Looking for a silver lining, we seized on how the stay-at-home mandates of living through a pandemic (and other dire things) would give us more time — hopefully, more time to read.
We hadn’t counted on how the angst and uncertainty of this year would demolish our attention span. Are you reading more than ever? I’m not.
Are you having trouble concentrating? I am.
Is there a solution? I think there is.
A few years ago, I wrote a column about how to pack more reading into your busy life. Now it’s time to revisit that column and tweak it to offer tips on how to shut the world out and help you focus so that you can end the year with plenty of books marked off your to-read list.
1. Save your night reading for something light. It’s easy to nod off while reading in bed, and you don’t want to fight that — that’s why you went to bed, right? To sleep? So keep a book by your bedside that is reserved just for this time — something entertaining, something that requires little brain power. If you fall asleep in the middle of it, you can count that as a win.
2. Read in the morning. I know it sounds goofy — aren’t mornings for working out, walking the dog, reading the newspaper, guzzling some orange juice and then getting down to the work of the day?
Yes, they are. So don’t stop doing any of those things (especially don’t stop reading the newspaper).
But morning is also a great time to get a little book reading done, before the grim news of the day takes over your brain. Don’t think you have time to read? Ha. Set aside your former commute time as reading time.
3. Read something easy or uplifting. This might not be the time to take on “Under the Volcano” or some other dark and depressing novel. This might be the time for something plot-driven and fun.
4. Switch genres. Are you a nonfiction person? Try a mystery — maybe something by Anthony Horowitz, or an old Agatha Christie. Are you a novel person? Try dipping into a short story collection, or maybe a memoir. (Not a depressing one.) Switch it up.
Who knows — you might find that sci-fi is your thing, and you never knew it!
5. Put down your phone. I know it’s become a part of you — mine has become a part of me, that’s for sure. But phones were invented to ruin your attention span.
If you have it in your hand, it’s entirely too easy to start scrolling through the toxic sludge of Twitter, or reading every refreshed update of every dire news story.
You might claim to need your phone — you might claim that you are reading a book on your phone. Which brings us to No. 6.
6. Don’t read a book on your phone. (See above.)
7. Schedule reading time. Seriously — you set aside time for everything else, don’t you? You can do the same with a book.
8. Start a book club. It’s always easier to do something difficult if you have help — raise a barn, lose weight, dig a well.
If you’re having trouble reading a book right now, knowing that a group is reading the same book and wants your thoughts can be the impetus you need.
9. Re-read something you love. Sometimes nothing kick-starts us better than falling in love all over again with a beloved old book or a favorite writer.
10. I repeat, put down your phone. It agitates us more than you realize.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.