It used to distress me when people would tell me, “I hate to read.” I cannot understand that sentence. It simply does not compute. Sure, there are people who dislike reading for some good reasons. Maybe reading is difficult for them due to a learning disability or eye issues. It’s possible that reading is tied up in some childhood power struggles, or that school reduced reading to misery. Possible. I think in most cases, though, it’s that the reading haters just haven’t found the right books. It no longer distresses me when people say they hate reading, because there is a solution! Find the books you love.
Every person is different, and what they will enjoy varies greatly. Part of the problem with getting people interested in reading is that, too often, recommendations are too narrow. Bestseller lists are populated with either literary fiction or the current trend du jour. School reading lists are full of the classics which, while often great, are also tough to chew on for those who don’t read much. Celebrity book clubs reflect the taste of the celebrity, not your personal taste. Such lists/clubs may also not be appealing to those who prefer other genres or less mainstream things like manga, short stories, speculative fiction, etc.
When people want to read something, they often reach for such a list or check out the hottest book club going. They may try to read a book from there, hate it, and conclude that they were right all along: Reading sucks. But it’s not that reading sucks. It’s that you’ve limited yourself to a small subset of the millions of available books and concluded that those books suck. You have to find the books that appeal to you, not the books that appealed to an awards committee, teacher, celebrity, or pundit. And they are out there, but they sometimes require effort to find.
Here are some ways to find the books for you.
Go to the library.
The library is the perfect place to search for books. Why? Because you can check out tons of books in all genres, at no cost to you. There’s no better way to experiment with books than when they’re free. Check out all kinds of things, even things you’re certain you won’t like. Books have a way of surprising you, but you’ll never know unless you try. Just grab a bunch and start reading. Don’t get hung up on genre, age group, etc. If it looks remotely interesting, try it. It won’t take long to refine your preferences and find things you like. And while you’re at the library….
Ask the librarians for help.
Librarians exist to do more than simply check books in and out. Most are large repositories of book information. You can tell them your interests, which books you’ve liked/disliked in the past, and any restrictions like length, large print, etc. and they can give you a list of things you might like.
Ask your friends/family.
Friends and family might not always be able to give you a knock out recommendation, but they know you better than anyone, so their choices have a decent chance of resonating with you. Bonus if the friends have books to loan you for free!
Ask the local bookseller.
If you’re lucky enough to have a good independent bookstore nearby, stop in and ask the staff for recommendations. Many staff members love books and can recommend something for almost anyone. (You can try this at the big chain store, but the staff there is sometimes less interested in being helpful.)
Ask people in your hobby groups.
You don’t have to limit your search for books to book clubs, although they can be helpful. If you belong to any other hobby groups (think sports teams, craft groups, gaming clubs, etc.) ask around for recommendations. These people share at least one interest with you, so it stands to reason that some of their reading tastes might match yours.
Use lists and book clubs (sparingly).
I mentioned book clubs and bestseller lists at the beginning. These can be a good source of ideas, but if you take them as gospel, they can lead you to dislike reading. The problem comes up when you start thinking, “Everyone in the world loves this book and I don’t, so something must be wrong with me. I’m a reading failure.” Those thoughts can cause you to give up on the whole idea of reading.
But not all lists are for everyone, despite their appearance on every TV show and in every magazine. And, let’s face it, for one reason or another some crap books make these lists, while great books languish undiscovered. So use the lists if you want to, just don’t use them exclusively, or get tied up in the idea that you must love whatever is on them.
Use the “others purchased/recommended” feature.
When you’re on Amazon or another retailer, take a look at the “also recommended” titles. You might find a gem in there. (If you’re unsure, turn around and get it from your library before spending the money.)
Goodreads can be a font of recommendations. You can see what other readers have enjoyed, and you can add people with similar tastes to your profile, creating a network of people who share your interests. As you add books you’ve read, Goodreads will compile a list of recommendations for you. There are also groups you can join to see what others are reading.
Hit up social media.
It can be a bit random, but there’s nothing wrong with simply asking your followers for their best picks. Random can lead to greatness.
Ask authors. (Literally, or look at their online profiles.)
Most authors are devoted readers. Many are happy to pass along their recommendations in one way or another. Some have recommended reading lists on their sites. Others put suggestions in the back matter of their books. (Footnotes and bibliographies can also be great sources for more books on a given topic.) If an author has contact information on their site, or a social media profile, you can reach out and ask for recommendations. You may not always get a response, depending on the popularity of the author, but it’s worth a try.
Don’t get hung up on finishing.
Reading sucks when you push yourself to finish a book you’re not enjoying. That’s too much like school. It’s okay not to finish what you start if it’s not drawing you in. Move on, try something else, keep searching for the thing you love. If you push through the crap you hate, you’ll just end up hating reading even more. Be like a shark and keep moving.
Consider a subscription.
I don’t usually recommend subscription services like Kindle Unlimited, book of the month, or book crates. They can be pricey and the selection may not be that great. If you have a library nearby, I’d never recommend a subscription because the library is free and most have, or can get, almost anything you want. However, in the absence of a decent library, a subscription can be a way to introduce you to lots of books. Consider carefully, though, and try to gauge whether or not you’ll get any value for your money. (If there’s a free trial available, use it to gauge the usefulness.) There are lots of other free ways to find books, so I suggest a subscription only as a last resort.
Sure, someone who’s not an avid reader may never become one, even if they find some books they love. However, I do believe it’s possible to shift from “hating reading” as a whole to, “I like certain books.” And who knows? The journey may yet convert a reading hater into a reading lover.
(Photo by Jason Leung)