away. If you have a reader friend, a great book can be one of the best possible gifts ever. Trust me. BUT, that doesn’t make EVERY book the greatest gift ever–essentially meaning it’s really HARD to pick out a perfect book gift for a reader…
- Sell it back. Makes sense–you want to use that “book money” for more books, right? I love Bookscouter.com–it has an Android app that can scan barcodes, and gives you a list of the top buyback prices and the store information for each. I’ve made over $350 in one (long) sitting this way, typing in ISBN numbers until my fingers bled, but it was worth it. And they pay the shipping!
- Donate them. I’ve found that donations (at least to bookstores) are a last resort for me. Aside from a few anomalies, Bookscouter.com’s stores will buy back anything Hastings and Half Price Books will, but at a much better price. Second in line for me is Hastings, which will actually look up each book individually and give you a final buyback price. Further, if there’s something you’re not going to get paid for, you can choose to keep it or have them recycle it. Last in line is Half Price, which will essentially pay you for a few “high price” items (but you’ve already ridded yourself of them on Bookscouter, right?), then give you a lowball price for the box of books in bulk. They won’t let you “take back” specific books that they’re not going to pay you for, and you’ll get a total box price for mass-market paperbacks around seventeen cents, for example. Hardly worth my time. Donating to the homeless, Goodwill, or underprivileged community support facilities is pretty sweet, though–and it’s a tax write-off but you will likely need to find a tax estimator to get an accurate calculation on what you can expect at tax-time.
Whew! I think, after that manifesto into the world of being a book dork, I’m done. If you have questions, or just want to mention some of your own resources, please leave a comment! I hope you’re able to start reading and actually enjoy it soon–it’s an amazing, rewarding, and perpetually-available experience! Lastly, here are some more helpful links:
Are you a reader (well, if you read this far into the post, I’ll assume you are)? Leave a comment below, and answer:
- Why do you read?
- Why is it important that more people read?
- What are some “getting into reading tips?”