Apart from providing a bit of escapism from everyday life, a 2013 study found that paging through novels improves connectivity in the brain while simultaneously increasing empathy. That’s because when you read about the experiences of others, you literally learn how to imagine yourself in their shoes—and that’s a useful skill for every human being.
The problem is, most people are stuck in book-reading limbo. A 2014 report from Pew Research Center found that most readers buy more books than they actually get down to reading. But if anyone can teach you how to become a more voracious reader, it’s the staff at Portland’s venerated Powell’s Books, the world’s largest independent bookstore. I asked the super-readers on staff to spill their very best tips for flipping through books (almost) as quickly as you flip through your Instagram feed.
How to read more, according to the staff at Powell’s Books
1. “It’s hard to find time to read when you are busy or very active, so I suggest carrying a book with you. Either an ebook on your phone, a paperback in your bag, or [one] in the passenger seat of your car. Most of us will have at least a fifteen-minute break at some point, and it’s easier to choose boo” if it’s close at hand.” —McKenzie W.
2. “Instead of setting a goal for the number of books you read, set a goal for reading a certain amount of pages per day. It’s more attainable and less stressful.” —Bry H.
3. “Read while your kid reads. Read something ‘low brow’ that doesn’t take a lot of focus to enjoy or read short stories.” —Emily A.
4. “If you’re older, ask a teenager for a recommendation, something really outside your bailiwick. If you’re young, ask someone much older for a book they loved when they were your age.” —Marietta M.
5. “Read shorter books. This is a publishing trend with novels right now, that many of them are 200 pages or less.” —Rhianna W.
6. “Read audiobooks when you’re doing other activities.” —Gigi L.
7. “I often alternate between fiction and non-fiction titles, as it makes me look forward to each a little more—like salty and sweet.” —Jeremy G.
8. “I will sometimes put time on my Google calendar to read, just so I don’t get sucked into scrolling the internet until I’m too exhausted to do it.” —Michelle C.
9. “Reading frequently helps me read faster. If I take long breaks between books—and especially if those breaks are filled with lots of screen time—I come back to it feeling out of practice and more easily distracted.” —Tove H.
10. “Create a simple relaxing space by turning off the TV and turning on some instrumental music—nothing with words. Settle in for as long as you like with your book. And don’t be afraid of setting down a book if it isn’t working for you. You don’t owe that book anything; move along to a new story.” —Tracey T.
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