Let’s talk bookworm tips today—how to become a better reader.
I’ve always been a reader, and remember dad poking his head in my room when I was little telling me it was time to turn out the light and put the book up on my nightstand—and when we were in the car or eating, I’d always have an American Girl book or Little Princess tucked nearby.
So, while I’ve always loved reading and won’t come at this from the point of “how to become a reader” (Check out this post from my friends Nancy Ray and Val Marie Paper for tips on that), I want to talk about how it’s changed me completely when I made the leap into working for myself.
When I worked in a PR agency, we used to be assigned business books to read all together … I think I was just immature in those days, but I hated it. Ha! I liked to read tons of fiction, but I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to read, and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to read a business book. Ew. Wasn’t I at work enough?
But things changed drastically when I started Ashlyn Writes in 2016 …
… I started to LOVE non-fiction!
Books have also made me a better Christ-follower, wife (working on it, Wes!), creative, speaker, educator, and business owner—and it doesn’t take much for that to happen, just a few pages a day.
I hope this post helps give practical tips about how I made the change from thinking business books were for nerds and workaholics (welllll … I’m both, but you know what I mean) and realizing they’re actually a really fun, inexpensive source of education, and other non-fiction books could mentor me, too.????
You’ll see I don’t talk about speed reading, digital readers, audio-books, or apps like Blinkist that basically serve as cliff notes. I don’t think they’re bad, I just tried all 3 and haven’t found them to work for me super well. I do best when I can hold a hard copy—love me some Amazon used books!—and tear it up with a Caran d’Ache pen (and maybe a little splash of bubble bath water, whoops!)
I listed these in my 2016 books list blog post, but I wanted to build out a bit further here …
… and post the top 10 books I read this year. Without further ado, here’s my list!
- Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend
- Between the Dreaming and the Coming True by Robert Benson
- Ordering Your Private World by Gordon McDonald
- Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
- 12 Ways Your Smart Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke
- A Praying Life by Paul Miller
- What Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam
- The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
- The One Thing by Gary Keller
- Rest: How You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung Kim Pang
Get recommendations from people you admire.
This one sounds easy, but was a lightbulb moment for me: the best way to get inside someone’s head is to read what they write, right?
The next best way is to read what they read.
When Nancy Ray recommends something, I read it. When Shanna Skidmore recommends something, I read it. When David Platt or Gospel Coalition mentions a book, I check it out. When Michael Hyatt mentions a book, I look into it.
Those don’t have to be your people, but find your people you admire and ask them what they read!
Need some recommendations?
Here’s a free copy of my cheekily-named Housewife Life Trello board, where I make lists of anything related to our home (ex. things to buy for the house, house measurements, places to go, books to read, etc.)—you’ll find the books under the tab labeled … well, books. 🙂 ????
Every few books, read a fiction book.
If you’re not a reader, start small. Try one book a month and see if you can do that. My pastor one time said that C.S. Lewis said “every 5 books, make sure one is a work of fiction” or something. I’ve never been able to find the quote, but I agree with it—and need the reminder!In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Click To Tweet
For fiction, I usually go towards historical stuff—give me anything about European royalty and British history or the American South!—but I try to mix it up a lot.
“In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” – C.S. Lewis
Plus, I think it’s important to read outside of our time frame and reference—there are so many good, ancient texts out there that remind us we’re not the first to tread on this earth.
Make study questions (or record your learnings)
I JUST started doing this in 2017, because I started worrying that I was more focused on speed reading than retaining.
Gut check: I realized I was reading faster than I was processing.
This year I’ve been making “study questions” for myself—or Googling for them. You’d be surprised how many books already have study questions posted by some blogger or book club.
For example, I LOVED Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner this year, but wanted to make sure that I was processing her sweet words about living an abundantly slow life. Erin actually made her own study questions, and you can get them for free by emailing her proof that you purchased the book! One Amazon forwarded receipt later, I was digging into the questions while we were on sabbatical in St. Lucia!
Michael Hyatt’s Leaderbox (more on that in a sec!) also taught me this. The subscription box comes with mini-workbooks to record your thoughts on each reading assignment. I’m not so good about that, but I started a new method that works for me …
Every time I finish a book, I make an Evernote doc where I just type out the big things I learned and the best quotes I underlined. I’m 99% sure I’d retain more if I wrote them out longhand, since we always retain more information if we write it by hand, but this is just what works for me.
Here’s what my Book Notes notebook looks like:
As they say, the best method or app or technology is the one you actually use! 🙂
Try to read 20 pages every day.
Baby step it!
I did NOT set out to read 41 books this year. I started slow by trying for 2 books the first month, and just told myself 20 pages. Even on nights I was tired, I realized I could knock out 20 pages pretty quickly … so USUALLY I ended up reading more than 20.
Little by little I found myself falling in love with reading again. I also saw my mind changing and forming in new ways, and that was exciting—it made me want to read more!
Here’s my reading routine works in 3 parts:
Everyday Morning Reading
I do my Bible study, read 20 pages, and then have my prayer time. You can read more about my morning routine here, and this is my favorite resource for prayer journaling.
Somedays Midday Reading
I take a 30ish minute lunch break and usually read a few pages—preferably on the porch!
Everyday Evening Reading
I ALWAYS read before bed. Even if I’m tired. I need some sort of buffer between screens and the inside of my eyelids, and soft pages calm me down and help me relax. Since we moved into our new house and I have a BATHTUB for the first time since I was a little girl, I’ve been having bubble baths at night—the hot temperature makes your body have to cool itself off afterwards (like the same reason they tell you to have hot tea at night to get ready for bed), and this and some stretching help me calm my anxious mind down.
Get some accountability.
The obvious answer here is book club, but I’m going to give 2 ideas that helped me read more in 2017.
The first was posting my Powersheets goals every month (click to see the library of posts on that!), something I’m going to keep doing in 2018. Nothing like a few thousand blog readers to remind you to read. 😉
The second was a tool called LeaderBox by Michael Hyatt. This is a $79 monthly subscription box that sends you 2 books, each with a 21-day reading plan that gets you through both books in 20-30 minutes a day 5 days of each week—so you get weekends off!
I’ve been using it for 3 months, and overall, really like it. It’s an investment, and I may pause a few months, but it’s definitely stretched me in leadership development.
If you have a team or just want to start thinking about leadership, his recommendations that come in Leaderbox are spot on for that.
Always carry a book.
My mom used to tell me this, but I figured it out for myself this year. If I’m traveling by plane, headed to a doctor’s office, or anything else, I make sure I have a book in my bag. WiFi doesn’t work ’til 30K feet anyway, right? 🙂
Stop if you hate it.
I used to disagree—if I started a book, buddy, I had to finish it! Now, I just have a 50-page rule. If I hate it so much I can’t stand it, I quit it.
This has been SO freeing for me.
There’ve been some pretty big name books I didn’t finish (All the Light We Cannot See, for one!), but you know what? We don’t have much time here on this earth. I’m going to read what I like.
Oh—here’s a bonus tip! One of my favorite pieces of advice is when a mentor in agency days told me to buy 2 magazines that you wouldn’t normally buy before you hop on an airplane.
The other week, I slid Town & Country and GOOP across the checkout counter this week, telling the attendees in my workshop when I was speaking at Showit UNITED this year why it’s one of my favorite copywriting tips: there’s no better way to mine words and get lost in phrases that are counterculture than to get out of your bubble.
Try it next time!
(And yes, as soon as I spent $14 on GOOP—business expense!—Lorelei Gilmore’s horrified “have you been GOOPed!?” response to Rory rang in my ears. I’ve been GOOPed, too … eek!)
I also don’t worry about reading one book at a time—I know some people hate that, but I’ve done that since I was a little girl and had one book in the car and another by my nightstand (and another in my backpack, I’m sure). Now that I’m older, sometimes I just crave some good ol’ fiction, and sometimes my mind’s thirsty to get inside someone’s head.
All of the arts give us the opportunity to see outside of ourself, just like reading does. I think that’s why I like artsy things so much!
What are you reading these days? Where do you get book ideas?
And if you need some, don’t forget to grab my free Trello board—this is the one I use for non-business and home things, so you can grab all my book recommendations here! ????????????