I'm a bookworm, born and raised, but even with my speed reading skills, I find myself struggling to keep up with all of the new and incredible books coming out every month, let alone catch up with the older titles I still haven't read yet. That is, until I followed this one rule, and it helped me read an extra book a week.
I have always loved reading, but now that it is a required part of my job as a book writer and reviewer, I find myself struggling to keep my head above the water of an ever-increasing TBR pile. There are, of course, the books I have to read for an assignment and the ones I need to read for pitching purposes, but there are also titles I'm required to read for research, or for interview prep, or for educational and training purposes. What I find that I have no time for anymore is reading just for pleasure. Whereas it used to be a fun and relaxing outlet for me, reading has suddenly become nearly every item on my to-do list, something I find myself avoiding at all costs on my time off.
It has recently forced me to ask myself a hard question: Have I fallen out of love with reading?
Reading used to be my escape from the world, my way of unplugging and unwinding after a day filled with work or family drama or relationship stress. Whenever I would run into a problem, personal, professional, or otherwise, I could always trust the answer I was looking for could be found in a book.
That is, until books became my problem. All at once, it seemed, reading was no longer a relaxing outlet that could help be de-stress, but rather a demanding and exhausting task that took up all of my time. Curling up with a good book wasn't fun anymore. Somewhere between all of the reviews and genre analysis, I found myself dreading each time I had to pick up a new title, because I knew I couldn't simply enjoy it. I would have to interpret it, break it down, judge it.
Instead of reading in my free time, I found myself gravitating toward my ultimate weakness: Netflix. Like a lot of other people I know, I'm can easily get caught up in binge-watching shows new and old, so instead of spending my Saturday mornings reading like I used to, my new weekend routine started to involve constant television.
When I wasn't busy replacing my weekend reading with reruns of The Office or the new true crime on Netflix, I was finding other ways to substitute quality book time with constant screen time. My quiet weekday mornings, which used to include reading and coffee, were suddenly filled with mindless hours of social media scrolling. Even my daily walks with the dog, which used to involve an audiobook, were replaced with podcasts instead. At night, it wasn't a book that lulled me to sleep, but the bright light of my TV left on.
Outside of required reading, books were becoming a smaller and smaller part of my life, but something else was happening too: I was becoming more stressed, more irritable, and more tired than usual. I wasn't sure if it was the increase in my media consumption, the decrease in my book consumption, or a combination of both, but one thing was clear: I needed to learn how to love reading again.
That is when I made a rule that would change my bookish life: no screens until at least one hour of reading. It was a seemingly small adjustment, but by making that one change, I was able to read more, enjoy reading more, and find a new self care routine I didn't even know I needed.
It was a simple rule, one a parent might give their small child who was too addicted to their tablet, but it completely changed my morning routine, and eventually, even my nighttime one, too. Instead of waking up and scrolling through my phone and reading angry Tweets or bad news while I waited for my water to boil or my dogs to do their business outside, the first thing I did every day was pick up a book. Curled up on the couch with a fresh pot of coffee, or stretched out on the front steps with a mug of tea, I would begin my morning by reading something just for fun. Because it wasn't required for work, there was no stress attached to the activity. I wasn't on a deadline to finish the book, or even obligated to critique it, so I could simply enjoy the story and the downtime reading it provided me.
On days that I did not have the time or luxury to lounge about and read for an hour before officially starting my day, I started listening to an audiobook instead of a podcast while I showering, getting ready, cooking breakfast, walking the dogs, or commuting to wherever it was that I needed to go. Sure, it technically broke the "no screen" rule, but it did keep me "reading" even if my eyes were otherwise occupied.
It didn't take long for me to realize just how much this small adjustment was changing my life in big ways. It helped me accomplish the goals I set out with — checking more books of my TBR list and enjoying reading for pleasure again — but it also helped me start my day off on a relaxing and positive note. Instead of being sucked into the nastiness of the news 7am, I got to be swept up in someone else's adventure. Instead of being disheartened by the latest drama out of Washington before even eating my breakfast, I got to be inspired by some else's story.
After realizing how much reading I was actually getting done, and how wonderful it felt to be so productive while still finding time to relax in the morning, I decided to carry my new rule into my nighttime routine, too. Instead of putting on Netflix on and watching The West Wing for the umpteenth time as I fell asleep, I made myself read for an hour before turning on the TV. More times than not, I ended up falling asleep mid-chapter, and getting a much better night's sleep than I would have with a show playing in the background.
From phones to TVs to computers, we are surrounded by screens that constantly demand our attention, and considering how fast the news moves, it can almost feel like we aren't allowed to check out. What if we miss an important story or fail to catch the latest drama out of Washington or don't see a tweet from Kanye West? Being offline and away from media for even a minute can make me feel like I'm months behind, but starting my morning out away from the screens and in front of a good book is exactly the kind of self-care I need to make it through the day, and I cannot recommend it enough.