How To

How to Read More: 7 Tips from My Childhood

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Kareem Shaheen

Staff Writer

A journalist and cat-owner living in Beirut, Kareem Shaheen covers the Middle East in all its contradictions for the Guardian newspaper. An Egyptian raised in Dubai, with stints in the Hague (not as a war criminal) and small-town Nile delta, he studied journalism and electrical engineering because that's what you do in Egypt in order to not be a disgrace to the family, and holds a master's degree in war studies from King's College London. He lives in Lebanon with his girlfriend, who is always right, and who comes from the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo, and gets to travel around this wonderful and now broken region on account of his job. Twitter: @kshaheen

I miss a lot of things about reading as a kid. It felt like a simpler time then. I never thought about how to read more. I just did. I’d come back from school and, ensconced in the comfortable armchair in my room, I’d dig in for hours and tear through a thriller I picked up at the library or bought with birthday money, forgetting all about lunch or dinner. That’s what I often did, whenever I was supposed to be given presents, on birthdays or the annual Muslim Eid festivals, or when I graduated from school, I’d ask my parents what the budget was for my presents, take the money, and go spend it all in the bookstore.

I remember reading everywhere. On the can, in the bathtub, at the doctor’s office, in bed, on the ride home in the bus, at the library, in Ramadan when I was fasting and was supposed to be reading the Qur’an, or when I’d slip a slim paperback inside my textbook in class. I read a John Grisham thriller, The Runaway Jury, on a car ride to Mecca, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos when we went home to rest after a long day of prayers at the Grand Mosque. I read Goosebumps and Spooksville, and at one point tried to imitate one of the characters in the latter, who wore four watches to keep track of the time zone for every member of his broken family, by wearing two watches to school.

There was something fluid and tender about reading back then that I no longer feel today. I didn’t read to learn or anything of the sort. Even the more sciencey books I read filled my life with wonder and day-dreams, I read so much about space and planets and aliens and Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and I imagined living in the primordial earth of the dinosaurs. Curiosity was insatiable.

In retrospect perhaps the one thing that was missing was that I never really read about people like me, except when I read in my native Arabic tongue. I was in an English-speaking school, so my reading was geared more towards English fiction and non-fiction, but it never occurred to me that I never read about characters who were like me, that the protagonists were always white men and women, or white boys and girls. To be honest, it never bothered me either – the worlds that were being written about were so distant to an Egyptian teenager growing up in Dubai that I might as well have been reading fantasy imprints.

But I think I personally lost a lot by immersing myself in the modern cultural traits of self-improvement, being goal-oriented (that stupid word that pops up in a lot of resumes), productivity and tracking everything from the books we read, the hours we spend sleeping, the steps we walk. Reading is becoming a chore for me, obsessed as I am with Goodreads reading challenges and reading to improve myself and blah blah. I want reading to be fun again, to recapture the childlike curiosity of those years. I want reading to be MAGICAL again.

So I came up with these tips on how to read more like a child. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

1) Read everywhere

In the bathroom, on the bus, while eating your lunch, on your phone, while lazying around on the beach, on your favorite chair with a cup of tea, even at work if you’re bored. There are so many wasted minutes that fall through the crack of your day when you could lose yourself in a world crafted by someone’s imagination.

2) Read what you love

Want to remember how to read more? Set aside that book that you’ve been laboring through for months because it bores you to death or lulls you to sleep whenever you pick it up, and read something you enjoy and can’t put down. Nobody will judge you. Stop pretending you’re someone who enjoys reading about military history or macroeconomics or Dostoevsky if that’s not who you are and what you enjoy. Nobody will judge you, it’s just your brain trying to make you conform to what it thinks is society’s standard for a well-rounded individual. Read for fun.

3) Immerse yourself

Put yourself in the mood, whatever works for you. Whether it’s a hot bath with scented soaps and essential oils or a cup of tea and a blanket on a rocking chair by the fireplace. Put your phone on airplane mode and shut out the outside world, and live the world you’re reading about. Picture the characters and scenery, put yourself in their shoes, smell the scents written about on the page, the passion and savagery in the pages. Read for hours if you like, tear through a 300 page thriller that you can’t put down, the sky is your limit.

4) Read broadly

Let your curiosity guide you. Flip through the pages in a bookstore aisle that you don’t usually venture into. Pick up a book by a foreign author, read the blurbs again, buy something on impulse that you’d never heard about and is outside your comfort zone, outside the recommendations based on the honed interests of your social circles, sift through the dustier corners of the library. Let that innate desire to explore loose wherever you buy your books.

5) Don’t track your reading

I fear my competitive streak will keep me a slave to reading trackers for some time, but I’m working on it. Why does it matter, ultimately? Who cares if you read a book a week, or linger on a difficult tome for a couple of months because it’s challenging but compelling? Why does it matter if you read 10 or 20 or 50 or a hundred books this year? I find reading trackers compel me sometimes to read books I don’t enjoy just to complete them and feel the temporary satisfaction of checking a box, and it drives me away from some of the more challenging or longer books I want to read because I won’t be able to keep up with a self-imposed deadline.

6) Buy books whenever you want

Even one new idea that helps you live a better life is worth the asking price of any paperback or hardcover out there. Stop feeling guilty and pick up that book you’ve always wanted to read, even if you don’t dig into it immediately. You’ll get round to it eventually, and even if you don’t, someone you love might, or you’ll get busy reading all the other amazing books out there.

7) Talk about books with your friends

Share the excitement of a book you’re hooked on with other readers, just like we did in the schoolyard when we’d just finished reading the latest Goosebumps book. Tell them about it, blog about it, post about it on Facebook. There’s nothing more fun than peeling away the layers of a good yarn with your friends.

What are your tips for remembering how to read more, like you did as a kid? Want even more bookish tips for more and better reading? Check out “Tips And Tricks For Reading More” and “5 Unconventional Ways To Read More.