ReaderWriterLinks: How To Read a Book edition

by Sunita

One of the things I’ve noticed about online media, both legacy and online-origin, is that a particular story idea will spread across several sites in a short time. Sometimes it’s generated by a research paper, like this one about how the TV you watch affects your political leanings. Or at least researchers found that what Italians watched when Berlusconi both headed up RAI and was a political leader affected their political attitudes. I could write a whole post on how one study does not a general theorem make, but that’s for another day; you can understand why this one went viral; it’s catnip for mediasplainers.

Today I have links from two major and historically respected newspapers which are designed to help people read books again. As you may have noticed, book coverage has changed to being about book culture rather than book reviews. I wrote about this a while back. And book culture is mostly about social media these days. Here’s the Guardian on how to love reading again. Presumably this is aimed at people who used to love reading but now find themselves not reading much, as opposed to people who were scarred by required reading in school and are just fine with not reading for pleasure, thankyouverymuch:

1. Follow book accounts on social media
If you’ve been away from reading for a while, it can be hard to know where to start. It can also be really tough to go from living your life online to building a separate one. By following Instagram accounts that regularly post about books, you’ll get ideas: try Book of the Month, Books on the Subway and Strand Bookstore for beautifully shot recommendations.
2. Read what you want to
If you haven’t read in a while, it can be tempting to set yourself lofty goals. For many of us that’s unrealistic, so instead: are there particular topics you’d love to read a non-fiction book about? Is there an author you’ve found easy to read before who has other books? Is there a favourite you can reread? When I’m finding it tough, I often punish myself by trying to slog through something hard before I let myself enjoy something that’s 200 pages and a laugh. But it’s enjoying the 200-pager that gets me in the swing of things, and makes it easier to concentrate on something tougher.
3. Join a library
Libraries are dying, and it’s partly because a lot of people don’t seem to consider them an option. But if finances are holding you back and you can trek to a library, it’s worth it. You can get recommendations, read for free and give up on books you can’t get into. Many have book clubs, too. For readers in the UK, you can find your nearest library here.

There are three more suggestions, and as the comments BTL (below the line) point out repeatedly, several of these involved using social media to get over your social media distractions. Yeah, that works well. But then this is someone who thinks libraries are dying because people don’t go to them, rather than because they are being starved of money. But I guess if the idea is to make reading trendy, pointing to social media is the way to go.

The New York Times has a 7-day course on how to be a better reader. Presumably this is aimed at people who are already reading but want to improve, which sound analogous to people who are already working out but want to take it to that next level. If you sign up they will send you daily affirmations I mean instructions:

This doesn’t have to be you. If you’ve fallen out of the reading habit, and you’d like to re-commit to books, then sign up for “Be a Better Reader in 7 Days,” and we’ll send you a daily email with suggestions and tasks that will help you make reading part of your life once again. We’ll teach you how to choose the right book, how to create a reading plan and how to read more critically and deeply.

They wait until later in the week to introduce social media, but “Read More Socially” arrives on Day 6. Because if you’re not talking about your reading and posting photos of your book/Kindle to Instagram, can you even say that you’re reading?

The Wirecutter, a site which is wholly owned by the NYT and acts as a consumption promotion platform now (it was once a great site with excellent recommendations for useful items) had a recent blog post on the same subject. It is written by a librarian and starts out promisingly:

With vacations and school breaks come long stretches of time to get immersed in a book, so it’s ideal for revisiting that goal you may have set in January to read more and scroll less. I once started a summer book club for my adult friends that we loved so much, it ran for two more years (maybe it was my nana’s famous whisky balls, which I gave out as prizes). Whatever plans you have this summer, we have tips and strategies to help you create the perfect reading environment, whether you’re on the road, at the beach, or in your own home.

But then we move on to the buy-this-stuff section:

First, check your lighting. Dr. Scott Brodie, an ophthalmologist at NYU Langone Health, said your reading light should shine onto the page from behind you. Use at least a 60-watt light bulb—Wirecutter has some favorites in our guide to the best LED light bulbs, as well as bedside lamps under $200 and floor lamps under $300. To create a cozy reading space, get a soft throw (Wirecutter recommends several) and a few firm, comfy pillows to prop you up (Wirecutter’s memory-foam pillow picks are the firmest). Add a cup of tea and a fluffy pet, if you have one.

I’m not sure how you can “read anywhere this summer” if you have to haul your $250 floor lamp around with you, but whatever. They offer several other links, including to Audible and to places to buy prescription glasses. At least they end with a library suggestion.

There is nothing wrong with enhancing your interest in reading and developing your ability to read more by using social media. Talking to people about books is really fun, and if there is more talk about what to read than what you’ve read, or more about book covers than what’s between the pages, that’s not a big deal if you’re doing some actual reading as well. And if you’re not? Well, then, here are my tips:

  • Find a book people are talking about that you genuinely think sounds appealing (this is harder than it sounds, but it’s doable; the NYT is right on this).
  • If you can’t afford to buy the book, see if your library has it. If you don’t know where your library is, look it up and go get yourself a library card. It’s worth the effort.
  • Once you’ve acquired the book, find a comfy place to read where you won’t be disturbed. Start with a short amount of time. Set a pomodoro timer. Or set a page goal, like a chapter per reading session. See how it goes.
  • If you want/need to read on your phone or tablet, put it in airplane mode while you’re reading. Really.
  • If you’re having trouble concentrating, that’s normal! Try a different book, or just set aside the project for a while and come back to it. But don’t go to social media to talk about reading as a substitute. That will not make you feel better.

And what if none of this works? Maybe reading fiction isn’t what you want to be doing now. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that there’s money to be made in selling you advertising that shows up alongside the articles about how to become a better reader. Or any kind of reader other than the one you already are. So these articles will continue to proliferate, especially since actual book reviews are so last century.