How to Read More, Even if You Have No Time

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As a self-professed bookworm, the #1 question my friends ask me is: How do you find time to read? Well, here’s the thing… we’re all super-busy but we make time for what we think is important. And, well, I like to use reading as an escape from the existential crisis of parenting in a pandemic. So, I just do it. In case that’s not helpful enough, here are some concrete tips on how to incorporate more reading into your life.

Figure out what type of reading suits you best.

Audiobooks, E-books, or physical books—what a time to be alive. Audiobooks are great because they allow you to multitask, and we’re nothing if not multitaskers. You can listen to books while you’re folding laundry or going on a walk. Unfortunately, I’m such a visual person that audiobooks make me zone out and lose track of the plot completely. E-readers and tablets are ideal if you travel a lot and want to pack light. And I have a close friend who swears by reading her Kindle under the covers so her kids can’t find her. But I already spend so much time on screens, I prefer a physical book to grip. For my fellow bath-readers, physical books are obviously the way to go.

Don’t be picky about where/when you read.

Obviously, the ideal reading situation would involve a quiet, kid-free house with a strong cup of coffee and a favorite blanket. Well, how often does that happen? Don’t wait for the perfect moment to come along, because it so rarely arrives. However, the good news is there are hidden minutes everywhere in our day. So if you’re going to make a habit of reading, it helps to take advantage of them. Some of these moments for me include: waiting in the car line at school, sitting with the kids during Bluey, or supervising my second grader while he’s doing his homework. Related to this…

Keep books stashed everywhere.

Yes, this requires reading multiple books at once, but whoever said we had to read books one at a time? I leave books in the kitchen, the car, the bedside table, my kids’ rooms and everywhere in between. Oh, and of course, my purse. My worst nightmare is being stuck in a long line somewhere with no reading material. Basically, place a book in any place where you might be able to steal a moment to yourself.

Use reading to replace another habit, like scrolling.

Confession: Sometimes I’ll be stewing on Facebook when one of my kids enters the room, and I toss the phone aside and grab a book to pretend I was reading. Have you checked your screen time usage lately? Holy cow. It’s always a shock to see that number sitting there so starkly. One way to bring your screen time down a notch is to turn to books instead. The next time you feel the urge to reach for your phone—which, let’s be honest, is probably two seconds from now—grab a book instead. Even if you only jump into the story for a few minutes, it’s better than getting lost in the feed of your college boyfriend’s wife’s sister. Not that I would know.

Ignore your kids while reading.

It might make me unpopular, but I think it’s good to ignore our kids every once in a while. It shows that the world does not revolve around them. And while we’re all guilty of doing this in favor of our phones, doing it with a book at least sets a better example. Here’s a shining two-fer: you get to read while modeling for your children that reading is a worthwhile hobby/ activity.

Find someone whose tastes align with yours and hold on for dear life.

Whether it’s an influencer, a journalist or a friend, keep searching until you find someone who you can trust for your next book pick. For me, that person is Diane, my dental hygienist. Even though I only see her twice a year—and I usually have a variety of cleaning devices jammed into my mouth—we always have the best conversations about mass market fiction. I take all of her recommendations to heart.

Join a book club or start your own.

You don’t have to be alone in your reading! Joining a book group adds a social aspect to reading and gives you some accountability. I love book clubs because they’re a way to kill two birds with one stone: I get to see my friends and discuss my favorite books. Here are some books that make great picks for book club discussions. And if you’re looking for one to join, start asking your friends or find one within your community at your library or local book store.

Use social media to connect with other readers.

TikTok, GoodReads, and Bookstagram are great tools for finding a like-minded community, joining a conversation and discovering new titles. Follow the hashtags and accounts for an author or genre you like. Look for reading influencers, like @Zibby Owens,  @Camille Yvonne, @Sydney Blanchard, just to name a few. Or rely on book publications, like @NYTBooks, @​​WellReadBlackGirl, @SubwayBookReview and @ElectricLiterature. There are also independent bookstores such as @StrandBookStore, @elliottbaybookco, @booksaremagicbk and @parnassusbooks. Not only will they have great staff recommendations, they’re also likely to host events. Then, of course, we can’t forget the celebs @ReesesBookClub, @oprahsbookclub, @belletrist, @jennabhager. And I always like Sarah Jessica Parker’s book recs.

Only read what you love.

Don’t feel the need to follow trends and buzzy titles. If you love romances, read romances. Likewise, don’t read what you don’t like; life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying. I have a steadfast rule where I drop a book after 50 pages if it’s not grabbing my attention. Reading goals are great, if that works for you, but I go more for quality over quantity.

Use your library.

You can’t beat free books. Duh. Also make sure to befriend your local librarian and ask her advice on what to read. Librarians are a wonderfully untapped wealth of  knowledge. Their job is to guide you to the right books. They’re like soul-enhanced search engines.

Revisit the classics.

There’s a reason they’re classics, after all. Not only are most classics readily available at the library, but they also speak to us because they tell universal stories and deal with universal feelings, no matter when or where they’re set. I try to re-read Mrs. Dalloway every 5 years or so because it always hits differently.

Follow a book with a film/tv adaptation.

Reading a book and then following it up with the on-screen version gives you a new appreciation for the art. It’s also just fun. Some recents include Station Eleven (HBOMax), Maid (Netflix), Lost Daughter (Netflix), and Dune (HBO).   And some to look forward to this year include: Conversations with Friends (Hulu), Daisy Jones & the Six (Amazon), Where the Crawdads Sing (Netflix), Persuasion (Netflix), and The Talented Mr. Ripley (again, again) (Showtime), and White Noise (Netflix).

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Toby Lowenfels is a writer and mom of three in Nashville. Follow her daily musings at @tobyfels.