Sunday Salon: Learning How to Read

The Sunday Salon.comUntil recently, it never occurred to me that there are so many different ways to approach reading. More than that, I didn’t realize how different the experience of each approach could be. Reading has always been about picking up a book that looks interesting and reading until I get to the end. But over the past few months, I’ve experimented with when and why I read a book, as well as with whom, in addition to just which books I choose.

Books come to me from all different sources. There are books all over my apartment, waiting to be read, and my frequent and beloved trips to bookstores are forever enlarging my collection. There’s the library, where I can get pretty much any book that sparks my fancy. There are publishers and authors who want to get new books into the hands of bloggers. There are generous bloggers who give away books. The list goes on.

There are also, as I’m discovering, myriad ways to structure my reading. I can read at whim, guided only by what appeals to me at the moment. I can read with other people, joining readalongs and book groups or opening my reading up to other readers (which is how Reading Buddies came about). I can join challenges and allow their requirements to determine what I’ll read. I can read backlist or focus on the neverending list of new releases. Again, the possibilities seem endless.

Girl with Books
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The past few months have been a sort of experiment for me. I’ve joined a few challenges, read with other people, picked up some older books I’ve meant to read and reviewed new books before they’ve been published. My books have come from all the sources listed above, and more. As a result, I’ll admit I’ve felt a little scattered. In wanting to try everything, at times I’ve bitten off a little more than I could chew.

What’s been great about these months of trial and error, though, is that I’ve finally started to figure out how I read best. It turns out challenges, which appeal to me in theory because they are creative ways of pushing reading boundaries, actually stress me out and make reading less fun. At the same time, though, I don’t like reading completely at whim; that approach is too unfocused for me. It seems the way of reading I love best is twofold: first, I like having loose goals, an approach I tried out for the first time at the beginning of this year; and second, I love reading with other people. I feel so productive crossing books off my list of goals; I also really enjoy knowing I’m reading a book along with other people and having the opportunity to discuss it in a more in-depth way than other approaches allow.

I’ve also learned more about what mix of books is best for me. I love including classics in my reading, which isn’t something I thought I’d ever say. My Classics Reclamation Project has kept me reading them, and so far I’ve read or listened to eleven books I wouldn’t have read without my project. I also enjoy reading new releases, though I’ve discovered that if I accept too many, I quickly become overwhelmed. In the future, I’ll be focusing on choosing only books that really appeal to me and making sure they’re spaced out enough that I can get to each one. I’ve also discovered that, while the library is a wonderful resource and I always love acquiring new-to-me books, I really love reading the books I already own. I purchased them for a reason, and so many of the ones I’ve finally read from my own shelves have been great. I’m glad the TBR Dare got me to finally pay attention to the books I’ve been living with for years.

This post serves as my formal withdrawal from the few challenges in which I’ve been participating. I hope to read the books I’d have read for them anyway, but in my own time. I know I’ll enjoy them more that way, and my reading in general will be less stressful.

I also want to take the time to sincerely thank the people who have joined and will join me in my Reading Buddies endeavor, both formally with the monthly reads and informally, inviting me to join you in reading a book or offering to join me. It makes me happier than you know!

Your Turn!

How do you prefer to read? How did you figure out what works best for you?

Join the Conversation


  1. Recently I’ve read two long epic poems and found that if I split them up into daily reading assignments the way I do my French reading, it was much better than if I just tried to read them like regular books. Likewise, I read ebooks and audiobooks differently than physical books, and listening to audio has taught me how to read ebooks. I was never able to do that satisfactorily before. The inability to flip around was difficult and I found I couldn’t remember what I’d read. Can’t flip in an audio either, and once I learned how to remember as I went instead of flipping, the ebook reading became easier and enjoyable now!

  2. I so understand this feeling of sometimes being overwhelmed by books and reading projects. In the end, I have less pleasure in reading what I formerly really wanted to read. So I try to stick to short-term projects, one at a time, reading what I really want to. But I still enjoy buying books (too much!) and sharing readings.

  3. Really enjoyed reading your reflection. I wonder if blogging encourages us to be more intentional readers? I find I’m doing a little of both now. Your Classics Reclamation project sounds interesting!

  4. I’m still working on figuring out what works best for me when I’m reading, but I think it sounds a lot like yours — I don’t like challenges, and I get stressed if I have too many library or review books. I have to find a balance between all of them to feel more comfortable.

  5. I’ve always been a challenge junkie, but this year I just haven’t been as interested. I signed up for a bunch of them, but I am enjoying the readalongs so much more that all of my challenges have been pushed to the side.

  6. I’ve figured out I’m not best with challenges — I tend to forget about them halfway through and never finish them. They do get me to read books I might not otherwise read, though, so I haven’t written them off completely. Reading what I fancy tends to please me more, but I think it stops me from expanding my horizons. So I’m still not sure, alas, what reading method works best for me.

  7. I participated in a reading challenge just over a year ago that was pretty intense – I LOVED it but when I tried to get myself to do it again, it felt like too much of a time-suck just trying to figure out what was acceptable by the creators of the individual challenges. Now I just read what I want to read and sometimes read for work. Though I do appreciate challenges such as the People of Color Reading Challenge that encourage folks to think about the diversity of their reading.

  8. I’m a challenge junkie! I love challenges. I try not to put a lot of pressure on myself to complete them. If I do, I do. I love reading out of my comfort zone, so I try to do that as much as possible.

  9. I’ve withdrawn from challenges, too, this year! I tend to prefer an unstructured readalong if I’m going to join one. A no time-limit sort of thing. I know that’s not for everyone, but with my time scarce, I like to know I can weigh in when it’s convenient and not otherwise, without offending anyone.

    I also gave up my 54-book reading schedule recently, and am reading as the whim hits me. Reading without spontanaeity can be a killjoy — if every book you read is on a schedule. A bit of structuring can keep (me) focused, because I honestly have trouble sticking to a book. I’d rather read them all at the same time, and that’s not efficient.

    (Sorry if the W&P readalong wasn’t interactive enough! I lack time to do more than I’m doing. Best to you in your new reading plan!) 🙂

  10. I learned last year that although I get excited about the idea of reading challenges, I start to feel resentful of them after awhile. This year, I dialed it way down so I do a few but don’t feel overburdened by “books I’ve got to read.” I also realized I like having two very different books to read at the same time … one that is “lighter” and one that is “heavier.” I’ve also learned not to focus too much on “quantity.” Once I got my 100 books in a year, I felt like I could dial back and not feel pressure to read a certain amount in a certain timeframe. And it is fun to readalong with others … but not too often that you feel pressure again. (I guess I don’t respond well to feeling pressured on something I view as fun.)

  11. This year I have started to read more classics and realize that it’s ok to take a break from all the obligations and just read whatever my heart desires. I was at a point where reading felt like work, and I just got so tired of always being under the gun, so I am trying to just go simple and read a good mix of what I want to and have to. Book clubs have been helpful too. I don’t often participate in challenges because I just can’t handle all the pressure, but I am looking forward to reading with you sometime later this year!

  12. Personally, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of reader of I am. I like loose goals like reading a hundred books per year, but I don’t want to choose in advance which books I’ll read.

    I also like reading with other people. Reading is usually a solitary activity, so it’s an amazing experience to talk to other people about books, and exchange ideas. I always wonder at how a single text can be interpreted in so many different ways. I guess that’s why I love the book blogging community so much. 🙂

  13. Other than when I was in college or graduate school, I’ve always enjoyed having a pretty unstructured reading life. One of the most joyful things about reading, for me, is that there is a book for every mood, and I love wending my way, led more or less by nothing but my own whimsy, from one kind of book to another. (I especially love that moment when I’ve just finished a book and it’s time to choose the next one: I usually lay three or four likely choices out on my desk, and then decide which to read next based just on what feels right.)

    Having said that, though, this method also leaves me with many, many books that I want to read but somehow have just never gotten to. I can’t afford to buy books, so all of my books come from the library, and I often bite off more than I can chew and end up having to return books before I can get to them. It makes me sad to think how many books I will never have time to read, and that every book I choose means a different one won’t get read. And of course my mental to-be-read list just keeps growing and growing!

    Overall, though, I really prefer to read just what I feel like reading at the moment, with little planning beyond my ordering books that I’ve seen mentioned in reviews or on blogs, or that I’ve just remembered for some reason. The only exception to this, for me, is that I love reading books with other people, so I’m always up for reading specific books at specific times if that means I’ll get to discuss them with someone else! 🙂

  14. Your reasons are just my same ones for not doing challenges. It became too stressful, and I read much better when I can read whatever I feel like at the moment, not when I’ve planned ahead too much.

  15. I have always loved joining challenges and in theory I love every single one. But I’ve learned through trail and error that there are challenges that work best for me and others that do not. I also make personal challenges but, unlike you, my personal challenges always take a backseat to the challenges other people create. Read-alongs have never really been my thing but Reading Buddies is actually working pretty well for me. Reading is so solitary that it’s nice discussing books with others as I read them.

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