When I was growing up I read non-stop. I received a lot of recognition and praise for what a voracious reader I was, which encouraged me. At Scholastic book fairs, I’d go out of my way to choose the books with award seals that were well-above my grade level. One of my proudest moments in fact, happened in elementary school when I was recognized by my third grade teacher, Mrs. Murphy, for having read 36 books over summer break. Basically, I was a huge dork.
Having children changed all that. It’s difficult to prioritize relaxing with a book when your only moments to yourself come when you’re in the bathroom to shower. Still, I can remember so many moments when I’d be rocking my daughters to sleep in those wee early weeks when I’d long for the escape of some headphones just to listen to music, or a podcast.. anything. A book would have been heaven! But my hangup was always needing to take the time to figure out all the technology: the apps to download in order to get the subscriptions to the podcasts, or the music-streaming service, etc.
So here we are now — I have a five and three-year old and I finally have it all down to a science. Here is how I read a LOT despite having a house full of kids.
- Utilize the Public Library
Probably the greatest hurdle for many is taking the time to learn how to use and sync up with many of the free digital resources offered by your local public library. For example, my public library utilizes Overdrive which allows me to borrow eBooks, audiobooks and videos from thousands of public libraries worldwide. We also have access to Hoopla which is a digital media service that allows you to borrow movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks, comics. You need a library card to access all of this of course. I won’t lie to you — this was a complete pain in the butt to learn. You have to be logged-in to Overdrive, then search your local library, then request the book, then download it, then “send it” to your respective device. Agh! It’s a lot of steps. However, once you take the time to get everything set-up, that’s it. Now my only struggle is remembering to regularly check my Holds so they don’t lapse (so I don’t miss my chance to take out a book everyone is waiting for) and remember to “Send book to Kindle” — and the correct Kindle, because I am on my second one now.
- Embrace Audiobooks
I dragged my feet for years over audiobooks because I’m the kind of reader who needs to not only read something, but savor it. I need to be able to reread, linger and pause over passages. Sometimes, I even need to jot a note. Still, the reason I love audiobooks is because they free me up so I can multitask. And I can move through books a lot faster and discover the ones that are worth tracking down in hard copy for a more leisurely and indulgently slow re-read.As much as I’d love to lounge around with all my books, the reality is that I have laundry to do, meals to prepare and endless messes to clean-up. If I want to keep books and my life in working order, some concessions need to be made and I’m OK with that.
I’m a huge fan of a productivity hack called “habit stacking” where you combine something you already do with something you want to do. I absolutely loathe doing dishes and laundry, but if I have an audiobook I’m dying to get back to, guess who is excited to do laundry? I also like to tie a few daily walks to my audiobook time which motivates me to move. Win-win.
Finally, I absolutely LOVE audiobooks because I read a lot of memoirs, biographies and non-fiction and love to hear narration by the author. I laughed out loud regularly as I listened to Tan France read Naturally Tan. Ali Wong’s Dear Girls was another one I was so glad to have listened to for her impeccable, hysterical delivery.
- Use a Kindle
I LOVE the feel of a book in my hands. I do. I fully appreciate people who are die-hard “book-only” people. But here’s the thing: Regularly securing a hard copy BOOK is a hurdle for me. For a lot of us I think. A trip into a bookstore by myself is a vacation once you’re a mother, but making a regular habit of getting to the local bookstore just isn’t in the cards for me.Plus, buying books is an expensive habit and, since they’re usually short-lived commodities, a bit of a waste of money. I love to pass a good book on to a friend, but as I’ve gotten older and really assessed how I live and spend money, I’ve recognized that surrounding myself with books that aren’t tried-and-true favorites that I’ll regularly pick-up and reference or read through just isn’t how I choose to live anymore. There isn’t a book out there that I couldn’t get my hands on fairly easily if I wanted it, so I opt to borrow e-books from the library and send them directly to my Kindle.
I cannot recommend a dedicated e-reader enough. Years ago I had an early edition Kindle Fire. It was bulky, heavy, and I didn’t use it much because I never connected it to my library using Overdrive. In the last year however, I’d been reading a lot on my kids’ Kindle Fire HD, which is color and has Internet access (and dangerous, time-sucking apps like Pinterest and Netflix.) Because of how frequently I’d go to read and find myself surfing the web, for a recent birthday, I told my husband I’d love a dedicated e-reader and haven’t looked back.
I’ll admit that initially I hated that the Paperwhite was black and white, but now, seven or eight books in, I don’t miss the color at all. It’s very light to hold, has a matte screen, and although I can’t surf the web, is integrated with Goodreads which I absolutely love. After I finish a book, I immediately go to Goodreads to connect with other readers who’ve finished it so see what they thought and took away. It has added so much to my experience as a reader.
Another features I didn’t anticipate using as much is the notes feature. My Paperwhite has an integration with Goodreads that allows me to export my notes to Goodreads which I find really handy since I use the site often to reference my reading list. I’ve never been one to highlight fiction books, but as I was reading “Circe” by Madeline Miller recently, I found so many passages that I wanted to reference later. Using my Paperwhite, I was able to easily highlight and “Note” whatever I wanted and easily share them to Goodreads before I returned the book to my library. Easy!
- Keep a Running List of Book Recommendations
The worst time to poll friends and family for book recommendations is just before you need a good book. Inevitably, you won’t have time to vet the recommendations and will have to rush to find it/order it/pick it up in the store. Then you’ll end up on vacation with a sub-par book or scrounging around your beach rental shelves for the cast-offs other people have left behind. When I love a book, I either keep it to read again or pass it along to a friend with similar taste who will appreciate it. I have yet to discover my new favorite author sitting on the shelf at a vacation rental. As such, I make a point to regularly ask friends and family what they’re reading and add titles to a Note on my iPhone. I also pay attention to a section on my library website called “What’s Being Checked out Now.” You would be amazed at how effective crowdsourcing great recommendations from complete strangers can be! I discovered three of my favorite reads of 2020 this way.
- Use Goodreads to Vet Recommendations
Thanks to my regular collection of book recommendations, I spend a few minutes a couple times a month on GoodReads, skimming through book reviews for authors I like, books that have been recommended to me, new reads I’m interested in and whatever is generating a lot of buzz. GoodReads users are READERS so I trust the reviews there.
- Regularly Place Books on Hold
Once you have a handle on Overdrive and Hoopla, regularly logging in to request books is a fantastic system to ensure you always have a book on hand. I’m not particular about timing books to read in any particular order either and find that throwing myself on wait lists adds a layer of variety to my reading that might not otherwise occur if I had a stack of books on my “To Read” shelf.A great tip I picked up from a fellow reader is to just search whatever has the most holds and throw a hold on it. Yes, this list often reads like the current Best Seller’s list, but I used this trick recently and discovered a book from that was popular a few years ago that people were still requesting and wouldn’t you know it, it was probably my favorite book read this year.
- Subscribe to Audible
I was slow to adopt Audible, the membership streaming service that allows you to stream audio books using a credit system. I only recently became a convert when the hold time for a book I desperately wanted was too long through my local library and the price to purchase the e-book was too expensive on Amazon. Enter Audible. For $15/month, I can spend two “credits.” Considering that many books cost $15-20 each, for books I am fairly certain I will want to listen to and reference regularly, I consider this worthwhile. Some of my favorite purchases to date are Robert Iger’s “The Ride of a Lifetime” and James Clear’s “Atomic Habits.”
- Use Wireless Earbuds
All I can say is that these are LIFE CHANGING. This is embarrassing, but as someone who regularly scratches even the cheapest sunglasses and overthinks purchases over $50, I didn’t think they were in my realm of “needs.” I also only thought Apple made them and I wasn’t about to throw down for something I’d probably lose in a day while I was still getting used to this whole new “lighting port” business — which has been around for what, years now? Ahem. I am what is known as a late adopter, by the way. Technology is not my forte. Anyways. These have been a game changer. Gone are the headaches of not knowing where my headphone are. Of detangling them. Of my kids noticing, “mom, are you listening to me? Why do you have those headphones in.” Now I can breeze through the house in my own world of literary bliss while they play, completely oblivious to my ears. I can fold laundry, put away all the toys they drag out, straighten up, open mail… it’s a whole new world. I can’t explain how freeing it is to be unencumbered by headphone cords. It is bliss.
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So that is how I make the most of my “reading” time these days. If I had to sum up my strategies, I think they are a combination of strategic preparedness and recognizing what I can control. I love to read. That’s never going to change. How I consume books looks different than it used to, but I’m a busy mom with a lot on my plate and thanks to these tips, I fit reading into pockets throughout my day, which is important to me. I always say, if it’s important, you find time for it and these strategies are how I make time to read.