It can be hard to find time to settle down with a book during the day to day hectic nature of our lives, but Freya Parr is here to tell you how to squeeze a few pages in now and then…
As a voracious reader, I’m constantly being asked how I find the time to get through so many books. With our schedules getting busier and our working hours getting longer and less clearcut, it seems as though finding the time to get stuck into a novel is taking a hit.
A survey of 2,000 UK adults by the Reading Agency last year found that 67% of people would like to read more, but 48% thought they were too busy to do so. We’re busier than ever, certainly, but surely 48% of people wouldn’t say they were too busy to scroll through Instagram or participate in a lengthy WhatsApp group message? With the advent of smartphones and increase in the advanced forms of technology available to us, we all have far more digital temptations than ever before, and these temptations are clearly taking our attention away from reading great writing.
So, rather than resent technology again like every other damn millennial, I’m going to set out a genuinely feasible action plan to try and help you flick through pages quicker than ever before. After all, Christmas is the time we all receive books in our stockings and usually then feel immense guilt at the fact we’ll never actually get round to reading them, regardless of any new year’s resolutions we make.
It’s about carving out sections of our day to put aside for reading. Where do we find ourselves most bored during the day? At work? Sure. But you can’t kick your feet up and start making your way through Jane Austen when you’re supposed to be filing copy or completing spreadsheets. But how do you get to work? How many times do you find yourself staring at someone’s crotch on the tube wondering what to have for dinner? How often do you zone out and end up skimming through photos from your old babysitter’s 2013 holiday in Mallorca? You can’t seriously tell me you wouldn’t rather be getting balls deep in a good story. This is time we all resent, because it’s merely helping us get from A to B, but maybe there’s a way to make it more interesting.
My boyfriend said to me the other day, ‘Ergh. I hate this tram. It’s so boring – it just goes in a straight line for half an hour.’ I realised that I’d never noticed how boring – or ‘unboring’ – public transport routes were, because I’d spent the majority of them with my head in a book. The only drawback is that it did mean when I finally learnt to drive, I barely knew which way to turn at the end of my street, because I’d spent all my car trips as a passenger deeply involved in the words of Jacqueline Wilson and JK Rowling.
Wherever you go, pop a book in your bag. It’s these awkward in-between moments that a book is the perfect companion, and you’ll never resent bringing it with you. Fun fact: I recently bought a coat, purely for the fact that it had pockets deep enough to house a good-sized book. Whoever said you needed a bag anyway?
There are always spare moments throughout the day – waiting for a friend to meet for lunch, waiting for the barista to serve your morning coffee, waiting for a bus to arrive. This time is usually when we pick up our phones and needlessly scroll. I did an Instagram callout to see how people found the time to read, and Chakirachakiraa (people’s Instagram handles always seem all the more amusing beyond the walls of Instagram) replied saying, ‘I allocate different times for reading that change daily, so today I’m going to read on my commute and tomorrow it’ll be before bed.’
Reading in bed used to be much more common than it is now, and perhaps this is a major contributing factor in the downfall of reading numbers. I heard Nigella Lawson interviewed recently on Jessie Ware’s Table Manners podcast, where she described how is able to race through books at a rate of knots. She puts this down to the fact that in the evenings, after she’s finished her inevitably delectable dinner, she heads up to bed and sits and reads for several hours before eventually hitting the hay. Although most of us have other things to do in the evening, there is always that 15-minute period where you find yourself lying in bed reading the Daily Mail app, or waiting for your partner to finish brushing their teeth so you can turn the lights off. Why not use this time to have a read?
We all know the glare from mobile phones at night prevents us from sleeping well, but we’re humans – we like being stimulated creatively. Let’s replace those phones with books and we can be just as fulfilled, but with more chance of actually getting some shuteye.
Even if you only get a page read in this time, it’s a page more than you’d read before, and is a step to embedding you deeper into the narrative. As soon as you read a page, you’re more likely to pick it up again, and you’ll fly through any book by reading bits and bobs here and there. It’s thought that in order to get through a big book, we need to have big ‘sessions’ of reading. This isn’t true. You can read a book in just as many hours by reading a page here and a page there, as long as it’s consistent and the breaks in between reading aren’t too huge.
For reading long-form articles, this technique works just as well, except it’s even easier. You can skim a piece and quickly work out roughly how long you need to put aside for it, and if you read pieces on websites like The Pool, they even save you that hassle and have a guideline time of how long each article takes to read at the top. You know what you’re getting yourself in for, and you can save those meatier pieces for when you have a little more time at your disposal.
Another way to digest written online content is by signing up to newsletters. Rather than being overwhelmed by the vast quantities of brilliant journalism out there, you can get bitesize chunks delivered to your inbox. At a glance you can see what you might like to read, and save it for later.
As for other ways of reading novels, audiobooks are on the rise, a form that has become most people’s gateway drug for getting back into reading. I am fortunate enough to have trained myself in the art of reading while walking, and this is when I get some of my best reading done, because I am able to focus entirely on what I’m reading. And not falling over. But if this isn’t your bag, audiobooks might be an excellent alternative.
The most common response on my Instagram callout was that people found the time to read since they’d discovered the joys of audiobooks. Ursiegrace said ‘Audible is my best friend. Reading on the tube without armpits crushing your page corners’, and Everglowoninsta agreed, saying, ‘You can listen when you’re walking or driving or in the bath or on the toilet’. There’s now no need to find a moment to even open the pages of a book, you can just click ‘play’. Perhaps try an Audible trial and see how it goes, or, better still, borrow an audiobook from the library, put it on your phone, and there it is for life – all for free.
That brings me onto one of the most important ways to source books. The price of books (and don’t get me started on audiobooks) has skyrocketed in recent years, making reading a burden on our wallets as well as our time. However, in most towns across the UK, there is a magical place in which you can loan books free of charge. WHAT. A. THRILL. Who knew? You can read as many books as you like, without parting with a penny. Let’s support the libraries while they’re still there.
It can be overwhelming though, sure. With every book under the sun, it can be a case of too much choice. This is where book clubs can be really beneficial, because they force you to read certain books, which, in theory, should also be books you enjoy if your friends do. Book clubs can often fall apart though, so I’ve got some tips for how to start a book club that should stand the test of time.
The smaller the better: the fewer people you have, the more pressure you’re under to actually read the book. With too many people, you can feel blasé about reading the book and often the conversation can splinter off too quickly because you have lots of smaller conversations taking place. Pick the books you genuinely want to read. Never try choosing the books you think will impress one another, because you’ll end up just enduring the activity and it won’t be an enjoyable pastime. If you don’t want the formality of a book club, perhaps try reading alongside a friend so you can get together and discuss the book over a vat of wine. That sure sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
In a Reading Agency study last year it was discovered that 35% of people struggle to find a book they liked, and 54% spend up to three months struggling through a book before giving up on it. But for some reason, a lot of us have bizarrely stoic attitudes to reading: 22% of readers insist that you should never give up on a book. All in all, it seems that we’re fighting our way through books we’re not enjoying, just because we think we should. They call this ‘book-block’, and it prevents us from reading more. Screw this, I say. I’m going to leave you now with some suggestions of some accessible, compulsive reads that you’ll be desperately wanting to find the time to read. Not light fluff, but books with great narratives rather than contemplations on a theme. Put War and Peace to the back of your bookshelves. You’re not ready for Tolstoy yet.
Some great books to get you started…
Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
A relatable trip down memory lane and an ode to female friendship. A great story written by a great journalist.
This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
A gripping tale of an NHS junior doctor, telling stories we should know but don’t.
Blindness by José Saramago
A beautiful story of a contagious epidemic of blindness and the disruption of society.
Educated by Tara Westover
A memoir that has taken the world by storm. The journey from a survivalist family in Idaho to completing a PhD at Cambridge.
Instrumental by James Rhodes
The memoir of a concert pianist who was badly abused as a child. Gripping and devastating. He has recorded a collection of brilliant classical works to aid your reading.