On cultivating and sustaining a reading habit

Akshat Jiwan Sharma, Sun May 25 2014

Reading is an endangered habit. For many people spending time with a book is probably the most dreadful, boring exercise in the world. If you are one of those people who have stumbled upon this article I know what you are probably thinking yeah nice way to help me "cultivate a reading habit" by making me read this blog post! I assure you that your cynicism is not lost on me. There is already a lot written elsewhere on the internet that lists all the ways one can develop a reading habit. What I intend to do however is explore the question "why don't some people like to read?" Maybe it will help you understand why you are averse to reading and you can take effective steps to combat that feeling. Oh and there is a "tldr;" section at the end of this article ;)

Generally speaking most reading material can be classified into fictional and non fictional work. Reading non fictional books is considered an important exercise that helps in the growth of an individual. Consequently most people living in a modern society read through a significant number of non fictional books before they turn 20. Now most of these texts are usually a part of curriculum of whatever course a person chooses during his/her education. After the education completes the individual depending upon profession he is in may or may not have to read non-fictional books. For instance a lawyer or a professor, due to the nature of his profession, will have to read more than a musician. But it's safe to assume that in a modern society every one who has access to education reads (whether willing or unwillingly) lots of non fictional books.

Reading fictional books on the other hand is considered to be a recreational activity, unless one has enrolled in a course that has fictional subjects as a part of the curriculum. As we move on and chose a profession for ourselves the type of books that we are most likely to not read are fictional. Since if our profession mandates reading it will be of non fictional nature (once more making the assumption that one is not in a creative profession as writing or movies) and if it does not, the type of books that we won't read are fictional books.

The reason for this is that the benefit of reading a fictional book is not immediately apparent. For instance reading a latest research paper on causes of heart disease gives one the immediate benefit of knowing what causes heart diseases. Any one who is suffering from heart ailment will casually pick up the journal and start reading with immense interest. But apparently there is nothing to gain by reading say The three men in a boat (Not to say anything of the dog!). So we can narrow down our question to "Why don't some people like to read fiction?"

Fictional work on the other hand can at the very least be a source of entertainment --pleasure. So while there is a good reason that one would not like to read a book that is boring ( to that person) but what could be the reason to not read something that could perhaps be entertaining? Now entertainment can be different things to different people. For instance I don't particularly enjoy horror. But there are lot's who do. So suggesting a horror book to someone who does not particularly enjoy it would be a futile excercise but what about the books in the genre that they do like?

Surely many of you have noticed it as well that a person would willingly watch a Harry Potter movie on TV but would not feel inclined to read the book. And so finally after rambling on for 5 paragraphs (sorry!) I get to the point:-

Reading involves active participation.

Reading fiction is unlike any other form of entertainment. You are being fed pieces of information which then you have to assemble in your own mind for it to make any sense. One of the most common reasons that people give up on a book is that they are unable to see what the author is trying to say. Put another way they are unable to form a mental picture from the words of the author. If you find yourself tossing books
away frequently ask your self if you are unable to participate in the world that the author has created.

It is entirely possible that the book one is reading is challenging. The ideas presented and the expression used is foreign to the reader and he/she is unable to relate to and hence understand what the author is trying to say.
That is the reader in unable to engage and participate in the world that author has created. But unfortunately many people promptly give up on a book if it faintly strains their faculties. Here are some the books that I would have missed out on if I gave up on them after my first day of reading

  1. Gone with the wind
  2. The count of Monte Cristo
  3. The Three Musketeers
  4. Hard Times
  5. Frankenstein

(And those are very good books in case you are wondering)

What I am trying to say here is that there will always be books that are set in a period that you have never been to before. There will always be books that are written in a style that you have never read before. There will always be books that will evoke a sensation such as you have never felt before. Don't be quick to dismiss them. Give it some time. Work at it to discover what the author is really trying to say. Isn't that the purpose of reading any way? To discover something new. Does that not excite you?

"'what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures or conversations?'"

Every one likes good stories. I go watch movies with friends, who wouldn't be caught dead with a book and yet they enjoy cinema. So while they like watching a good story they don't enjoy reading it. An excuse that is often put forward is "who has time to read an entire book".

Now I understand that we live in a rushed world and medium has evolved to provide us with rushed entertainment but it's narrow minded to think of all books as weighty tomes that require weeks to finish. For people who are in a hurry there is no better way to get into a reading habit that acquiring a taste for short stories. I will even help you by listing some classics

  1. Are you in a mood for a quick mystery? How about some (free) Sherlock Holmes?

  2. Are you looking for a quick laugh? How about some (free) F. Anstey?

  3. Do you like depressing tales? How about some (free) Russian short stories?

But feel free to ignore my list and drown you self in the Gutenberg library where you will find books on every possible topic and chose one that suits you best.

If you still don't like reading books I suggest that you pick up an audio book. Listening to audio is not as demanding as reading and it might
make you more comfortable and get you started on reading.

If you have read this article to the end (thank you by the way) you will notice that I have not once brought up the benefits of reading books. The reason is simple. While there are obvious benefits to reading they are often exaggerated. Reading a book will not make you scholar, though it might set you on the right path. There is nothing scholarly about people who read. They just spend more time with books than people who don't and hence find it easier to get into different types of books. How about you just start reading for entertainment and discover for yourself the changes it brings in you? If you feel smarter then it's a bonus you have had a good time reading already!

So if it has been a long time since you read and you don't know where to begin then I suggest that you pick up a short story. Preferably one that will be over in 20 minutes so that it does not require that much of time investment. Plus there are a wide variety of short stories available so you can experiment and see what kind of books you like.

But please do not give up on reading just because you read some books before that you did not like. Or because it takes too much time. Or because it's something new. Or whatever excuse that you make.


Too long did not read

  • Do you give up on books too early? Remember that it takes some investment on your part before you start to enjoy a book.

  • Do you feel like you don't have enough time to read a book? Try reading short stories. They should take 10-15 min to complete and can be a good way to form a reading habit?

  • How about listening to audio books? While it's not an ideal substitute to reading they require much less involvement on your part and are probably as close as you can get to reading without actually... reading.

  • Read for entertainment -- just to have a good time and forget about your worries. It will make your experience light and pleasant and you will most likely stick to your new habit if you are enjoying it.

You might also like

On writers block by James La fond

My technical reading habits


comments powered by Disqus