How to read more meaningfully this year

Want to connect more deeply with your reading this year? We present challenges to get the most out of your to-be-read pile.

Arwa Haider

Turning the first page of a book is an enticingly loaded gesture. It is a new journey unfurling; a resolution coming to light. It can also feel like a precarious challenge; the pressure to to read regularly, to complete classic books or try different genres, to somehow both switch off and focus intently – and all amid increasingly hectic schedules – can easily make us forget that reading is a life-affirming pleasure. 

We can remind ourselves of this fact by reading more meaningfully. This might be reading to reconnect, particularly for those of us who first discovered our love of books as children, emboldened by the most brilliant grown-ups: relatives; teachers; librarians. But reading really belongs to everyone, forever; hopefully, the tips below highlight that it’s never too soon, or too late, to begin. 

Read in all the small moments

For many of us, daily routines tend to be deadline-driven; we’re almost always trying to get somewhere in time to get something done. And then when we unexpectedly have minutes or hours to spare, the prospect can be dizzying: how do we even start to read? Creating a positive habit is a good first step. There’s a certain discipline necessary here, but it essentially means keeping a few books within easy reach, so that reading becomes a natural part of your routine: whether in short bursts, or luxuriant long sessions. Read regularly, and seemingly hidden opportunities for these books emerge: a chapter at bedtime or with your morning coffee; a short story on your work commute; or (my personal favourite) a memoir in a late-night bubble bath. 

Ditch the 'should'

Read what you like, not what you feel you should be reading. Of course, you might want to have your own hot take on a book that’s the latest buzz – but it’s fine as well if you’re just not feeling it. It’s also true that some books richly reward perseverance (as a teen, it took me ages to crack the coded slang of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange; as an adult, I remain entranced by it) but it’s always okay to stop and just read something else, or to return to any book, whenever you wish. My (currently manga-obsessed) eight-year-old may feel that he’s outgrown Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, but honestly? I haven’t.

Don't be daunted by your TBR pile

Building a reading list is exciting – but the sense that you’ve amassed a literary stack that you’ll never scale can be really unnerving. This shouldn’t mean you have to rein in your reading passions, or abandon your growing collection of books. Freddie Butler-de Lacy from Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham has a simple reading/life tip that rings splendidly true: "Don't let your ‘to be read’ pile hold you hostage (or leave you softly weeping in the corner of the room while it looms over you)... every book has its time, so let the book choose you." 

Make a reading nook

Reading can transform our lives at any age. As grown-up readers, we can set a meaningful example to the kids around us – but we can also take inspiration from their reading journeys. Lucia Lowton is Reading Leader and Year 1 class teacher at Garfield Primary School in Wimbledon, where reading is presented as an immersive, enchanting experience for all pupils. “Most classes have designated ‘reading for pleasure’ time – and each classroom at our school has a magical nook where the children can escape to and enter the land of their prose,” she says. “Perhaps you could create your own book corner, with no distractions, in your own home. Fairy lights and a cuddly toy are optional to help create the ambience.” 

Use a bookmark

There are various ways to ensure you don’t lose track of what you’re reading. Colourful bookmarks and DIY-themed tabs can tempt you back to the page (and the latter also proved a social media trend); keeping a diary of what you’ve been reading can help you explore the ideas and scenes that have particularly struck you. Many books lend themselves to musical accompaniment, so you could even compile a playlist inspired by your favourite title or characters. Some songs might instantly spring to mind – Kate Bush created epic melodies based on Emily Bronte and James Joyce classics; the TV adaptation of Alice Oseman’s much-loved graphic novel Heartstopper has prompted several mixtapes – but your ultimate reading soundtrack could involve all kinds of genres and plot twists. 

Max out your library card

Public libraries, and all the lovely books they contain (as well as their information boards, gatherings and digital services), are the meaningful heart of our communities. There are an estimated 4,145 of them (including mobile libraries) in the UK – though hundreds have also closed due to funding cuts over the past decade. We should all use them; we can’t afford to lose them. They’re free to join, peaceful to read in, and a perfect place to sample varied books; it’s always worth checking the themed displays, or librarian recommendations. The author and sci-fi/fantasy don Neil Gaiman gave a 2013 lecture for The Reading Agency, which strikes an enduring chord: “Libraries are about freedom – freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication”. 

Read with others

Reading can represent valuable “me time”, but it doesn’t need to be a lonesome pursuit. Read aloud with loved ones, and take turns to choose the subject. Join a book club (or form your own) and get together IRL, or tap into the socials: TikTok has its own (YA-driven, and now widely influential) reading/literature subcommunity BookTok, where you can follow posts (pioneering BookTokker @caitsbooks currently has 97.5K followers) and search across numerous genres. When a book really grips our imagination, that sensation can be infectious; when we talk about what we’re reading, it can help us to process our thoughts – or guide us from persuasive word-of-mouth to another excitingly fresh first page.

Image by Flynn Shore/Penguin


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