Chimamanda Adichie has written 3 novels, none of which you’ve read. Her name comes up over cocktails and you find yourself smiling like a sheep and nodding.
You want to read novels. God knows you’ve tried. But the moment you settle down in that comfy chair in the living room and try reading…it starts with your mind wandering. Then the obsession with your phone. Before long, you are deep in sleep.
I feel for you, but really you have no excuse. I wish I could tell you that it’s okay to live a life without novels. Reading novels is like sex. You can choose to live without it, but you’ll not be doing yourself any favors.
Here are 7 tips to make reading novels fun.
1. Skip: You do not have to read every word in a novel. Tell me, why does it take one author four pages to describe a window and another author just 3 sentences? Clearly, there’s no rule for how much an author can write. So there shouldn’t be a rule for how much you read. Don’t waste time being bored with lengthy description, battle scenes, philosophical reflections, or historical back-story. At times, a novelist will include lengthy songs or poems in a novel. They’re also okay to skip.
2. Bite: When I was 17, I spent 3 days in bed reading George Elliot’s Middlemarch. Okay, those days are pretty much over. We don’t have access to time in long stretches like we used to. “Free time” comes in small fragments. So snatch little chunks of novel-time here and there when you’re on the bus, before you go to bed, when you wake up in the morning, or while waiting at the doctor’s office.
3. Love at 100th sight: I consider myself a die-hard novel lover. But very few novels have held my attention in the first 20 pages. With most novels, be prepared for a period of courtship. Give yourself and the novel time to figure out whether you are good together. It’s up to you to decide how long to wait for a novel to charm you—20 pages, 100 pages. But be generous. Give the novel enough time to prove that it deserves your attention.
4. Till Death…: That’s a no! It’s okay to abandon a novel. Except it’s for a class, never read a novel just to finish it. If after staying with a novel things do not seem to be working, feel free to let it go. There are way too many novels in the world for you to feel bound to read a particular one. Find novels you love. Don’t feel beholden to must-read lists.
5. Wait: Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting for a novel to find you. I’m forever thankful that I waited till I was in my 30s to read Bridget Jones Diary. So much of what makes the novel beautiful—the idea that 30s is an awkward phase for women—would have passed right over my head if I had read it earlier. Of course, I’m not saying that only women in their 30s can enjoy BJD. I am simply pointing out the danger of forcing a book on yourself instead of waiting for the book to recommend itself to you.
6. Choose Your Device: I still crave paper comforts—the smell, texture, and weight of a book, but that’s me. Try out different formats and devices—laptop, phone, tablet, kindle— to see which one works for you. Paper or screen, it’s the same story.
7. Cheat: Reading more than one book at a time is allowed. Right this moment, I’m reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and rereading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Why? Because novels are sometimes tied to my moods. The Bell Jar is for resetting my nerves after hours of laboring in the prison-house of dissertation writing. Esther’s naive and childlike voice is soothing. Tolstoy’s massive tome lets me lose myself in an extended soap-opera-ish tale of war and romance. I read him when I wake up. It has a caffeinating influence.