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How to Read a Book: A Step-by-Step Guide

Abby Hargreaves

Staff Writer

Abby Hargreaves is a New Hampshire native living and working as a Children’s Librarian in Washington, D.C. She fulfills the gamut of the librarian stereotype with a love of cats, coffee, and crocheting (and likes a good run of alliteration). Her MLIS degree enjoys the company of a BA in English from Hollins University, making Abby an advocate of women's universities. Her favorite color is yellow.

There is, as it turns out, a correct way to dive into the pages of a volume. If you’ve ever wondered how to read a book, you’ll want to read this simple guide. Don’t get lost in the ether.

How to Read a Book

Step One: Pick a book.

This is deceptively difficult. As it turns out, there are millions of books in the world, and, for the time being, us humans must assume we are operating on a limited amount of time in which to read a finite amount of books.

Step Two: Have a Brief Existential Crisis.

With a fixed amount of time to live, you’ll suddenly feel the crushing and urgent sense of time running out. Then, you’ll remember one day—or will it be night?—the sun will swallow the Earth whole in an amount of time too small to measure and none of this will matter anyway. Cheers.

Step Three: Pick a book. (Seriously.)

Pick any damn book, because of Step Two.

Step Four: Open the book.

Unless you’re ereading, you’ll need to lift the front cover to open the book. It’s much easier to read once you’ve opened the book (except for you, Superman; go on with your x-ray vision).

Step Five: Start reading.

Let your eyes follow the lilt of the sentences that begin your book. Decide the author’s style is too something—pretentious; wordy; slow; whatever doesn’t work for you, insert it here—and remember that life is short (sidestep the existential crisis this time). Put the book back. Go back to Step Three.

Step Three, Revisited: Pick a book. (No, seriously this time. This is ridiculous.)

Pick any damn book, because of Step Two.

Step Four, Revisited: Open the book.

Nice work, you’re really getting the hang of this.

Step Five, Revisited: Start reading.

Let your eyes follow—oh, you’ve got it.

Step Six: Get comfortable.

Congratulations on selecting a book to read for real. Find a comfy spot and get settled. Maybe grab a blanket. Books warm your heart, but not your legs.

Step Seven: Decide you need a snack.

It’s not your fault the author started of with a description of a feast. Leave your book pages-down on your spot (even though you’re only on page one; you might forget between here and the kitchen) and prepare something delicious for yourself. Sometimes “prepare” just means “take it out of a box.” No shame.

Step Eight: Return to your book, resettle.

Get comfy. Again. Take a bite of your delicious whatever. Realize it’s too dry to go on eating without something to drink. Sigh, put the book down again, this time with a bookmark because too much time splayed open could damage it (never mind that doing it at all could damage it; we aren’t the book police here), and return to the kitchen for a drink.

Step Nine: Return to your book, resettle. Again.

Set yourself up for the story of a lifetime.

Step Ten: Read.

Open your book as in Step Four, let your eyes follow the lilt of sentences as in Step Five. Go on in this state for as long as you can. Shift your body as needed. Nibble now and then.

Step Eleven: Forget your drink.

Tale as old as time, your hot beverage has gone cold, your cold beverage has gone warm, and your room-temperature beverage has a bug in it or something. Such is the cost of a good book. Handle your drink in whatever way is appropriate (reheat; add ice cubes; dump it down the sink and refill). Resume reading.

Step Twelve: Read past your bedtime.

Look up, long after you’ve turned the light on, to realize the sky has gone totally dark and your clock is chiming double-digits. Rub your eyes. Flip through the pages and note that you only have a few more to go before the next chapter—probably a better stopping point than mid-sentence.

Step Thirteen: Read past your real bedtime.

Discover the chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. Read on.

Step Fourteen: Never sleep again.

Well, there are only another hundred pages. No sense in quitting now.

Step Fifteen: Say goodbye to the friends you’ve made.

The book ends in one way or another and you have to say farewell to the characters and places therein. It’s a lonely farewell, but a necessary one.

Step Sixteen: Sleep.

Sleep is for the weak, so they say, but your body doesn’t give a damn. Crawl into bed. Worry, vaguely, that you’ve wasted a few hours of your life on a book and the sun is coming for you in more ways than one.

Step Seventeen: Live.

Realize that each book you read is another life lived, and your singular life is all the richer for it. Wait for the sun.


Get more reading advice from Our Reading Lives.