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If you want to read more, you don’t need to start with Shakespeare

Take it from a librarian: You don’t have to impress the literary crowd with your reading list.

Illustration by Jason Schneider for The Boston Globe

As a librarian and book reviewer, people take for granted that I have the whole reading thing figured out. In fact, I’m like you: overworked, overwhelmed, and — much to my professional chagrin — often terribly under-read. But I’m working on it. These are the strategies that have helped me create more time for reading in my life.

Forget about hitting a number. Websites like Goodreads encourage people to “challenge” themselves to read a certain number of books in a year, which — to this librarian — seems like a way to feel hopelessly behind on your resolution before you’ve even begun it. Instead, aim to rediscover an experience. Aim to read like you did when you were 10: selfishly, voraciously, obsessively. Aim to find a book that engrosses you so completely that you forget anything exists beyond its pages. And remember: If a book is not grabbing you, you are allowed to put it down to find something that does.


Forgo prestige in favor of pleasure. When you have limited time, it is easy to put pressure on yourself to dedicate it to The Very Best Things. But this reading habit you’re building is for you. It’s not meant to make you a more impressive party guest or a more informed Fresh Air listener. If what makes you happiest is rereading your favorite Agatha Christie novel, don’t assign yourself Thomas Pynchon. Go to a great independent bookstore and talk with the staff or — even better — ask to do a reader’s advisory session with a local librarian. These pros should be able to hear what you find addictive in media of any kind and hand you a book that provides the same experience.

Make reading part of a practice of unplugging. One of the best things that reading regularly can bring into your life is a little peace and quiet, spiritually speaking. Books — even e-books — do not come with push notifications. So try to give yourself reading time that’s free from notifications, too. Put your phone on airplane mode for 60 minutes on a Sunday evening. Pour yourself some wine, climb into a bath, or put on a record — think of it as a deliberate choice to live at a slightly different pace for one small part of the week. You will be amazed how restorative it can be.



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Margaret H. Willison, a librarian, culture writer, and podcaster, is co-creator of the Two Bossy Dames newsletter. Send comments to magazine@globe.com