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How to unstick your reading list

As I was getting to the end of the recent book, I was buying books at my usual pace but not reading them (as that brainspace was completely taken up with reading my own draft or references for the draft).

Now the book is in and the summer has started, I felt excited to dive into all these books but I also felt stuck. I couldn’t get into gear, let alone find my groove.

So I rummaged around in my toolbox, and came up with this list of techniques. None of them are perfect, but little by little we are turning the dial back to reading.

Here I’m talking about that wider reading—books and articles that are intellectually challenging and somewhat related to our research or work, but not necessary for our day-to-day writing or teaching. These books have no deadlines attached, but they are interesting and broadening and inspiring in our work. Maybe other people are talking about them or they were loaned to us by a friend. I’m sure you have a pile of them too!

While I’m currently thinking about work-related non-fiction and poetry, you might also use these strategies to get into reading books for fun, or to make progress through your research pile!

1. Move the book off the bookshelf and next to your reading sofa.

I hope you have a comfortable chair where you read. One of my most prolific reading friends has a chaise longue in her office/studio. My mother has a teetering pile on her bedside table. I have piles all over the house for various moods. Moving a book at the top of one of these piles makes it more likely I’ll read it (and changing up the piles regularly makes it more likely I’ll find the book I do want to read).

2. Set up an elaborate reading destination

Set up my garden chair with cushions, snacks, drinks, the perfect amount of sun and shade. Or run myself a bath with a candle, plenty of hydration, beautiful scents and my reading glasses. Sometimes I’ll take a book to the pool or the bathhouse. It’s elaborate, it’s a luxury, it’s a destination. It takes as long to set up as to be there. It’s not that I’ll get a lot of reading done here, but that a really stuck book will get started, or continued, or finished.

I’ve recently been travelling a lot for work, and aeroplanes and dining alone in restaurants are also excellent places for getting a book read.

A similar technique is to take a book I want to read to a library. Libraries are places for reading books, even if you haven’t borrowed the book from there. This is especially a technique I use for getting through difficult philosophy books.

3. Skip around in the book

Sometimes I can’t get started at the start, so I jump forward to a bit I am more interested in. After so much reading for duty, it’s helpful to remember that I can just read according to feelings, whims, or moods.

In the same way, I don’t always bother to finish books where I’ve got the gist and have had enough—it’s okay to be satisfied by just some of a book!

4. Have multiple books on the go

Currently I’m in the middle of a book of contemporary poetry, a book about Indigenous astronomy, and a book about Mexican vegetarian food. Having options makes it easier to find the book I’d like to read right now, which may not be what I wanted to read after breakfast or on the tram or after dinner.

5. Make sure you are rested

If my eyes are tired, my head is tired, and I’ve been reading too much—then I need to respect the resistance to reading as a signal that it’s time for a rest. For me, it’s usually about 2-4 weeks after a major project (like submitting a book) that I need to let my reading lie fallow. Because I recognise my pattern, I can tell when feeling ‘stuck’ is a sign to back off, and when I’m ready to read again but am just out of the habit and so I should work out how to break through.

6. Keep it moving

When I’m finding it hard to get unstuck, the most important strategy is dynamism. We are trying to overcome inertia, stuckness, the sticking point.

I know I love to read, so it’s just about getting over the hump, getting started. Eventually, I’ll have created a new groove where it’s easier to read than do anything else, where reading is frictionless as breathing air or drinking water. I’ll have other strategies when I’m in that space. But I’m not there now, so I need to move.

Reshuffle the book piles regularly, cycle through the strategies, drift around flicking through books, switch from paper to digital and back again, read for a few seconds, a few minutes, put the book back down, pick up something else this evening.

There is no habit, there is no routine yet, there is only the need to get a book open enough for my mind to spend some time inside and remember what it feels like to dive into a good read.

Lots of people lose their reading groove during semester, or while pursuing their PhD, or while dealing with mindfog, or as a result of the stress of the last few years. If that’s you, and you aren’t sure where to start, these tips might help you. (The major tips that other people recommend is audio books and reading aloud to another person, so try those too!)

If your festive season or summer break could be full of great reading, if only you could bring yourself to open the books and settle in—I hope this reflection inspired some strategies for getting your own reading unstuck!

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