Before she was 19, Shelby Zang didn't consider herself a reader. "You could not catch me reading a book," Zang tells TODAY.com.
Then, during a gap year between high school and college, she started reading books she genuinely liked — and now she's able to go through eight books in a week (yes, really). On her online book group, Zang, 23, sees many other readers go through a similar transition.
All of this is to say: It's never too late to build a reading habit or start to read more books. But the question, for many, is: How?
Between professional and personal obligations and the distractions of modern life (see: that endless list of shows to watch), making time for books seems daunting, if it's not something you do already.
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To answer that ever-pressing question, we spoke to authors, bookstagrammers and TODAY's Book Lover in Chief, Jenna Bush Hager herself, for tips. Follow them, and you might be reading more books in a month and year than ever before. Maybe even in a day.
As you read more, you can also follow along with Read With Jenna’s Streaking With Jenna, a 2023 initiative inviting readers to keep a reading streak going throughout the year.
Streaking With Jenna was designed with habit-forming in mind. Connecticut-based psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff says tracking a streak, or a continues chain of repeating a task daily, is an effective tool for habit forming. "Growing a streak inherently increases your motivation," Schiff says, in addition to giving a mood boost, honing skills and building confidence. “You see that you have committed to something and accomplished it — no matter how trivial.”
As for making time for that reading streak? Read on for tips.
Set a reading timer
Liz Daly, an English teacher and creator of The Lit Lady blog, often finds she has to help her first-year high-schoolers build up their "reading muscles" to get through longer novels. Her go-to method starts with a timer.
"Set a reading timer for five minutes per day. Read anything, but it has to be on paper," she says. After the first week, move up to ten minutes a day.
Combine your habits
Think about the parts of your routine that are now automatic. Then, consider how you can link those up with a new habit, New York-based psychologist Peggy Loo recommends.
"Do you always make coffee first thing in the morning? Try having a book on the counter and maybe read a few pages while sipping your coffee. Always have to wait on the same train platform to transfer? Maybe a great time to read a page," she says.
Similarly, life coach Erika Diamond encourages you to survey what automatic habits you might not love (see: doomscrolling). Consider replacing those with reading.
Know your 'why'
As you embark on a new reading routine, mindfulness coach Kate Greenslade recommends asking yourself why. Your answer will help motivate you on harder days.
"Identify what it is you want to form a habit of — in this case reading more — and then identify why you want to do this. Understanding the reasons behind why you want to read more will help motivate you to keep going when you don’t feel like it," she says.
Keep yourself entertained
Zang says her on-ramp to reading was the revelation that reading could be fun.
"A lot of people who don't read or want to read see reading as something that needs to be intellectually stimulating — and it doesn't," Zang says.
Zang recommends taking the page-turner route when you're starting out. “You need something that’s going to be entertainment — the reading equivalent of watching TV," she says.
Of course, lofty literary fiction or engrossing nonfiction is worth reading. But it’s worth finding the niches that get you excited, at least to get into the habit. "You almost have to develop a reading stamina (for those)," Zang says. "Then, you can just keep reading."
Be an active reader
It's tempting to let the plot carry you down a winding path, especially if you're reading a page-turner. But there's also merit to be found in slowing down and taking in what you're reading, English teacher Liz Daly says.
Daly is a proponent of active reading, or paying close attention to the sentences and ideas in the book. "Read with a pen in hand, so you can mark down question you have, sentences you like or stray thoughts. Highlight, underline, question/comment in the margins. This keeps the mind engaged," she says.
Give it 100 pages
Books are not long-term commitments (most of the time). When in doubt, give a book a chance. Jenna's rule of thumb is to try 100 pages, then assess whether she wants to keep going.
Booktoker Zang calls the beginning of the book the "beginning borings." She challenges herself to make it through until she feels invested — or she doesn't.
Don't be afraid to stop reading a book
After giving the book a chance, Jenna evaluates where she stands. "If you don't like it after 100 pages, quit. You don't have to read it. This is not Mrs. Sands English class. If you don't like it after 100 pages, move on to something else, unless it's something that you feel like you have to read," Jenna says.
Have a running list of books to read next
After you put a book down — whether it was designated as "did not finish" or solid five out of five — consider what book you're turning to next. For author Emma Straub, the question of what to read next is one of reading's great joys.
“I love that moment, when I finish a book and realize it’s time to choose the next one. Your next adventure. To me, it feels like going to going figuring out what kind of food you want to eat for dinner. It's not always the same — it depends what mood you're in," the author of "This Must Be the Place" says. She frequently shifts between genres, going from a romance to a short story collection to a memoir.
If you find yourself stalling, though, with all the choices, start keeping a running list of books to read based on recommendations from booksellers; people you trust; publications and more.
Find a bookish community
Zang started an online book club as she was building her own reading habit. Now, she considers the othe people in her book club — hosted on the social media platform Geneva — her "accountability partners," and says many other members are trying to get back into reading.
"Get yourself around people who who are trying to do the same thing," she says.
This may take the form of an in-person book club, an online community like Zang's, the bookish corners of TikTok, Instagram and other social media platforms or a simple running conversation with the readers in your life.
Keep books around you
Jenna says she never leaves the house without a book in her handbag, often reaching for the book in life's in-between moments. Straub, similarly, always has a toppling night stand.
"If you have a stack of books next to your bed, you're gonna you're more likely to pick them out," she says. "Wherever you're going wherever you're hanging out, there should be books there."
Put your phone away
For Jenna, her phone and its endless pinging are among her top obstacles to reading. So, she created a solution. "I have a room where there's no technology allowed. It's a new room. I just take books there, put my phone away and read," she says.
Similarly, author Jamie Ford only allows himself to go on social media for certain hours, devoting the rest of his free time to reading and writing.
Switch up the format of books
There's more than one way to read a book. You can read a physical book, listen to an audiobook or peruse on an ebook.
Straub says she's always juggling between forms, balancing an audiobook with a physical book. Zang, on the other hand, often listens to an audiobook at the start of a book, then switches to a print copy.
Or, you can read and listen at the same time. "Many times I suggest listening to the audiobook while reading the physical book. This actually helps build two muscles — reading and listening. Today’s audiobooks are read by really talented narrators, and sometimes that can mimic what we enjoy about watching TV or listening to music," Daly says.
See which medium works best for your routine. Would you rather read one book on your Kindle when you're on the go and another before bed? Save your mysteries for audiobooks? Experiment.
Consistency is key, mindfulness coach Kate Greenslade says. But consistency doesn't have to come with a huge time commitment.
"Commit to just five minutes. This helps to kickstart the challenge and will often lead to doing it for longer," she says.
Psychologist Loo echoes her advice, recommending setting "small, realistic goals." One day at a time.