In elementary school, a teacher told me that my comprehension and overall reading skills were terrible. As a result, at the impressionable age of seven, I decided to quit reading for good.
I didn’t read a book cover to cover for another 13 years.
My Journey Started with a New Year’s Resolution
In high school, I never read the assigned books because I didn’t think of myself as a reader. I would start but never finish books because it didn’t seem to matter. Besides… I’m not a reader, so why bother?
I have always been a good student. Taking advanced placement and honours courses throughout high school and into university. But I never truly engaged with the content because of my aversion to reading. I would read the bare minimum to get by.
Ironically, I have always had an affinity for libraries. Whenever I travel I make it a goal to visit a library in the major cities. I would visit the library on campus to check out books every few weeks to enjoy the quiet and study. When the book loans would inevitably expire I’d slide them into the return slot and go on without having read a book in over a decade.
New Year’s Day of 2019 was when everything changed. I made a resolution to read a book cover to cover. I created a Goodreads account to track my progress. I had recently obtained a Canadian library card in the city I was studying in and was determined to make a change.
Within a week, I read the first of what would total 77 books I completed throughout 2019.
The feeling of success after finishing the first book was all-consuming. I felt empowered and that I had finally proven that teacher wrong. I read and listened to books on a daily basis and the best part was that I have never paid for a single audiobook.
How I Became a Reader
For as long as I can remember I have struggled with starting. The fear of failure kept me from starting new things. I have started journals, 4-week workout programs, and writing more articles than I’d like to admit, all without following through.
I was afraid to fail.
Coming to terms with my intense fear of failure was the sort of breakthrough I needed to recognize what was holding me back. I realized that I would never be able to accomplish my dreams if I was not willing to risk failure along the way. I had internalized this fear of failure to the extent that I realized it was not only in my failed attempts to make new habits, this was impacting my approach to relationships, learning, and my mental health.
I needed a change and reading was first on my list. With the freshly minted Canadian library card in my hand, I used an app called Libby to download audiobooks and ebooks for the first time.
The first audiobook I listened to was Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah and from the time I started listening I was hooked. It was even better because Trevor Noah has a great South African accent for narrating his book.
I sought out stories I was interested in and this made reading not feel like the discouraging chore I viewed it as throughout high school. From the inspiring works by Brené Brown about the power of vulnerability to the magnificent storytelling of Fredrik Bakman (my favourite author and a Swede), I was captivated.
As a university student, I do not have the kind of money to buy all the books I want to read. Borrowing via libraries is a free resource in many communities and a sustainable way to consume books. That’s why I borrow the majority of ebooks or audiobooks I read from libraries or friends to be sustainable.
Reading sustainably is not only better for the planet, it is often easier on your wallet. Rather than ordering a new copy, consider borrowing it from a library or ordering it online from nonprofit organizations like Better World Books another Certified B Corporation that gives back to the community. I own fewer than 25 books and the majority were bought second-hand or gifted to me by friends and family.
A Non-Reader’s Guide to Becoming a Reader
When I wanted to become a reader I had no idea where to start. I assumed you just pick a book, read it, and voila, you are a reader for life.
I tried that… it did not work. So, I have listed some realistic advice below:
Read Books You Actually Like
The books you read for fun should interest you! This may seem obvious, but the books I had tried and failed to read in the past were books I wanted others to know I read. The sorts of books that would make me appear more academic and well-read were the ones I sought out and only deterred me from reading.
I am passionate about empathy which led me to read compelling memoirs and personal development books. When the books you read engage with your passions/interests you will have a better chance of finishing them.
Read Before Bed — Every Night!
Once I started reading and listening to books I enjoyed, I wanted to make reading part of my daily routine. This prompted me to read every night before bed. Sometimes I only make it through a few pages because I am exhausted and on others, I might read 50+ pages.
Before I start reading, I set an alarm for the morning and put my phone away. Since most of the books I read are on my e-reader or physical books, there is no need to use my phone in bed. The practice of staying off my phone for the final waking moments of my day has not only improved my reading but has improved my sleep quality tremendously.
If you can make reading a habit, I have found it is a great way to end the day and improve your well-being.
Give Audiobooks a Try
For fans of podcasts, I always recommend giving audiobooks a try. Most memoirs that are narrated by the author tend to feel like an 8-hour podcast. My favourite experience of this came when I was listening to Ali Wong’s narration of her book Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, & Advice for Living Your Best Life. This book had me laughing in public because of her narration, sound effects, and the stand-up style comedy of the book.
On average, I listen to an audiobook at 1.5 times the normal speed which allows me to finish a 12-hour book in about 8 hours. This has allowed me to easily finish a book in a matter of days while commuting or getting ready for the day.
Audiobooks are available for free from most libraries. Rather than paying for a subscription, I would encourage anyone interested in audiobooks to look into options publicly available at libraries.
Many authors narrate their own books which can make the experience of reading a book more personal and engaging. Some of my favourite audiobooks based on the quality of the narrator include:
Reflections: Two Years Later
To date, I have read 87 books in 2020 and my life has unquestionably changed for the better as a result. I have spent less time on my phone and more time learning from and enjoying books as I consume them.
I have read stories about hockey towns in Sweden, Barak Obama’s run for president, and about a stationery shop in 1950s Tehran. Reading has taught me about what it means to be human as I have vicariously experienced the lives of authors and characters in lives dramatically different from my own.
My parents read to me as a child and becoming a reader again has felt like a literary reclamation of a skill that I thought I would never possess. Starting anything new is a challenge. I did not read a book cover to cover for over a decade and now I am a passionate reader. I would encourage everyone to read books to learn, grow, and better understand the world we live in.
To follow along with the books I read, check out my profile on Goodreads.