One of the cruel ironies of lockdown is that the time we’re all saving by, for instance, not seeing our friends, is largely being swallowed by upsetting 24-hour news reports and social media updates.
Here, Penguin.co.uk writers suggest some approaches they've found useful over the past year to carve out some time and space to switch off and leap into a book instead.
Stick to the commute
One small upside of being housebound is not having to commute, but at the same time, if you’re anything like me, the train carriage was where you got a large amount of your weekly reading done (personal space allowing). My tip is therefore as simple as is somewhat decadent: commit the same 40 minutes you’d normally use travelling to the office reading on the sofa (or – why the hell not – bed) instead. This idea may be of limited use to those with children, but if you're lucky enough to be able to do it, reading first thing is a wonderful way to start your day.
Get your setting right
Making time to read is one thing, but it’s another to make the space. You might find it difficult to focus on a book at the kitchen table or while the kids are running around, or maybe your front room’s light just isn’t right. Whatever the case, find a comfortable, well-lit spot so that you can focus without having to get up and shift around. Keep a tall glass of water nearby. If you’re holed up with your family, flatmates or partner, defend that space: ask politely to be left alone for a while or, even better, ask them to join you! Reading together as a family or with a partner facilitates focus, and – especially if your quarters are cramped – a little silence never hurt anyone, either.
Rearrange your bookshelf
While self-isolating, I finally waded through the piles of books littering my flat and put up my new bookshelf. It should have been a chore, but it was incredibly therapeutic. Not only is my newly colour-coded shelf extremely pleasing on the eye, but it gave me the chance to reacquaint myself with books I'd forgotten I even owned. From childhood favourites to books borrowed from friends, sifting through the blurbs was nostalgic and exciting. If you want to reignite your passion for reading, I recommend taking some time to thumb through the treasures you already own. Your TBR pile will be shook.
Involve the whole family
If you have the kids at home then the chances of reading your bucket list of books might be a far and distant dream. But there are other, more fun ways, you can get the written word into your daily routine. First off, start a family book club. Choose a fun name, set a time and place and remember the snacks. Toddlers can, in my experience, chat about their favourite picture books for longer than you would imagine and teenagers (with a bit of nudging) will enjoy discussing more meaningful themes they are discovering through their reading. The perfect off-screen family time.
Second tip is to embrace bed-time stories. This is your opportunity to hide the book your child has demanded you read on repeat for the last month and share some of your favourite stories instead, especially the children’s classics you’ve always wanted to re-read.
Third and final tip is to remember the super-hero power you gained as a new parent – multitasking! While the kids are playing, or you’re making dinner or during bath time, have your phone at hand loaded with a couple of audiobooks and perhaps you will get through your bucket list after all.
Read whatever you want to read
This may sound obvious, but reading what you actually want to read is crucial during these strange times we’re living in. Thinking you have to read something, whether that’s because of external buzz or because of goals you’ve set yourself, is a sure-fire way to feel like a failure if you don’t get beyond the first few pages.
So, if you pick up a book and don’t like it, put it down and try something else. If you’re finding the book you’re reading is making you anxious because of what’s happening in the wider world, leave it for the moment and find something different. And if nothing new is keeping your attention, revert to a tried and tested favourite book or author - there’s no shame, and in fact much to be gained, from rereading something you love and knows offers you comfort and joy. Stop putting pressure on yourself to read a certain book, and I guarantee you’ll find something that keeps your attention.
Put your phone away
One upside of isolation is the extra time to be more in touch with friends and family. No commute? Call your mum! No plans? FaceTime your mates! Along with the constant news come the constant WhatsApps and chats. But when it comes to reading, I find it’s best to put my phone out of sight. To get fully absorbed in what I’m reading - and through a chapter uninterrupted - I make sure my phone can’t distract me by whispering that I should probably check on someone or something.
Make time to read without distraction
You are in your favourite comfy chair. In one hand you hold a warming mug of tea, and in the other, the book you are eager to read. It sounds like the perfect reading setup but no amount of self-isolating can stop your mind from wandering.
If like me, you are finding it difficult to switch-off and concentrate, then here is my extremely simple but effective tip. Give reading a full five minutes of your time before you reach for your phone or TV remote. You might not remember what you have read (it doesn’t matter, you can re-read those pages) but it will allow your mind to focus and shut out the internal noise. Once you’ve found your rhythm, you’ll be turning the pages and engrossed in the story – the perfect distraction every bookworm deserves.
Keep a record of what you've read
Without my usual couple of hours to read on the bus, I found myself getting swept into the news cycle rather than a book during the first week of social distancing. What urged me to continue was keeping up with my reading journal: a notebook with details of what, and when, I've read. I started this at the beginning of the year to help improve my poor memory of books I'd got through, but it's taken on a new resonance in such strange circumstances, becoming its own, small journal of these unprecedented times.
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Image: Mica Murphy / Penguin