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Nine Tips That Will Help You Catch Up on Your Reading List

We asked authors and librarians for their speed-reading secrets.

woman outside reading
Photography by: Getty

Reading provides a great creative outlet for our minds. Not only do we learn new words and profound knowledge, it provides entertainment by engaging our brains in a different way than radio or television. And we have so many options for reading now. From audio and e-books to the traditional hardcover variety, we can find time to read in a variety of contexts. That said, we don't always have the leisurely hours to curl up with a book. To get good ideas for catching up on a reading list, we went to the experts: authors and librarians—after all, they live and breathe books. Even so, many of them say they have a hard time catching up on their own reading lists.

 

That's exactly the case for children's book author Angela DiTerlizzi. "Most of my list consists of research, recommendations, and works by fellow authors—many of which can be read in an afternoon," she says. "So, you would think that would make things easier, but even for me, the idea of reading for pleasure can often feel farfetched." She finds time to read whenever she gets a chance, whether it is relaxing after a long day or listening to an audiobook after reading with her 11-year-old daughter. Catching up on your reading list isn't impossible; check out these tips for a few ideas so that you can find time for the books you've been meaning to dive into.

 

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Read on Your Work Commute

Do you have a long commute to get to work? If you're taking the train or bus, bring a book along. "I always, always have a book with me. In New York there is a lot of hidden reading time, in lines, waiting for the train," says Lynn Lobash, the Associate Director of Readers Services for the New York Public Library. "I have a good 40-minute commute each day so I don't spend that time on my phone." Lobash reads books for an American Library Association Committee called Notable Books, which means committing time to reading as many as possible to compile a reading list every year. And for Maggie Craig, senior librarian at NYPL's Hamilton Grange branch, finding time to read on her work commute is one of the best ways to catch up on her list: "My commute is long, but zoning out with a book makes the time fly by. I look forward to that buffer of reading time before and after my workdays."

 

Read During Your Breaks

Do you get time off during the summer or take a few vacations throughout the year? You can block time to catch up on your reading list. Mary Quade, writer and associate professor of English at Hiram College, does just that. "During the school year, I do a lot of reading for the courses I teach, and I'm a terribly slow reader, so I tend to do most of my reading for fun on breaks," she says. "I've come to terms with the fact that I won't read every book out there in the world that I could possibly love. But I also will put down a book if I don't connect with it, because there are other books to read that could be wonderful." And if you don't take long vacations, you can squeeze in a book or two on the few three or four-day weekends we get a year.

 

Tidy Up Your Reading List

As much as we want to read every book that we come across, it's okay if we have to put one down or skip it altogether. "I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and am trying to only keep things in my life that spark joy. This goes for my book list as well. My reading stalls when there is guilt about the important books I 'should' be reading," says Nina Maness, adult librarian for NYPL's Parkchester Library. "By removing the 'should reads,' I read so much more because my list excites me. Often books I've taken off my reading list come back into my life months or even years later when I'm actually ready for them." So, take time to go through your list and see which books can be skipped, if necessary. It's okay to not read everything that is out there, and there is no predetermined time frame for reading particular books.

 

Organize Your Reading Queue

Once you have tidied up your reading list, how should you go through the queue of books that you still want to read? You can try organizing them like Stephanie Anderson, selection assistant director of BookOps at the NYPL and Brooklyn Public Library. "At home, I have three different TBR (to be read) shelves: at bat, on deck, and in the hole. Anything I hope to read in the next month or so is at bat, things I'd like to read eventually are on deck, and things I haven't read but will read someday are in the hole," she explains. "I'm always moving books back and forth between these shelves, and am forever bringing more books home. I know that would be stressful for some, but I find it very satisfying!" This method may work for you, too.

 

Vary Your Book Formats

Carrying around a paper book at all times may not be convenient for you. Author, editor, and playwright Briana Morgan gets through her reading list by having books available in more than one way. "One thing I try to do is have two books going at once; one on my Kindle and one audiobook on my phone," she says. "Consuming the two different formats helps keep the books separate in my mind while still helping me work toward my goal to read more books." With an audiobook, you can read books on your daily jogs or work commutes. Catch up on reading at the gym. There are so many possibilities when you vary your book formats.

 

Related: HOW TO READ MORE (AND GET KIDS READING, TOO)

 

Take Notes in Your Books

For Grace Yamada, senior young adult librarian for NYPL's Mulberry Street branch, taking notes helps her to really get involved in a book. "I like to make notes (not on library copies, of course) to keep myself engaged with a text. This helps me stay motivated and curious," she says. "Constant conversation with a book often leads me to my next read and keeps a story with me long after I've finished it." Yamada is currently working through a reading list of 90 books, and her plan is to read slowly with a notebook in hand. The moral of the story is that you can savor the books that you read. No need to rush through it.

 

Keep Books Handy at Home

This idea comes courtesy of Michael P. Santangelo, deputy director for collection management of BookOps at the NYPL and Brooklyn Public Library. And it's brilliant! "One method I developed is to strategically place books around my apartment (and my life) to remind me what I am currently reading and what I want to read next," Santangelo says. "Stacked on my night table for before bed. Piled on my kitchen table for mealtime reading. Tripping over books is a great reminder." Place books around your home in places that you know you spend a few minutes of every day. Read in the bathroom; read while dinner is cooking (but stay nearby to watch your food); read before turning on the TV to watch your favorite shows.

 

Read Before Bed

Settling down for the night can include a book. "The only time I really and truly read is when I go to bed at night. And I make every moment count. I use a tablet so that I can lie on my side and prop it on a pillow," says author and illustrator Linda Davick. "I make the type huge and read in the dark until the second I fall asleep. When I fall asleep, the tablet falls over and turns off, so I don't have to worry about sitting up and turning off a lamp." She always wears these cool reading glasses that don't get bumped by her pillow because they are designed without temples and temple tips.

 

Know When to Put a Book Down

Have you ever picked up a book and realized that you just can't get into it? "If I find myself coming up with an excuse to do something else instead of reading the book I'm currently working through, it's probably a sign that it's time to move on," says Brian Stokes, library manager for NYPL's New Amsterdam Library. "I think the most effective way to manage a list is to accept that not every book that sounds interesting to you at some point in your life is a book you have to finish." You can remove books from your reading list if you feel like a book no longer interests you after giving it a try. Sometimes, we just don't connect with certain books, and that is okay.

 

Our reading lists may never stop growing. New books come out all of the time, and we discover the existence of other books at the library, in the bookstore, through friends. "I see reading as a Sisyphean—though an enjoyable one!" says Wayne Roylance, adult collections coordinator of  BookOps at the NYPL and Brooklyn Public Library. "I will always have books that I want to read and if I get through a small fraction of them, then I will have considered myself to have lived a successful reading life." Let's work on getting through our reading list together but not worrying about finishing it. Enjoy the reading experience, too.