Essay: How to keep up your reading momentum as the lockdown eases
With some people returning to the daily commute and others finding that working from home cuts into reading time, dedicated readers offer some ideasUpdated: Sep 25, 2020, 18:35 IST
A few times a week, you’ll find Tarun Durga (40), a design thinker with a management consultancy, sweeping his terrace. In the background, that’s not music keeping him entertained while he’s at it, but a book on Audible. Before lockdown, Audible books were his gym buddies.
Durga has been a compulsive reader since age nine when he discovered his dad’s stash of thrillers and novels by Ken Follett, Alistair MacLean and Louis L’Amour at his grandparents’ Lucknow home. His school’s “fantastic library”, which introduced him to science fiction, solidified his fascination and then 10 years ago, embracing technology super-charged things. “I got my first Kindle during my MA program in UK. Students from around the world introduced me to literature from Columbia, Brazil, Thailand, Lebanon... With space constraints gone, suddenly there was no limit to the number of books I could have. Kindle was a game changer. I went from reading 25 books a year to 80!”
With work, wife and kids, he still averages 50 books a year. How? By tagging reading to his routine. “Normally, I read while commuting, during lunch and always before sleeping. Also, long-distance travel – flying is the best time to read,” Durga says.
Books hadn’t enthralled Chandni Varia (29) until her early 20s, when she went to Russia in 2013 to study International Finance. “The initial six months felt like solitary confinement. Classmates neither greeted you nor reciprocated when you did; Russians take time to open up. Then one day, I picked up Tuesdays with Morrie, which I’d read in school, and got addicted. Written like memoirs, Mitch Albom’s books give you company and keep you motivated,” says Varia, who now works in recruiting and solutions for a consulting firm. In those early, lonely months, she read during class breaks, when she missed family or for a change from screen time. But once she’d made friends and juggling work with studies became hectic, like Durga, she too utilised commuting time to read on weekdays. The habit has served her well even after she returned to Mumbai, engaging her during train rides.
This ploy is so common among committed readers worldwide that Goodreads.com has a ‘Commute Reading Shelf’. Some years ago, Penguin tried cashing in on it by promoting ‘Subway Reads’ in New York and tying up with the not-for-profit venture Books on the Delhi Metro, in India.
Astronomy is what got aircraft service engineering manager Aadil Desai (55) interested in reading. “When our physics professors encouraged us to learn different things, I began following sky maps and even built myself a telescope to view stars and planets. As neighbourhood libraries didn’t have books on astronomy, I’d source them from our raddiwala or go to Nehru Science Centre,” he recalls. After college, erratic work shifts meant reading was possible only during free time at home. “I’ve never been strict about finishing a certain number of books. But as I developed more interests – aviation, travelling, arts, history, archaeology, and architecture – I continued reading to learn more about them,” says Desai, who maintains a consistent range of 10 to 15 books a year.
But as the world moves into an ever-evolving New Normal, it is becoming a challenge to find the time to read. With no commute or travelling, and meal times doubling up as family time thanks to WFH, Durga reads after putting his kids to sleep. For Varia, reading has become a ‘eekends-only affair with WFH entailing longer working hours.
So how do you find time to read? Often besides time-management, flexibility enables consistency – the key to establishing habits. Bestselling author, Stephen Guise, proposes just that in Elastic Habits. One aspect of elasticity is variety and the other, varying degrees of intensity. Over time, Durga and Aditi Podar (31), a CA-turned-fashion-entrepreneur-and-energy healer, have intuitively developed the habit of reading three books at any given point – usually one fiction, one non-fiction and one self-help or work-related. To double the fun, Durga says, “Like a book-based show on Netflix? Read the book too and vice versa.”
When it comes to intensity, instead of a fixed one-hour-per-day approach, readers might achieve more by setting goals: a mini goal (hypothetically, one page), a medium goal (five pages), and an ambitious goal (10+ pages). This ensures that on a busy or unmotivated day, you will still do the mini version, as one page isn’t daunting. On better days, you can always up the game. Consistency will probably be easier when your goals adapt to your lifestyle rather than the other way around.
Durga’s philosophy that “life’s too short to read a bad book” is worth thinking about too. Forcing yourself to read something that fails to engage you might result in lower motivation to read again versus moving on to a book you enjoy. Podar, for instance, rebelled whenever her mother pushed her to read the Childcraft series or encyclopaedias, but Enid Blyton’s Noddy unleashed the bookworm in her. And how! She’s used every trick to find reading-time. “In school, during boring periods I’d hide a novel in my textbook and read. The universe always gave me interesting books during exams, even CA finals! I’d take them to the loo, read while eating and incentivise myself – ‘Finish this chapter in 45 minutes and you can read for 15 minutes’.” Since entering the workforce, she always keeps a book handy to capitalise on unexpected spare time. Except for the brief adjustment-period after marriage, Podar’s been reading 70-80 books a year. Even motherhood and changing career paths, hasn’t made a dent. With reading only possible from “10pm-12.30am” during lockdown, she consciously keeps Sundays free of all work. “I get a good two-three hours and include reading in the fun things to do with my daughter.”
Reading has become integral to these lives because of the clear life-enriching benefits of the habit. While Varia feels it has made her confident, Desai believes it built his character. Durga, who methodically keeps a curiosity journal, uses his reading to feed into the problem-solving workshops that he conducts. As we veer into the newest normal, adopt some of these readers’ tips and tricks to stick with the habit you managed to cultivate during the early stages of the lockdown. But remember too that the secret to reading success involves making it a priority.
Pooja Bhula is an independent journalist based in Mumbai. She is the co-author of Intelligent Fanatics of India. She is @poojabhula on Twitter