How to make this the year you finally read more books

The world is your reading oyster.
The world is your reading oyster.
Image: Reuters/Olivia Harris
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Vowing to read more books is a perennially popular resolution—right up there with getting organized and exercising. But even if you consider yourself a bibliophile, it can be hard to get through books when you’ve fallen out of practice. Here are a few tricks that can help you read more—and become more relaxed, empathetic and mentally fit to boot.

1. Download books to your smartphone

Last year, I read a lot—and a lot of the time, I read on my iPhone. This was partly a practical decision: It’s easier to find time to read if I always have a book with me while I’m waiting for a friend at a coffee shop or standing in line at Trader Joe’s. It was also a way to avoid getting sucked into Facebook and Twitter—I’m naturally going to reach for my phone when I have a spot of downtime, but at least this way I have a go-to source of entertainment.

Some people resist the idea of reading books on their phones because the screens are so tiny, and I admit it that my reading experience changes when I consume lengthy tomes in bite-sized chunks. But reading this way offers its own pleasures. I completely lost myself in Donna Tartt’s Dickensian novel The Goldfinch, for example—in part, I think, because I couldn’t tell how far along I was in the book at any given time, which let me become fully immersed in the story. And scrolling through Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies on my diminutive screen wound up making me more attuned to the novel’s lyricism—as if each paragraph was a poem in its own right.

2. Set a daily reading goal

Entrepreneur James Clear says reading 20 pages per day, every day, has helped him become a more voracious reader. “20 pages is small enough that it’s not intimidating,” he writes on his blog. “Most people can finish reading 20 pages within 30 minutes.”

Setting a regular reading goal is important because it helps you break big books into manageable chunks, rather than leaving you to aspire to a vague ideal (“become cultured literary genius”). But there are other approaches that can work too. You could commit to reading one book a week, for example, accounting for the fact that you’ll likely make more progress on weekends than weekdays. Or you can simply choose an amount of time to devote to reading each day—say, setting aside 45 minutes of reading time during your lunch break. Nothing goes better with a BLT sandwich than a nice helping of Zadie Smith.

3. Read before bed every night

Reading before bed is a classic way to wind down, and with good reason—researchers have found that it can help you de-stress and unplug. And if you set a time each day when you read, you’re more likely to make churning through books a part of your regular routine.

Just stay away from e-readers when you’re between the sheets: researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that the blue light from electronic devices makes it harder to fall asleep. A 2014 study found that participants who read e-books “took longer to fall asleep and had reduced evening sleepiness, reduced melatonin secretion, later timing of their circadian clock and reduced next-morning alertness than when reading a printed book,” according to Anne-Marie Chang, a neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders who co-authored the study.

4. Keep a stack of tempting books on hand 

A colorful pile of novels, biographies and science books on your nightstand serves as a visual reminder of your goal. As Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit, such cues can help us stick to our desired behaviors. And with a backlog of books at the ready, you can stay in the flow of reading when it’s time to crack open a new one rather than pouring over your Amazon wish list.

If you’re not the reading-in-bed type, keep a stack of books wherever you tend to spend the most time—on the coffee table in the living room or in the kitchen nook. When they’re readily accessible, you’ll be that much more likely to lose yourself in a Mary Karr memoir instead of flipping on the TV.

5. Read aloud 

Reading a book aloud to your partner in the evening can be a cozy, old-timey alternative to binge-watching Netflix—or just a quick tradition before lights out. Writing in The Awl, Nell Beram says this technique helps her to commit to books she might otherwise not finish. So if reading Moby-Dick is your personal white whale, dust it off, take it to bed, and see if experiencing it alongside your loved one makes those epic descriptions of oil extraction more palatable.

This story has been updated.