Reading books isn’t something that everyone enjoys. But regardless of how you feel about them, there’s no denying that books are amazing—they can tap into your imagination to create new thoughts and experiences, transporting you to an entirely different (or sometimes familiar) world. Books are also one of the few media capable of capturing the full range of human emotions and documenting our experience on this lonely little planet we call home. They’ve predicted the future time and time again, and they’ve cataloged the past for posterity.
I could go on about the merits of reading, but that’s not why you’re here. In fact, chances are that you no longer enjoy reading books, for one reason or another. This may simply be because you never enjoyed reading books to begin with. And that’s fine—not everyone has to like everything, right? However, if you used to like reading but can no longer get past the first chapter of a new book, there may be a few reasons why.
Table of Contents
When you force yourself to do something for the sake of impressing other people, you lose your intrinsic motivation to engage in that activity. It’s the same with reading, especially if your experience and feelings are shaped by how highly you value other people’s opinions of whatever you’re reading. Your eyes see the words but your mind is too busy thinking about the fact that you’re reading, and how erudite and sophisticated this must make you seem to the invisible audience in your room. You read classics not because you like to but because they’re on a list of great books that someone said you should read, and they always receive praise in your small circle of friends, or they’re rated highly in pretentious essays on Goodreads.
This isn’t to say that certain books aren’t worth reading or that other people’s book recommendations are worthless. Rather, you should understand why you’re really reading in the first place. If you read books to earn other people’s approval or to feel intelligent, rather than for the pure satisfaction of reading, then you’re going to make yourself miserable. And, naturally, you’re not going to enjoy reading books.
For example, do you ever miss the books you used to read in your childhood? Well, read them—there’s nothing stopping you other than your own ego. If you think you’re above reading a particular genre, or reading at a lower grade level than you know you’re capable of, then that may very well be part of the problem. Your younger self may have read books with innocent wonder, but life has forced you to grow up. And that’s killed your interest in reading for fun.
While we’re on this topic, I remember a particularly relevant experience I had during middle school. Somehow, I had innocently stumbled upon a Nicholas Sparks novel among the bookshelves of our language arts classroom, and I found myself actually enjoying the plot. I was completely unaware that it was a romance novel. My teacher caught me reading it one morning, and she remarked that it’s a little odd for a boy to be reading that type of book. I asked what she meant, and she clarified that Nicholas Sparks books are mainly intended for girls. Suddenly, I found myself feeling embarrassed and self-conscious. I had been enjoying the book up until that point, but now I was more concerned with finding a book that other people would approve of me reading, rather than simply reading what I was interested in.
Now, I won’t blow this experience out of proportion to suggest that it somehow warped my entire worldview or changed my feelings about reading. But I do think it’s a good example of how other people’s opinions can influence your interests and compel you to do things that you don’t want to. If you let other people tell you what you should be reading, then you may as well not read in the first place because you’ve already been robbed of the freedom to do what you want. Read for yourself, not for others.
Reading book reviews—or even a book’s synopsis—is something that people do without much thought. It’s an obvious first step when you’re selecting a book to read. Why wouldn’t you want to know what you’re getting yourself into? Who just picks up a random book and starts reading it without any context? What if it’s not worth your time?
However, this can actually make you impatient as you read. You’ve probably experienced this before: a book’s synopsis reveals a thrilling plot that piques your interest, but as soon as you start reading, you find yourself drowning in colorful prose about landscapes and people and little details that annoy you and only delay the satisfaction of getting to The Good Part.
But this is not an issue if you don’t read the synopsis of a book beforehand or if you ignore the book’s reviews. After all, how can you possibly be disappointed with a story’s pacing if you don’t know what to expect next? That’s even more exciting and makes for a true page-turner.
You should also ignore a book’s reviews until after you’ve read it yourself. Just because a book is rated an arbitrary three stars out of five doesn’t mean that this will be your perception of its quality. Reading book reviews is sure to bias your opinion of the writing, and you’ll find yourself consciously searching for the book’s flaws and merits as you read it rather enjoying the plot. Remember: Every single book has its fans and critics. Some critics fall into that group of people who read not for the joy of reading but just so they can write another essay and feel important. Don’t inherit their misery.
Try this: Visit a digital library like Open Library, pick out a random book from a category you like (or even just the Recently Returned section), and just start reading. If you like it, great! You’ve found something to pass the time for the next few weeks. Give the book some time before judging the pace of its narration or the substance of the plot. If you really don’t enjoy it, then don’t force yourself to read it—move on to something else.
I blame schools for this one, as well as the fact that we’ve sliced and diced our lives into a seven-day, 24-hour regimen consisting of mostly the same activities and routines.
Here’s the great thing about reading: You don’t have to do it at any particular time of day. In fact, you don’t have to do it in any particular place, either. And you definitely don’t have to read if you don’t feel up to it one day.
Got some unexpected free time? Instead of mindlessly checking your phone, pick up where you left off on your book, and then resume whatever it is that you were doing before after a short while. You’ll thank yourself later.
This isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t always read at a set time of day, but doing so can make reading seem less spontaneous and rewarding and more like a chore—yet another task to check off your endless to-do list so you can quickly move on to the next one. If that’s how you view reading, then you’re obviously not going to like it very much.
Similarly, I don’t recommend compiling a reading list and tracking your progress as you go. Some people find that this motivates them to read, but it’s the exact opposite for me. Besides, life is short enough as it is to be measured by the number of books you’ve read. Read when you have the time, if you have the energy, and only if you really want to. Force yourself to read, and you’ll hate it.
Yeah, I know, you’ve heard this one ad nauseam—we all have. But maybe that’s because it’s true.
With social media, we’re all a bit like those little lab mice—the ones that run up to the nicotine tube and suck it dry, ignoring basic needs like eating food and drinking water.
You know the feeling: You check Slack, Teams, or your email mere seconds after closing them; you scroll mindlessly through your social feed, and when you finally stop, you realize that you’ve already wasted precious minutes of your life for basically no gain. You crave those little red bell icons that tell you that You Have Mail, and you’re constantly worrying about how other people perceive your posts.
Reading isn’t like social media—it requires patience, creativity, and, most importantly, silence. It demands no commitment from you other than the ability and willingness to read one word after the other. There are no likes, karma, or followers—there’s just you, the book, and the author’s genius (or lack thereof). But it can be hard to force yourself to read books when there are so many sources of instant gratification. It’s hard to unplug and turn a page or two for leisure because this feels tedious in comparison to browsing social media.
If you enjoy reading, great! If you don’t, consider whether you check any of these boxes. If you’re reading for other people, or you care too much about what other people think of a book, or if you view reading as a chore, then you’re going to burn yourself out and hate reading. You should treat reading as one of the many, many ways that you can pass time. You shouldn’t ever read at the expense of doing something more important or worthwhile, but you also shouldn’t completely cut reading from your life just because of a few bad experiences.