When I realised that I was reading fewer than two novels on average per year (I wonder how much time I had dedicated to reading Facebook statuses?) I began to make a conscious effort to read more books.
I studied English at university, and was a bit of a bibliophile. But . . . so many buts.
I decided to force myself back into reading by making it part of my daily routine, in a couple of different ways.
I read at least one chapter every night before bed. One night on a whim I decided to light a candle because my lamp bulb had blown. After one evening of accidentally reading by candlelight, I was a convert! The lamp was given away, and a plain unscented candle and box of matches took its place. In addition to being extremely atmospheric, I noticed that the flickering light made it really easy for me to relax. I used to have trouble falling asleep when I got into bed – like many others, I was exposing myself to blue light from computer and phone screens way too close to bedtime. This kind of light suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin . . . so . . . in adopting a book-by-candlelight ritual, I have killed two birds with one stone!
I swapped Netflix for Audible. Although I like reading, I love being read to. As a child, my mom read aloud to my brother and I constantly. And I guess I became an addict. I loved being read to in school and university, and I’m still a sucker for talk radio. Let me be clear that I don’t have a problem with Netflix (I don’t think that books have more inherent value than film as a medium), but I have come to realise that when I “watch” stories, I don’t really focus, and I do so absent-mindedly. When I listen, I listen intently, and really engage with what’s going on. I also download free audiobooks from my library, and I’d recommend this to anyone (details below).
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, Read on my Kindle (£0 – free credit)
A nice read for winter. Burton’s debut about a young woman in 17th century Amsterdam was entertaining with some very nice passages, but not really that memorable.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Read on my Kindle (£4.99)
Oh. My. Word. So that’s what all the fuss is about. I read the whole book on the drive to the south of France earlier this year. I was so engrossed that I didn’t look up to speak to anyone else for the length of the journey. Finished it by the time we hit Tours, and spent the rest of the journey just sitting and contemplating. Wowza. Immediately looked for another Atwood book, which ended up being . . .
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, Borrowed from Chester Library (£0)
According to the Guardian, this novel is a “classic Atwood dystopia [which] morphs into a savage, surreal adventure that examines self-deception and corporate control”. A really, really entertaining read. Maybe not as dark as The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s a funny story with an important message.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, Read on my Kindle (£5.69)
I heard this episode of BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read on the way home from a gig one night and I was intrigued. The novel, which tells the story of a missionary family, the Prices, who in 1959 move from the U.S. state of Georgia to the village of Kilanga in the Belgian Congo, is colourful, emotive, and a compelling character study. Told from the perspective of its five main female characters, the book is 570 pages, long, but never drags. Apparently, Kingsolver wrote the entire book cover to cover five times over from the perspective of each woman, and then whittled it down to its present form.
First Love Last Rites by Ian McEwan, Borrowed from Chester Library (£0)
A collection of short stories written in the first person. Dark, perverse, grotesque, sexual, gritty, uncomfortable, intense, lyrical, brilliant.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang, Read on my Kindle (£5.31)
Surprising, refreshing, twisted, sensual, provocative, visceral.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Read on my Kindle (£4.29)
Clever prose, and an easy to read, linear story which follows the lives of two sisters living in France during WWII. A book about the horrible atrocities committed, and how strength, bravery, and humanity could still be found. A beautiful story, if not a little formulaic.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka, Bought at Oxfam (£0.20)
A comic tale of illegal immigration, inheritance, and family secrets. I’m not really sure if I spent much time contemplating the characters or themes of this novel, but it was funny. It did get a little repetitive halfway through. A nice summer read.
I’m currently reading Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil (Oxfam, £1.00), and the Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild (audible, £3.99 trial). Up next is The Paying Guests (Oxfam, £1.00).
I read my paperback in bed, and listen to my audiobook in the car when I’m driving or when I’m out walking.
So far this year I have spent £26.47 on books and audiobooks, which I think is pretty darn affordable for a year’s reading.
I’ve recently found a couple of fantastic second-hand bookstores, so I think I’ll be replacing my Kindle purchases with paperbacks. I’m reading and then returning to the shop, so as not to accumulate clutter. (Here’s a post on how I decluttered my library and stopped hoarding “trophy” books).
Another amazing resource for anyone who likes audiobooks is OneClick Digital. It’s an international online library of ebooks and audiobooks which you can access free of charge with your local library card (lots of libraries are signed up). And there’s a phone app so you can listen to audiobooks on the go. Did I mention that it’s completely FREE?
What are you reading? What are your suggestions for great Autumn reads? How about non-fiction? Or books on minimalism?
OneClick Digital – contact your local library or check out your library webpage to log into this service. You’ll need your library card on hand to register. You can also download the app for your phone/mobile device.
Cheshire Libraries: https://cheshirecounty.oneclickdigital.eu/
Related article: How I Decluttered My Library