How I got out of my Reading Rut

Photo by Thought Catalog

2018 was the year I forgot how to read.  That shouldn’t come as a surprise especially after the massive  creative slump I was in. You are what you read. 

With no rules on how to read, last year’s reading challenge was “read as many books as possible.” I should have known better than to leave it that open. Amazingly, I still pushed myself through. At some point, I launched into 3 Parenting books at a go because I wanted to hit my dodgy goal faster. That, plus the books were too interesting a manual to put down. Of course it all crumbled down like a house of cards. 

In between motherhood, duties here and there, and all the excuses I could comfortably come up with, I had to schedule time to read. Time which was already a rumor. This is despite knowing everybody’s life is busy but we all have spare minutes in our day. Two pages in and I would worry about all the work that’s pending, put aside the book and listen to a podcast instead or half-heartedly slog through boring reads.  

“What have you been reading lately?” questions were triggering. 

My Pocket articles suffered similar fate. So it was amusing to get an email last month from Pocket claiming I’m among 5% top readers in their database. A number I still held the previous year when I considered myself to have read in beast mode. Unless you guys stopped reading as well? 

In my algorithm fed bubble, people are reading like no another. Every day I come across “I crushed my Goodreads challenge” posts. 

Everything is problematic. It starts with quiet murmurings, disclaimer and later a think piece. You are not considered well read if the only book that comes up during a conversation is The Great Gatsby. Or worse, The Alchemist. Every waking morning you will come across an article that urges you on to have some scrap of time you could dedicate to reading and reading widely. That offers free tips on how the gurus managed to read 150 books in a month. You’d not be at fault to attempt to reclaim your reading culture. You’d be at fault to post an image of your current read on social media. That’s what society is known for; cataloguing its various ploys to get under your skin. People want to live in ignorant bliss and you represent a needle to that balloon. The game is the game. – Lila 2018
Tried and Tested

With the spark gone, it took me months to get to a point where I missed reading. I missed losing myself in an author’s spell and not check for the page count. The guru gumption dictates that you wait it out – the dreaded reading rut. I begrudgingly did. Did it work out? No. Risky move. You may find yourself having read only one book in a year while you… WAIT IT OUT. Especially if you can easily justify your excuses. 

I learned eventually that you don’t have to finish a book you don’t like.  That was my major stumbling block because I felt terrible putting a book away completely for another. Which is why I thought multitasking book would score highly. That is bound to fail. One at a time please. 

I found the one book that clicked with my current mental state and made reading pleasurable again: Alan Jacob’s  The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. A light book that delivers cover to cover if I may add, and it’s been all rosy since then. 

Immediately after, I came across Brian Moran’s  The 12 Week Year  which was timely as I’ve incorporated it into my routine already.  I wrote about it too.  Next read was  An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake  by Srinivas Rao which was recommended by an accountability partner who is obviously into books. 

All this to say, read what you want – don’t defend your tried and tested corner. When your go-to genres let you down, try a book you normally wouldn’t. A genre hop works for other people. Judge a book by its cover. Heck, reread your favorite book. 

How to get more out of a book ft. Brad Stulberg and Tiago Forte

Some of you have already devoured four books in a matter of days. How do you notch up serious hours? 

One famous study found humans would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 10 minutes. We disobey those instincts every time we get lost in a book.

My method for reading books on my e-Reader may lead to reading it twice especially If I liked it. On my first read, I adopt Brad Stulberg’s notecard taking system. I read through and highlight the parts that speak to me or are interesting and deserve a deep dive. His method is exclusively for physical books, where he stores his life in post-it notes, but I use it for my Ebooks.  

Brad stulberg's bookshelf

Stulberg’s organized bookshelf with post-it notes

As he reads a book and comes across something interesting such as a new concept or even a quote, he underlines or highlights that text on the page.  He flips a sticky note upside down, writes a note to himself referencing the particular text. He then sticks that note upside down on the page, so whatever he wrote emerges from the top of the book. Taking notes and connecting ideas feels like he’s in conversation with the author. 

When he’s done reading, he organizes the books by topic and the influence they had on him. When he needs some help thinking, he goes to the bookshelf for insight in the relevant section. This easy reference takes him back to the most interesting and important parts of the book. 

On my second read, I ask myself questions about what I read. I capture the highlights, insights, and ideas into OneNote. Later I pick on insights worth pursuing to turn an idea into something concrete. I was once an Evernote believer when it came to capturing and storing ideas but capitalism loved them more. You can read more on  Tiago Forte’s The Para system of capturing, organizing, and retrieving information.  I have used these methods for non-fiction but I’ve added fiction as well to give myself enough time to grasp complexity, reproduce knowledge or develop opinions of my own. 

My 2019 Reading Challenge

I have a stack of unread books loaded on my bookshelf and my e-Reader. It’s a combination of non-fiction and fiction. 2019 is the year we beat the  Collector’s Fallacy by increasing the time that presents itself to slow down hoarding books and READ. There’s a reading challenge on IG called  #TheUnreadShelfProject2019  which aims at clearing our unread books from the shelves before we pile on more. This will be integrated with the Popsugar reading challenge that will hopefully help discover my larger experience.  

 popsugar 2019 reading challenge

As I reorganized my unread bookshelf,  I came up with exciting priority TBR books (25 in total) which I’ve added on my Goodreads shelf that I use to track my progress. I will move it up if it looks like I can do better. No reading rules, remember?  I lost my way so I’ve set smaller goals with a deadline in place. Finish by two weeks or get rid of it. This means finding small pockets of unused time to slip in some reading. 

When I’m done with this challenge, the next one is to read more about a topic I thoroughly enjoyed from this list by picking 3 other books of the same topic. 

What are your thoughts on speed reading? Does it leave room for underlining words? I know I can’t hack it but my altered version speaks to read out loud enthusiasts. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s faster and effective so If you see me yelling somewhere, be kind to me. I could be reading. 



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