As anyone who follows my Instagram Stories will know, I’ve been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens for some time now. Rumour has it in fact, since the beginning of time itself. This beast of a book weighs in at 466 glorious pages detailing the History of Humankind, but it is not quite as Brief as Harari’s title jocosely suggests.
It’s such an interesting read, as informative as it is heavy and has taught me more about history and the evolution of humankind than any teacher (including my mother) managed to drill into my head. The only little issue with Harari’s very brilliant book is that it isn’t quite bedtime reading, which is inconveniently the only kind of reading I’ve been doing of late.
So in a bid to get through this colossal paperback and complete the history degree which presumably gets handed out in the index, I’ve refreshed my reading rules.
1. Read as much as possible as often as possible.
While I concede that my unrelenting campaign to “just finish this chapter” before dozing off with a rather heavy book elevated above my head does have it faults, how else are you to get through a book when there just aren’t enough hours in the day, what other options are available?
Actually, quite a few. On a daily basis we fill dead time with screen time, whether it’s standing at a bus stop, enduring commercial breaks, scrolling through the morning commute, waiting for the kettle to boil, the bath to fill, friends to arrive – there is no shortage of moments throughout the day where you could switch off and pick up a book.
2. Bring a book everywhere
And I do mean everywhere. On every walk through the park, every long-haul journey, to every waiting room and cafe, keep books by the bathtub, the toilet, in the bottom of your handbag. There are so many fantastic pocket-sized series on the shelves these days you could rattle through one easily on the morning train or while you wait for your Chinese takeaway to arrive. When your phone dies or your other half is running late or your flight is delayed you’ll be grateful for the paperback in your pocket.
3. Make time to read
Of course, whizzing through a few pages here and there throughout the day is all well and good with a light read or short stories, but it’s not quite conducive to a meaty novel like Room, which kept me up all night, or All The Light We Cannot See, which has to be devoured rather than nibbled at.
It’s important to set aside time in the day, well before bedtime, when you can focus entirely on the pages at hand. For me this often means trying to get out of the house, whether to soak up some sunshine in the nearest green space (in my case a rather beautiful spot overlooking St James’ Gardens and the graves of the Anglican cathedral) or if the weather decrees it, a cosy pub corner (usually somewhere in the Georgian Quarter) where you can pass an hour and a pint quite leisurely.
4. Life is too short for bad books
I can’t stress this enough, please don’t waste your time on bad writing. If a book doesn’t do it for you in the first 100 pages, or perhaps even 50, it is not going to do it for you by page 200 or beyond. It’s one thing to be frustrated by particular characters as I was early this year, or to be bored by a narrative but bad writing is just not worth it. There is such a wealth of great literature out there and a reader’s time is precious, sometimes you just need to say “nope, I’m sorry Ceceila Ahern, good for you and your millions but PS I Love You is complete and total tosh and I won’t even have it in my house” (ditto anything by Nicholas Sparks).
I’m glad there is an audience for that genre, it is a truly great thing that books such as The Notebook exist and that hundreds of thousands of people read them but good grief, it’s not for me. And it’s ok, I know that now, and I can pass over anything of its ilk on the shelves of Oxfam and seek out something dark and brooding by Colm Toibin or Anne Enright instead.
5. Always judge a book by it’s cover but embrace diversity.
We’ve all heard the well-worn mantra warning us not to judge by appearances, and yes when it comes to people and perhaps some restaurants it is entirely right not to go by preconceptions. But when it comes to books – always judge by the cover, that’s exactly what the cover is there for.
I’ve had this moan before but it bears repeating – any writer who braves the treacherous undertaking of writing a book and trying to get it published, isn’t going to give up the fight when it comes to the artwork it’s packaged in, and any editor who believes in a story isn’t going to let it go out into the world looking like a child’s first venture into finger paints.
But just to be contrary, I also must stress the need to be open and try new things – read stories by women, stories by Black, Asian, African, Hispanic writers, read LGBT authors, writers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, from other cultures, languages, experiences.Read poetry, short stories, essays, novellas, reread kids books – try everything on for size and see what sticks with you. There is so much more out there that the dark covers on the thriller shelves or the pinks of Chick Lit – break through the boundaries of holidays reads or best sellers and explore your local bookshop for the hidden gems, dusty titles and old favourites. You never know what you’ll find.