12 Ways to Improve Your Reading Life

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Improve your reading life with these 12 habits and practices for the intentional reader. You’ll get more out of the books you read, and your appetite for literature will increase!

Woman sitting on a dock over a lake reading a book.

Get the Most Out of Your Reading Life

At first blush, reading appears to be a highly passive hobby. It’s restful, after all. And other than shifting in your chair and using your fingers to turn pages, it’s doesn’t require much movement.

But true book nerds can set the record straight! In fact, reading is a very lively activity, even if most of the movement and interaction occurs in the mind of the reader.

Now, of course there are different kinds of readers. There are casual readers, lazy readers, obligated readers, voracious readers.

I’ve been all of those at various times.

Although bad habits come and go, more and more I want to cultivate the habit of being an intentional reader. Reading is a lovely hobby, but it can ought to be so much more than passive entertainment! So how do you get more out of your reading life? I’ve got a few practical suggestions you can apply today:

reading glasses on top of a stack of books

12 Ways to Improve Your Reading Life

1. Choose books to match the seasons

One simple and fun way to make reading more enjoyable is to be a seasonal reader. Few things will immerse you more fully in a story than when the atmosphere of the book matches the atmosphere around you. Do you have a book about summer vacation? Save it to read on a hot July day. Read dark and stormy books on a windswept night. For a spring morning, choose a memoir about new beginnings. I’ve been a seasonal reader since I was a kid. And thanks to it, my summers will forever be branded with nautical novels; autumns tinged with Gothic romances.

Book subscription box with The Enchanted April, floral scarf, tea tin, and notecard

Want seasonal books delivered to your doorstep? Join the Tea and Ink Society’s Seasonal Reading Box to get classic books and tea delivered to your home four times per year.

Yes, Sign Me Up!

 

2. Make reading an experience (but not a complicated one)

When you actually have the time to read–in the evenings, say–do you ever find that you’re suddenly “too tired”? Mindless TV watching quickly becomes a compelling alternative. I struggled with this myself quite a bit, and I had to retrain myself to do other things with my evenings besides watching Netflix.

One thing that will help strengthen your reading resolve is if you make reading time feel special. Earlier in the day, think about what you get to read that night. When your work is done for the night, make yourself a cup of fancy tea (here are some book and tea pairings to try!), and get a little snack. Put on cozy clothes, light a candle for atmosphere. These little rituals will train you to savour your reading time. The key is to keep them simple, so you can settle into your reading session within minutes.

Related Post: Here’s why you might not be reading as much as you should be, plus how to read more!

3. Savour, don’t speed read

My husband and I have very different memories of reading Jane Eyre. For me, the novel was like exotic dark chocolate. It was one of the first Victorian classics I ever read. It fascinated me, changed me, and set me on course for a life-long love affair with British lit. But my husband groans when he thinks of the book! He had to read it from a required list–with a deadline–and the result was that he choked it down and didn’t enjoy it.

The way you read matters nearly as much as what you read. Read slowly enough to let the words bloom. For sure, you’ll still encounter books you simply don’t like. But reading at a more leisurely pace will give the book–and the author–a chance to win you over first.

4. Keep a commonplace book

The habit of keeping a commonplace book has been around for centuries, taught in institutions like Oxford and Harvard, and kept by real and fictional figures from John Milton to Sherlock Holmes. A commonplace book is simply a notebook where you record quotes, poems, prayers, and any other meaningful texts you come across that you’d like to save. It’s not so much for personal journaling, but for your own personal database of quotes and knowledge.

Blue and gold celestial pattern reading journal with tin of book darts
My own lovely commonplace book is made by Peter Pauper Press. It’s perfect to use in conjunction with book darts!

For the intentional reader, a commonplace book is the ideal vault for all those pithy or poignant quotes you find in the books you read. You can organise your book by topic, skipping pages when you need to start a new section. Google “commonplace book” and you’ll find plenty of inspiration. Here are some blog posts to get you started:

If you prefer to keep all your reading notes in one place, you can use The Book Lover’s Companion for your quotes.

5. Read the introductions, forwards, and end notes

Don’t skip these. Reading these sidelines gives you a more rounded comprehension of the book. You’ll gain many fascinating details and get a fuller picture of the book, author, and the world the book was birthed into. A word of caution: Often, you’ll want to read the introductions and such after you read the main work. This is especially true with classics, where the author of the intro will likely ruin the novel’s plots for you during their discussion!

6. Record every title you finish

When each of my siblings started reading chapter books, my parents would add a new tab for them to our family reading record. Every month, we’d bring our stack of completed books to Mom and she’d write down the title, author, and month finished. I continued this practice on my own when I grew up, and I can’t tell you how many dozens of times I’ve referred to this reading log. I use it to give people book recommendations and to remember how the books I read each year mirror my own personal development. And I most definitely use it to compile book lists for this blog!

You can start your own reading log with The Book Lover’s Companion, a printable reading journal I created for Tea and Ink Society readers! The reading log pages contain detailed entries for recording info about the book, as well as your star rating, a note of who you’d recommend it to, space for favourites quotes, and more. And the Companion is actually much MORE than a reading log…check it out to see what else you get(: In the years to come, you’ll love browsing back through your reading record and enjoying the flood of memories that brings.

7. When you’re done with a book, find someone to discuss it with

Before plunging into the next title on your list, give yourself a breather to digest what you just read. I’ve found that the best way to do this is to talk to someone about it! You can discuss it even if they haven’t read the book (just be sure to reciprocate and let them tell you about their latest read, too!). Talking through the book helps you internalize it, sift through your reactions, and consider angles you hadn’t noticed until you verbalized them.

Asian couple having a discussion will sipping tea

And if you don’t have anyone to discuss with in person, you’re always welcome to share with our Tea and Ink Society Facebook group, which you get access to when you subscribe!(:

8. See what else the author wrote

You’d be surprised at how many little-known books are written by authors you think you know! I always like to check the author’s Amazon page or Wikipedia to see what I might’ve missed. I’ve discovered many hidden gems this way! The Book Lover’s Companion contains checklist pages where you can keep track of author bibliographies.

9. Reread your favourites

Are you one of those people who return to their favourite volumes again and again, or are you always blazing new pages? I used to be in the latter camp. I dubbed books as “favourites,” but I felt like life was too short to read them multiple times. In the last few years my thinking has shifted, and I’m now blending a healthy dose of re-reads into my list each year. Part of the reason is that I’m reading more now, so I do have the time to reread.

Rereading a book is like deepening a friendship. It allows the books that you’ve identified as the best and most meaningful to shape your life and guide you through different seasons. Here are some of the rich benefits you’ll gain from rereading books.

“We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust, has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties.” – C. S. Lewis, On Stories

10. Read outside your normal genres

It’s healthy for your reading life if you vary your literary diet from time to time. At least once a month, check out a book you wouldn’t normally read–a spy thriller, biography, travel narrative, philosophy book–whatever that is for you. One of these thought-provoking reads or a classic African-American novel would be a good place to start! And here’s a lovely post from a Tea and Ink reader on how she fell in love with a new genre! If you pick up a new-to-you author or genre, here’s how you can vet it for trigger warnings before you read.

Woman in a cozy sweater reading a book with a cup of coffee

11. Read old books

There will always be splashy new novels on the scene. Some live up to the hype, a lot don’t. Don’t always let yourself get carried away by shiny object syndrome. Pick old books that have stood the test of time. They’ll give you a context for other eras, cultures, and perspectives that the best contemporary authors have built on. C. S. Lewis says “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” That’s good advice(:

And if you don’t think you have time for classics? There are many excellent short classics to choose from, so start with one of those!

12. Keep a treasure trove of titles you want to dig into in the future

If you ever waste reading time because you can’t find a book to get excited about, this will cure you. Keep a running list of books you want to read. (I’ve included pages for both short-term and long-term “To Be Read” lists in my reading journal.) You can dip back into the barrel whenever you need a book to refresh you…just see what catches your eye. But do remember: You’ll probably never get to everything, and your list will always be growing. That’s okay. This isn’t a to-do list; it’s your buffet and you can pick what you like.

What habits and practices have you used to improve your reading life?

If you believe the reading habit changes your life for the better, you might also resonate with my post on The Jane Austen Cure: Why Women Need Fiction to Replenish Their Souls. For more ways to be an intentional reader, check out these bookish New Year’s resolutions.

The Literary Medicine Cabinet eBook Cover - gold-outlined illustration of bookshelf on a dark blue background

For a lovely, short eBook on reading as a form of self care, check out The Literary Medicine Cabinet by Haley Stewart. She includes some excellent reading suggestions and lists, too!

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12 Ways to Improve Your Reading Life12 Ways to Improve Your Reading Life
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12 Comments

  1. I do a lot of these things! I love to read old classics also. Honestly, I feel like I need to find some newer books to read!

    1. Yes, I found myself in that position awhile back! I was practically reading just classics, but a college course on contemporary lit helped me to branch out since then. Still, the classics are so valuable that they often feel more like a rich feast to me in comparison with some of the new reads hitting shelves these days.

  2. I love the idea your mother installed in you, on keeping a record of every book you’ve read and date it. What a great habit to maintain. I wished I had done something like that. My list is kept on Goodreads. But to have a list from childhood. That would be awesome. Do you still have the list or you just kept up the tradition? Discussing books is one of my passions. I review books on my site and of course manage a book club. Thanks for an enjoyable read.

    1. I’m so glad my mom made us do that! I do indeed still have my record from childhood. I copied out my list from the family binder and now I have it in a Google doc, which I add to.

  3. I love these suggestions! Do you have a post recommending which books to read for which seasons, or would you consider writing one in the future?

    1. Thank you, Carrie! I don’t have a post like that, yet, but thank you for the suggestion! I will write that! For now, I do have a post on YA summer reads here, and I’m working on publishing another summer-themed post this week.

  4. I love the idea of keeping track and notes. I do keep track in Goodreads but wished I had started a list years ago. What a great tradition. For me, my special place for reading is in the bathtub with a cup of tea 🙂

  5. I enjoying reading a modern book them the next one is an old one. Have read some that were required reading in high school. Now I appreciate those from fifty years past that I had to read.

    1. Yes, that is smart to mix it up! I’m enjoying reading a number of classics that are often assigned in schools, but that I never got to (because there were SO many options I couldn’t get to them all back then!)

  6. I like your ideas! I’m glad to know there is someone else who does many of the same things I do so I must not be weird! I am very methodical and list-oriented. Every year on Dec. 26 I sit down with my TBR and curate my next year’s reading list, in a certain order and they MUST all be arranged seasonally. I’ve tried to break out of this law and order, but I just keep coming back to it. You’re right- it adds to atmosphere, which I’m all about. A special time or designated reading area also help. One thing I do to get the most out of reading is to read out loud. I can read non-fiction silently, but never fiction. I like to act and do all the voices, even when it’s just me! A list of books read helps with the feeling of momentum you’ve mentioned, and blogging/reviewing the books is my way of talking about them. It helps me to think more about what I’ve read instead of just inhaling. Goodreads is my go-to for exploring more in a newly discovered genre, author, or series and adding to my 3,000+ TBR. I also enjoy playing book games, like scavenger word hunting (I get the lists on goodreads groups). I don’t often reread books, but there have been a few that I find I receive totally differently at various ages or stages in life. To keep things from feeling stale, I don’t read an author more than once in a year. It helps me appreciate the one I do read more. One last thing- I love using Spotify to build playlists inspired by the books I read.

    1. I love hearing about all of your bookish traditions! That is so interesting that you read fiction aloud. I love doing voices for the books I read to my son, but I don’t think I could bear to read all my own personal reads aloud. I do hear the voices in my head and try to picture faces. But I would be too slow if I read aloud.

      Also I like your idea of playlists, and I want to do more of that to accompany my reading.

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