Top Ten Tips For Making Yourself a Better Reader

by Lee Cross

I hear all the time, “I wish I read more,” perhaps you’ve said those very words yourself. Well if you’re serious, if you REALLY do want to get into reading, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up over twenty years as a prolific reader:


1 – Find the right book

Simple, right? Well so you’d think, but too many people get caught up trying to read books they feel they should read.

I get that, I totally do. Catch-22, 1984, Trainspotting, LOTR, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Master and Margarita… some of the greatest books ever written, and all works of fiction that I personally think should be taught in school (I’m not touching non-fiction FYI, that’s a whole other slice of fish), but none of them are good places to start reading.

If you are trying to get into reading, start with books you want to read.

I’m serious, be it 50 Shades of the Da Vinci Code or The Hunt for the Patriot Games… or the trashiest, junk filled, teen fantasy, vampire romance novel you can find – be true to yourself, and start at the beginning.

This is the first and most important tip I can offer; trust me, there is a book out there for everyone. I blogged about my friend Philly before, who spent most of his adult life not reading much further than the words “Jack” and “Daniels” but Enders Game was the book for him.

For me it was Matilda by Roald Dahl (even when I was little I dreamed of running away, and finding my Miss Honey), for you it could be….


2 – Tell your friends you are reading (or reading more)
Create social pressure on yourself to keep reading

Out loud and proud, let the world know, tell everyone you think that will listen.

The three most common responses:

Wow! That’s great! [a normal person]

Wow, that’s great! What are you reading? [a casual / occasional reader]

What are you reading? [a bookworm]

Create social pressure on yourself to keep reading.

The Telly Addict will expect you to fail (stuff them), the occasional reader hopes you’ll succeed, and the bookworm is only truly interested in what you are reading – still, all three groups will make a point of asking you how the book is going, which in turn will keep you reading, just to make sure you have a story to tell if nothing else.


3 – Don’t use a bookmark – turn the page corners
Record your progress

“Blasphemy!” I hear you cry and, yeah, I feel that way too, but I’m a 1000+ books down the path.

When I started out though, I’d always turn the page corners. It was a great way of measuring my progress, looking at those indentations on the closed book, to see how much I read at such and such a time; and provided encouragement as I begun to understand my ability to read, with prolonged focus, was noticeably increasing.

[It’s a side issue but nowadays I get the sexiest feeling from looking at a basically unmarked book on my shelves, and knowing that I read it in one sitting]


4 – Don’t be afraid to rough up your books
Books are always beautiful, but not because they may look beautiful

They’re vessels ultimately, not bloody ornaments; turn the corners, break the spines, squeeze them into your pockets, carry them around with you anywhere and everywhere…

You should see my copy of Plato’s Symposium; it’s held together by tape, its stained from a cocktail I spilt on it years ago while I was bartending (it was a quiet bar, and I had reading to do), and covered in my own notes – have any of those things in any way diminished the book, or it’s value and worth?


5 – Schedule time for reading
Plan to read (and stick to it)

Telly-Addicts, Facebookers, Twitterpotamus’s (I just made that up, but I’m sure it must be a thing), you can’t just be a reader in the modern world; you have to make time for it.

It doesn’t have to be much (say 45mins to 1hour), it doesn’t have to be daily (every couple of days is fine) but you do have to do it – set aside a little time every second-day to read, and maybe double that on days when you’re not gainfully employed.

Pick a specific time too; there’s no sense in trying to compete with the television schedule, audio-visual stimulation is addictive, you’ll only pine without it (until you break the addiction of course).


6 – Pace Yourself
Don’t rush, read the words in your own good time

Some people can read 50 pages, or more, in an hour… so what? (In the interests of disclosure, I boast about this too… it’s a bit of dick thing to do, but see tip-two, “loud and proud” – always).

Don’t trouble yourself with how quickly you read, “I’m a slow reader”, I hear a lot. No, you are not, “you are a reader”, read the book, understand it, enjoy it, FINISH IT… And, boom, you’re in the club too.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes you, and it will never matter – one page/chapter/book at a time.


7 – Short Chapters
Develop your ‘how-to-read-it side’ organically (would you jump in the deep end before you learned how to swim?)

Books with short, vastly numerous chapters, are easier to read – simple as – and they’re what you need to seek out initially, if you want to improve your ability (see also, increase your desire) to read.

The reasons are equally simple, there’s plenty of breaks in the story. You can step in and step out whenever you like; it’s a lot easier to start at the head of new chapter, than it is in the middle of the mix; and everything is more defined.

Books like Gravity’s Rainbow or Jerusalem, are incredible pieces of writing but are on the verge of being totally inaccessible (I’m no novice reader, and both those books took me more than 100hrs to read), mostly because of their spiralling and vast chapters.


8 – Stick to one genre (*at first)
Don’t just understand what you like, come to understand why you like it

Fantasy, Horror, Crime, Teen, Magical Realism, Translated, Romance, Sci-Fi, Classic… many, many, other genres.

Tip one was pick the right book; well you need to keep picking the right book as you expand your reading into the unknown, and the best way to do it is by sticking to the one genre at first.

It doesn’t matter which one you happen to like, develop your understanding of that particular style before expanding into reading something new and, however subtly, quite different. It’s the best way I know of coming to understand story structure and the how, or why, a plot develops as it does.

Once you have that understanding, step outside your comfort zone and try something new… as you really get into reading, you’ll come to understand the differences, and have a better appreciation of what you enjoy, which will help you pick even better books in the future.


9 – Read actual books, and not off digital devices
One book at a time

“Heard this one before Lee, reading E-Books goes against the spirit of reading”, well possibly, who knows (who cares?), but that’s not what I’m not getting at.

My point is choice. People tend to download multiple books at the same time, especially when they are trying to get into reading.

It makes sense; they’re easy to download, it’s cost effective to do so, you can keep your whole library mobile, and they don’t take up any space at all – But having too many books to read can be a real hindrance to actually getting a book read.

If you’re trying to get into a particular book and you’re having trouble getting over that hump into ‘the middle’, the last thing you need is a literal button to push, that will make one book disappear, to be replaced by another.


10 – Fall in love with reading
Never get tired of reading “page-1”

Reading is an acquired skill, we weren’t born with the ability or desire to do it. Learning to love reading is the final step of the journey to becoming a true bookworm, and it’s a step fewer and fewer people take – probably because it’s hard and takes dedication.

Well I speak as someone who does love, book after book, year after year – and like all the best love stories, it’s a journey filled with obstacles and low points but ultimately, it’s always worth it.


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