Reading Rituals

We’re creatures of habits, right? We follow routines and engage in ritualistic behavior, like brushing our teeth in the morning or saying a prayer before a meal. These routines and rituals become so ingrained that we do them without much forethought. For the parts of our lives that are highly repetitive and mundane, it makes total sense to have a routine. What about other aspects of life, specifically reading? Do you have a reading ritual or routine?

While waiting for my book club’s meeting to start a few weeks ago, a few members began discussing planners and journals. One woman asked if anyone used planners or journals, and if so, how and for what. I mentioned that I used a planner and had kept a book journal for years. A few people said they had tried keeping a book journal but it never stuck. They found themselves going from book to book without pausing to note what they had read or thought about a book. Eventually they fell out of the habit of book journaling. I began explaining my process of tracking what I read, specifically how I don’t start reading until I have noted what I’m about to read in my book journal first. That’s when it hit me, I have a reading routine, or reading ritual as I have decided to call it.

The first step of my reading ritual, after choosing a book of course, is to choose a bookmark. Selecting a bookmark is a semi-serious decision for me. I began collecting bookmarks as a teenager and student. Actual art was out of my budget and I didn’t have the space to put any art anyway. I loved traveling and going to museums, bookstores, and theaters – basically all kinds of art spaces – and wanted souvenirs to mark those experiences. Bookmarks, along with postcards, were the perfect solution as they are small, inexpensive pieces of art that also happen to be useful.

So now I have hundreds of bookmarks, each one waiting for the pages of a book to rest in between. Mini bookmarks work well for a mass-market paperback, while a thick hardback needs something larger and sturdier. Because magnetic bookmarks need something to grip they get used with longer books that have higher quality paper. Some bookmarks I like but won’t mind too terribly should I lose them. Those are reserved for library books and other loaners.

After choosing a book and a bookmark it’s time to turn to a new page in my book journal. I write down the title, author, publisher, and publishing date. Next, I write the actual number of pages of the story (as opposed to the total number of pages in the book) and the date I intend to start reading. Two spaces are left blank, one for the date I eventually finish reading and another for comments. The final step before reading the book’s first sentence involves updating various bookish social media sites and apps: Goodreads (almost always), Litsy (sometimes), and Instagram (just joined). Finally it is time to start reading.

After finishing a book I update my book journal and social media accounts. Then I choose a new book and the reading ritual starts anew. With the exception of certain kinds of books (namely comic books, cookbooks, and coffee table books) this is the routine I’ve followed for the last several years. Even while on vacation or otherwise away from home, I find a way to follow this routine.

What intrigues me about my own ritualistic reading habits is that it doesn’t help me read faster or read more. Often habits serve to make regular tasks go by faster and smoother. My reading ritual slows me down. Perhaps I would read more if I took fewer notes and didn’t dwell on bookmarks. Despite slowing me down, I rather like my reading ritual. Selecting a bookmark to go with a new book is oddly thrilling. Taking time to write down details about books not only provides a record of my reading past, it gives me time to absorb what I read before moving on.

My reading ritual isn’t something I developed intentionally. It has simply become my standard operating procedure. Do you find yourself following certain routines with each book you pick up? What is your reading ritual and how did you come to it?

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