How to enjoy reading (for fun) again!
December 8, 2014 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I work in libraries and I haven't read a book for pleasure in almost a year. How on earth do I take up reading as a hobby again?!

I used to read a lot when I was younger (elementary, high school, the usual), but ever since entering university and trying to develop a "career" I started to read less and less. I feel so ridiculous for this because I work in a library! It's like my deepest and darkest secret at this point.

I still buy books I want to read and I'll read articles for fun, but I just can't remember the last time I've sat down with a fiction book (for my own pleasure). I wouldn't even say that I have a favourite book. The books I mainly buy are huge art/photography coffee table books, and I really love those, but I'll buy "regular" books here and there. When I'm at home I always find something else I'd rather do than read. The books I do manage to read are usually non-fiction and are about a random subject that interests me (for example, I read a book about the history/influence of disco music!), but I couldn't tell you the last time I read a fiction book for fun.

I'm a complete film fanatic and I love watching films. I love to watch old films, new films, foreign films, bad films, etc. How can I become this excited about reading (again)? Any advice?
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
After a nasty run of not reading for like, six months straight, I started downloading books on my kindle - just simple, easy-reading novels. I'm now full-fledge addicted to reading. I am binge-reading every. single. novel on the Entertainment Weekly best of list and have read four books in the past two weeks. Now that I'm on this binge the recommendations are fantastic!

Start with fluff, and never feel bad about abandoning a shitty book or feeling like you're wasting money buying a book that sucks. I've taken all guilt out of reading and stopped trying to only read nonfiction, high-brow stuff. I'll read anything and everything. I've stopped using my iPad for all media aside from web browsing and kindle.
posted by banannafish at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe you could try something very different than the stuff you've read in the past? For example, if you've mainly read literary fiction, try pulp sci-fi. If your shelf is full of NYT bestsellers, try something avant-garde. If you sample enough different things, you're bound to find something that intrigues you.

Really, though – there isn't necessarily a problem here. It sounds like you do read for pleasure – just not fiction. That's okay! Maybe you just aren't into fiction any more. Honestly, I'm not either – I get all the fiction I need from movies, TV, and video games. When I do read, I prefer non-fiction. That's totally legit.

That said, eliminating distractions really helps me stay focused on reading. Like, taking a book to the coffee shop and leaving my phone, laptop, etc. at home.

And I don't know why, but I want to urge you to read Jorge Luis Borges, if you haven't already.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:20 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I've fallen out of the habit of reading at various times in the past, I had a go-to author that I could always count on to draw me back in, sort of priming the pump. Mine was Vonnegut -- an easy read, someone who made his medicine go down easier with humor and short paragraphs.

So do you have a favorite author from the past, especially one who is easy to read?

The other question is (and I can't believe I, a diehard advocate for fiction, am saying this), is fiction a necessity? There is so much wonderful stuff to read, from history to current events to poetry to whatever.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:21 PM on December 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and another approach I picked up from Ray Bradbury -- be reading different books (and different kinds of books) simultaneously. His advice spawned this for me:

1. A novel or longer non-fiction book
2. A collection of short stories or essays
3. A collection of poetry, songs, or other small literary bites

That way if the novel starts to slog you can dip into a short story over lunch. Or if the poems are feeling too light and fluffy, you can snuggle into a dense historical treatise over tea and Girl Scout cookies.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:24 PM on December 8, 2014

You can start by retreading the books you loved as a kid. I recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, paperback form.
posted by discopolo at 3:26 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take in pieces short and beautiful. Everyone's taste is personal but I recommend e.e. cummings.

i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric furr,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new


somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:29 PM on December 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can try doing this through books, or through habit.

Through books, try to find books that hook you right away -- preferably ones that are part of a series. My partner, who was in a reading funk similar to yours, got back in through Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, and Clan of the Cave Bear; I assume the Hunger Games books and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books have similar appeal.

Be brutal -- if you read the first fifteen pages of a book and it doesn't make you want to carry it around everyone to get another few pages in during downtimes, set it aside and pick up a different book the next day. There is a book out there that matches whatever your reading needs are right now, and it will grip you.

Through habit, you can insert a time in your day that you will read, basically no matter what. Going to sleep is a good time; head to the bedroom twenty minutes earlier than you normally would, and spend that time reading whatever's been on your "that sounds interesting" list. If you don't have trouble getting up, slowing down your morning by reading a book over coffee (instead of internet or phone stuff) can be another option, or when you get back from work and are chilling out for a bit.

Don't offer it to yourself as a choice -- it's not, "well, I could read a book right now, OR I could do yoga, hmm, I'd rather do yoga," it's just, "well, I'm home/about to go to bed/about to have breakfast -- time to read for twenty minutes!" Kind of like brushing your teeth, but actively enjoyable once you get over the initial hump.
posted by Pwoink at 3:32 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reading novels for pleasure can become difficult when you're used to being distracted every five seconds by your phone and the internet. Once you've found a book you think you'll probably be excited by, I'd block off thirty minutes in your day and put in on your calendar to mark that you're *supposed* to be reading. I do this every morning with my coffee, and it is such a pleasure - but if I'm not strict with myself I'll get sucked away into email and lose track of myself. I guess it's counterintuitive, since this is supposed to be a fun hobby, but I find that a lot of enjoyable activities actually require a little discipline.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:36 PM on December 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I could have written this (or something close to it) a year or two ago. I read constantly as a kid, fell off a bit with the pleasure reading during undergrad, lost it completely when I started working as a copyeditor, and despaired of ever reading for pleasure again while getting my M.L.S. But I knew that I felt better about my life when I was reading regularly than when I wasn't, so. What really worked for me were a couple of things:

(1) Committing myself to reading one book per month. Really, just [X] within [Y] timeframe. The details don't matter; what does is that the goal feel manageable to the point of being kind of silly. Like, "there's no way I can't meet this goal" kind of silly. (You might not make it anyway, and that's okay. Two years ago, I read eight books when aiming to read 12. This year, I've managed 24. Might make it to 25, but maybe not, because hot damn do those Harry Potter books start getting longer as you get further on.)

(2) Lowest-common-denominator reading. I read a bunch of Dan Brown this summer, then the Hunger Games and Divergent series. (YA is great for this. The Maze Runner series is on my "read soon" list.) I went on a mission to read a ton of old Asimov novels (Robot, Foundation, Empire series) because they're short and frankly kind of brainless, but still classic sci-fi that I hadn't read. The aforementioned Harry Potter. Any other seems-too-easy guilty-pleasure stuff I can get my hands on. (Your own interests will vary, of course. I won't judge if you want to devour Danielle Steele's entire catalog.)

The guilt thing was a real hump to get over. But I've stopped worrying about not reading War and Peace and Infinite Jest and whatever other stuff I'm "supposed" to be reading as a reasonably educated woman and bookworm. Once I gave myself permission to read whatever junk I wanted (and really, it's not junk—but most of it isn't high art, either) and started working through the list of books I'd wanted to read but had been ignoring for 10–15 years, it became much easier. Now I can intersperse the Anna Kareninas with the World War Zs, and oops-I'm-running-out-of-time-to-meet-my-goal-best-pull-out-Persuasion-again-for-a-quick-read-that-still-gets-me-former-lit-major-points. The point is that it gets easier over time. Good luck!
posted by cellar door at 3:40 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I suggest reading short books (there are numerous AskMe threads like that too) or YA (The Fault in Our Stars, the first three Harry Potter books, the Hunger Games books, etc.) or even manga or graphic novels that you can finish in an evening or two. And move on to another one if you're bored (today's FPP notwithstanding). It's supposed to be fun, and there are too many great short books and too many people who rightly enjoy the literary merits of YA and comics and whatnot for it to be a chore.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:43 PM on December 8, 2014

There is nothing wrong with being a cinephile. There is more than one type of art to enjoy.

If you want to mix the two, look for the best of the film history/biography books.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:57 PM on December 8, 2014

When I'm at home I always find something else I'd rather do than read.

Read when you're out. Go to the library (maybe not the one where you work), judge some books by their covers, and take the interesting ones to a comfy reading nook. If the first few pages grab you, either keep reading right there or check them out. If you find they start sitting unread at home, take nothing but your wallet and one of the books (meaning, no smartphone, tablet, or laptop) to a coffeeshop.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 4:00 PM on December 8, 2014

I am a librarian and didn't read for long spans of time. One thing I like about my kindle is that I can download free samples of any ebook that interests me. I can weed through books that don't pull me in pretty well.

I have also had to have some self-enforced unplugged times to avoid distracting myself.

Longreads is a great site for longform journalism. It was a good place for me to start reading again. It has some outstanding writing.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:21 PM on December 8, 2014

Where did reading used to fit into your routine? Can you recreate that somehow?

Secondly: it's not a big deal to go through phases. I wouldn't even call this a funk. You are reading, just not fiction. Soon enough there'll be a book you're obsessed with and you'll get back into it.
posted by mchorn at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2014

I think of myself as reading constantly, but I rarely read much when I'm at home, except in bed before falling asleep. I do most of my reading during my lunch hours, when I'm at cafes, or when I take myself out to dinner. So I agree with the advice to take yourself somewhere with the book you want to read.
posted by jaguar at 4:44 PM on December 8, 2014

If you are like me, reading used to fit into spaces that my phone has taken over. For example I used to carry a book in my bag at all times and when waiting for people, or for a bus, or on public transport, or even in a slow elevator, I'd pull it out and read a bit.

I'd also read before sleeping at night, and while eating.

Nowadays I'm more likely to pull out my phone in those situations and check my mail, or play a game.

If this is you, you could try not taking your phone with you all the time. Or you could delete games off it and carry a book as well and hope the book is more appealing than your email.

After a long time of no reading for fun I got back into it after a two week holiday in a country where my phone didn't work and the internet connection on general was crappy-to-non existent. I read about 12 paperbacks in this two weeks and the habit stuck for a while at least when I got home.
posted by lollusc at 5:24 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why not try audiobooks? anytime when you would normally listen to music, you could have an audiobook instead.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:06 PM on December 8, 2014

I was in the same boat but I hadn't read a fiction book in years. Then I was at a thrift store and there was Gone Girl for $1. $1! The ads for the movie seemed interesting. So, I did read it and I really enjoyed it. It's smart and it is way off my genre even when I was reading fiction.

I say start with Gone Girl!

And in reply to someone above - you do need to read fiction because it helps your brain learn to be social (by getting inside someone else's head and getting their perspective) and it exercises your brain in other ways that can't be done with movies or music. Or real life.
posted by cda at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2014

I read a lot - MetaFilter and linked articles, blogs, news, etc. I realized I was hardly ever reading books or anything else without links. I've been making a conscious effort to read books. It requires turning off the computer and tv. Books are worth it. Be your own librarian - pick an accessible book and give it a shot. I recommend The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais - the writing is rich abd he's a good story-teller.
posted by theora55 at 7:50 PM on December 8, 2014

Do you by any chance get tired when you start reading? Burning eyes or eyes that just want to close? That happened to me and it turned out I needed my eyes examined. When I got the right glasses, I was able to read without getting so tired.

Just a thought.

I'd recommend something really lightweight - like maybe one of the Stephanie Plum books - to help get back in the groove.
posted by aryma at 9:41 PM on December 8, 2014

I recommend not reading if it's not fun. Something inside you says you "should" read. But why? I myself have always had a difficult relationship with fiction reading. In fact, I could say that the only fiction book I've ever truly enjoyed was "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". But I love listening to audio drama, I love reading tech/astronomy blogs and articles, I love reading manuals, news, twitter, mefi. So no more books for me. Life is too short to do things you don't enjoy just because someone else enjoys them. Good luck and have fun!
posted by hz37 at 12:36 AM on December 9, 2014

Ooh! I just went through a similar phase and used several of the above methods to get back into the swing of things. My phone had really taken over and I wasn't having it. For me, I started with something short, on the Kindle, that I'd already read in the past. Do any of your favorite authors have a new book out? Even a 'guilty pleasure' author works. Set aside some time to sit in a cozy chair with a hot drink and read. YMMV.
posted by checkitnice at 2:59 AM on December 9, 2014

This may not work for you as you work in a library and are around book-stuff all the time, but I also went through a similar drought, and what worked for me, surprisingly, was writing reviews on Goodreads. You would think that having to write about a book would make it more of a chore, but putting up my little reviews -- and having the website keep track of what I was reading throughout the year, sort of game-ifying it -- turned out to be an incentive on its own. Like I'll be excited to get to the end of a book so I can write my review of it. I'm not a book-club type person, but just being able to throw my feedback on a book out into the ether has been really great for my reading.

Your reviews can be as long or as short as you want -- in my case, for lightweight beach-read fiction, I'll just put up a few stream-of-consciousness lines, but for more serious reads, both fiction and non-fiction, I'll often put a lot of thought into a multiple paragraph review with an actual beginning, middle, and end.
posted by leticia at 12:41 PM on December 9, 2014

I can totally relate to this. I don't work at a library but I studied English in college and I used to read a lot when I was younger so I've been feeling weird about my lack-of-reading these days. But I think I've just recently started to pick it up again after a long hiatus and there are a few things that have helped.

The most important thing, of course, is to find something you're interested in. Don't force yourself to slog through Ulysses or anything like that; keep it doesn't matter what you "should" be interested in, just find something that actually grabs you.

Also, find a way to read that feels comfortable for you. Do you prefer audiobooks? Kindle? Reading at home, at the park, in the dark? Keep in the mind the method that is most "convenient" for you may not actually work best. I have a lot of downtime at my job and I've been trying to read books there, but I find it very difficult to concentrate and I've finally decided it's just not going to work for me. I realized I enjoy reading most when I am at home, free of distractions, and I actually quietly speak the words aloud as I read them because it helps me stay more focused.

The book I'm reading now is one I borrowed from a friend on her recommendation, so there's also some motivation there to finish it so I can discuss it with her. So that kind of thing could work too. Just think about what you can do to ease yourself back into it. I wish you the best of luck!
posted by cosmicbeast at 7:50 AM on December 11, 2014

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