Creating a life worth living, Reading, Self Care

2019 Reading

My goal for 2019 was to read 40 books; a modest sum for an avid reader, but probably far more than the vast majority of the population! I’ve always devoured books and as a child would permanently have a novel glued to my hand, propped open in front of me as I ate breakfast or curled up in a chair, my mind in a faraway place. For most of my adult life there’s been a book taking up residency in my handbag – for which reason I’ve never been a fan of the slimline clutch – and then a whole-hearted embracing of the Kindle, and now the Kindle app on my iPad mini, as it enables me to carry an entire library wherever I go. Yet at some point the novels were switched out for non-fiction and the urge to educate myself further about a variety of topics; autism, home education, entrepreneurship, self improvement. Reading became a stick to beat myself with rather than a pleasure. No wonder that my ability to read tailed off during the stress of the divorce and abuse; I found I just wasn’t capable of taking in and retaining the information, having to repeatedly turn back and re-read the page I’d just read as I couldn’t remember any of it. Then one day I found a Jenny Colgan novel in a charity shop and remembered laughing out loud at her debut novel years before… that book proved to be the perfect, gentle re-introduction into reading purely for pleasure once again. Three years on, the book count has been creeping upwards, this time a blend of fiction and non-fiction – and that goal of 40 books has been smashed according to my Goodreads account, with 58 books read at the time of writing this (and a new goal of 60 in the final few days of the year.) And if one of your resolutions next year is to read more, scroll down for tips on how to achieve it.

Out of that list of not-quite 60, these have stood out as my favourites;

Sarah Wilson – first we make the beast beautiful

An unusual book that describes the author’s experiences of living with high anxiety and her attempts to reframe it. A must-read if you or a loved one suffer from anxiety. Some readers were put off by its unusual style, there are full chapters and then short random bursts, but as my brain works that way, it was fine by me.

Raynor Winn – The Salt Path

A memoir written as a journey, the heartbreaking account of how Winn and her husband lost their beloved home (her account of the nastiness and unfairness of the British court system was achingly accurate and familiar), received a devastating diagnosis and then set out to walk the South West Coastal path to find purpose and healing, becoming hikers rather than homeless. This won awards and was shortlisted for several others and it’s not hard to see why, it’s beautifully written and moving without ever becoming bitter or sentimental.

Margaret Atwood – The Testaments

I read The Handmaid’s Tale as a student in the 90s, when its nightmarish dystopian future still seemed to be fiction, I then studied the film adaptation starring Natasha Redgrave as part of my University dissertation. The current TV adaptation is one of my few must watch programmes, while women’s rights in the US are undermined and reversed by a Far Right Regime that seems to inch closer to the Atwood’s fictional Gilead on a daily basis. To underscore this, Atwood made sure that everything in her original novel referenced events that had actually happened at some point in history. Wanting to read it before any spoilers emerged, I bought this on the day it was released and devoured the whole thing before the day was over. I was not disappointed, although it took me a few chapters to realise that there were several narrators… and then get very excited when I worked out who those narrators were…

Janet Fitch – White Oleander

This one’s been around for a long time now, both as a novel and as a copy of that novel lurking on my bookshelves but I finally got around to reading it this year, taking it on holiday where Lily began reading it as soon as I’d finished it (Lily doesn’t generally read novels so this is a big endorsement!) I remember Oprah raving about it on her book club years ago, and it lives up to the hype, a twisted coming of age, mother-daughter story as a young girl is left navigating a life in social care. Gripping.

Sarah Vallance – Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain

Another memoir, and one relating to brain/mind health as well as Sarah Wilson’s, surprising as I wouldn’t have said that was a topic I’d be searching for! I can’t remember how I came across this (perhaps as it’s free to read on Kindle Unlimited?) but I was glad I did. It details her life following a traumatic brain injury after falling from a horse (for the love of god if you knock your head, get to a hospital fast to be checked over as brain injuries can occur without any initial symptoms, only later showing up as they worsen and the damage is already done.) The very act of her going on to write this book took huge strength and resilience, the fact that the book is so good proves her talent and how hard she has fought to recover. It gave me a much better understanding about brain injury and the devastating impact it can have – and yet the tone isn’t at all self-pitying or grim. After reading this you will likely want to wear a crash helmet at all times to protect your most precious asset, or perhaps that’s just me.

  • Keep a book by your bedside, preferably an easy read for bedtime. Go to bed ten minutes early and read.
  • Read for a few minutes in the morning from a book that will inspire you for the day ahead (or your bedtime novel!) Create a small window of time for reading before you get out of bed, you can literally bookend your day.
  • There’s always the book in the bathroom option.
  • Breakfast is a good opportunity to prop a book open, as is lunch. Dinner books are generally reserved for the most serious of reading addicts.
  • Keep a book or e-reader in your bag, wherever you go. Choose this in preference to the magazines at the doctors, dentists etc. I fit in a lot of reading time while waiting for appointments for the kids.
  • Audio books totally count – play one while driving, at the gym or while doing chores. I got through two books while painting the bathroom earlier this year. Consider getting an Audible subscription, particularly if you do a lot of driving, or look for free audio books on YouTube if you’re on a tight budget.
  • Limit your time on social media and choose to read instead.
  • Turn the TV off and open a book. I frequently read while the kids are watching TV, the background noise doesn’t bother me.
  • Set yourself a reading target on Goodreads, and promise yourself a reward if you reach it. You can join up with friends for their annual reading challenge.
  • Keep a record of the books you’ve read, either in your journal, a reading log, or on Goodreads. Goodreads will also give you recommendations once you’ve finished a book.
  • Be choosy about what you read, especially if you’re trying to build up your habit. Now is not the time for War and Peace. If you hate a book, don’t plod on until the bitter end – put it down and choose another one. Pick books that you know you’re going to enjoy and you’ll end up reading them a lot more quickly!
  • Not every book has to be an Important Read – sometimes your brain needs a chicklit, trashy romance or grisly murder.
  • Spend more time in bookshops and libraries, especially with your kids. Get inspired, browse different sections, pick up their recommended choices to find authors similar to your favourites, or totally new styles and themes. Try to support your local bookseller, especially if they’re independent.
  • An obvious one but get a library ticket. You can also use their search facility to order books you liked the look of in the bookshop but can’t afford…
  • Choose a classic to read to the children – this often works better if it’s done separately from bedtime reading, as kids tend to have particular favourites they want to hear at bedtime. We spent months reading The Hobbit when the kids were younger and they loved it.
  • Set yourself the challenge of reading the books you already own before buying new ones.
  • Join a book group, or create a book circle with friends, where you swap and discuss favourite reads; you don’t necessarily all have to read the same book at once, but can keep swapping around until you’ve all read them.
  • Use a habit tracker and then mark off each day that you manage to spend time reading – this is a surprisingly easy and effective way of motivating yourself.
  • Declutter your bookshelves, getting rid of anything you know you’re not going to read or unlikely to read again. This will make it easier to see and reach for old favourites, as well as making space for new reads. You could even make money by selling your old books to one of the book-buying websites/apps such as WeBuyBooks.co.uk
  • Enjoying a book is far more important than racing through it to reach your target – take your time and relish it.
  • It might be worth trialling a Kindle Unlimited subscription if you’re determined to up your reading game as it will give you access to thousands of free titles for £7.99 a month. Prime members have access to the more limited Prime Reading scheme and at least one free title a month.
  • Would you enjoy specialising in a particular genre, author or era? Consider dedicating a whole year or several months working your way through a specific type of book/theme/genre/culture eg Russian novels, Agatha Christie, Victorian era (either written in Victorian times, or set in that epoch.)
  • Choose a book for each month and you’ll have read at least 12 by this time next year.
  • Ask friends and family to buy you a copy of their favourite book for your birthday and to inscribe it with a greeting and their reason for choosing it.
  • Is there a particular time of day that’s perfect for 10 or more minutes of reading? Set an alarm on your phone to remind you.
  • Go on a reading date, taking your book to a local cafe. Go by yourself if you’re craving me-time, or take the kids if you’re trying to encourage them to read (this might be nice to do one-on-one, taking turns between the children.) You could even do this as a gentle date with your partner, or with a friend who also wants to read more, agreeing on how much time you’ll spend reading vs chatting. Book + coffee + cake = heaven!