As librarians, we are tasked with keeping up with all of the latest and greatest YA literature. We must be able to recommend books to younger teens, older teens, teens interested in sci-fi, teens interested in thrillers, teens interested in contemporary romance, etc. Sometimes we even need to know adult and children’s books too! It’s quite a challenge to be well-versed in such a wide array of genres, especially since (contrary to popular belief) we are not just paid to sit and read all day! We’ve got to try to balance our work lives and home lives with our reading lives—easier said than done.
I’ve been learning this lesson the hard way while serving on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) committee. This committee is charged with hunting through every YA fiction title published during the year (technically September of the previous year through December of the current one) in order to create an annual list of the best titles for teens. This requires A LOT of reading! So far this year, I’ve already read about 115 titles, not including those that I’ve started and quit without finishing because I could tell they weren’t up to snuff. This is my second year on the committee, and I’ve developed some tricks and habits that have helped me squeeze every possible reading moment out of each day.
Here are some simple ways to channel your inner Rory Gilmore and maximize your reading:
*Make reading part of your morning ritual
Having dedicated reading time will help build a habit. Most people read before bed, but I find that I’m so tired at the end of the day, I can usually only make it through a few pages at a time. I’ve found that the wee hours of the morning are actually a fantastic time to read. Try setting your alarm around 30 minutes earlier than normal (if you can swing it, go for a full hour, and if not, I suggest at least 15 minutes), and hunker down on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee. It’s such a nice leisurely way to get going in the morning, and I find that I retain much more of what I read this way. It’s also much more calming than reading the news or scrolling through Facebook.
*Know that quitting a book is OK!
If you’re not into a book, it’s going to take you a million times longer to finish it than a book you find compelling. If you’re someone who struggles with leaving a book unfinished, it’s time to change your mindset! It’s absolutely okay to stop reading something that isn’t holding your attention. There are so many fantastic books out there—why waste your time on something you don’t like? If you don’t like a TV show, you switch the channel. If you don’t like the taste of something, you stop eating it. The same should go for books. You can always try coming back to a title another time, or maybe in another format.
*Audiobooks are your friends
Listening to books is an amazing way to take advantage of every minute of your day. If you have a long commute, they can make it much more bearable. If you don’t, you can listen to books while doing monotonous tasks at home. I listen to audiobooks while brushing my teeth and putting on my makeup in the morning. I listen while I do the dishes and put away laundry. I listen when I take a daily walk on my lunch break. I absolutely hate getting ready for bed at night, but if I pop in my earbuds and listen to a good book while I wash my face and floss my teeth, it makes the task much more enjoyable!
Audiobooks can also be a good way to get yourself to read and stick with books in a genre you aren’t crazy about. Sometimes a book’s description doesn’t really grab me, but if I listen to a sample, I’ll find that the narrator does such a fantastic job that I’ll get sucked into the story. Pro-tip: Sometimes I find the pace of CD audiobooks too slow. If you download an e-audiobook from an app like Overdrive or Hoopla, you can speed up the narration. I find that speeds of 1.25 or 1.5 feel more natural.
*Always have at least one book with you
Try to keep a print book in your bag or your car, or an e-book or e-audiobook on your phone at all times. This will help you take advantage of every spare minute of the day. Long line at the post office? Whip out your book rather than scroll through Instagram! Get to work or to an appointment a few minutes early? That’s precious reading time!
At home, keep books in the areas of the house you hang out in the most. For example, if you keep books in your living room, you’ll be more likely to reach for one rather than the remote. At the very least, you can read during commercial breaks!
*Always have around 3-5 books you’re excited about in your weekly TBR pile
Decision fatigue is real. Always have a few print books handy and a few digital ones in your Overdrive queue so you’re ready when you finish one. Don’t go overboard though! The key is to have a few limited choices. Having a variety of genres and lengths helps too. This way if you start something you aren’t crazy about, you have some good backups to choose from. Some people like having curated lists to work through such as one of Popsugar or Buzzfeed’s yearly book challenges, or maybe the current list of BFYA nominees or winners. The key is to never be left without anything you’re excited about reading, or to be overwhelmed by too many choices.
*Keep track of what you read
If you don’t keep track of what you read, now is the time to start! Find a method that works for you and stick with it. Write everything down in a notebook, keep a spreadsheet, use Goodreads—there are tons of options. It’s extremely satisfying and it will help you better remember what you’ve been reading so you can more easily recommend titles to friends and patrons. If you really want to up your RA game, jot down a short plot summary, and a short list of the things you liked and disliked about it. I use a notecard as a bookmark and write these things down as I read and then transfer them when I’m finished.
Do what you can to limit your distractions and make your environment ideal for reading. For example, when you’re reading at home, try to only read print books so you have less chance of getting distracted by the internet. Personally, on days when I’m really struggling, I’ll shut my phone, tablet and laptop away in another room so I’m not tempted to do a quick email or Facebook check. You could even read with a buddy so they help keep you honest. I’ll sometimes sit with my husband while he’s grading papers so I’m not tempted to reach for a device. If you’re really having trouble focusing, set an alarm and read in short bursts. Try making it through 10 minutes or so at a time. If even that’s too much, listen to an audiobook while going on a short walk around the block.
By building up these habits and developing better reading rituals, I promise you’ll be doubling your reading in no time. If you have any other great tips, please share in the comments.