How to Best Love a Book - Girl Friday #2

For much of the past two weeks I’ve been bedridden with a flu, and not just any flu but a distinctly Glaswegian one: tough, stubborn, damp, staggering, noisy… It wasn’t even the kind of flu you can somewhat enjoy – where you’re still well enough to catch up on emails or reading, for instance. No, I was flat on my back, or sometimes on my side, writhing in pain, sweating, and just all around very ill.

I began to recover on Saturday, and as I lay in the bathtub watching my waterlogged toes as they wobbled about on the water’s surface, I made a decision: I wouldn’t jump right back into work. No, I’d do something for myself: I’d read a book.

There’s nothing like illness to make you grateful for little things, like being able to make yourself a cup of tea (and keep said cup of tea down), sit upright and read. As I read I thought about how decadent it felt: swaddled in blankets and propped up on pillows, with candles burning and soft piano music playing, and a nice steaming cup of lemon ginger tea at my side.

And as I sat there having my blissful little moment it struck me how often I take reading for granted. I mean, I read every day, but I don’t often read purely for pleasure. Being a generally anxious person, I’ve recently begun striving towards mindfulness in all that I do, but I had neglected to bring this mindfulness to my reading habits – to really sit down once in a while and purposefully enjoy a book.

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As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a pretty normal person. And chances are, if I need to work on my ability to enjoy reading, so too do a lot of other people. So that’s the purpose of this blog entry: to get you thinking about how you might best enjoy a book every now and then.

Having spoken to a number of people about their ideal reading circumstances, I’ve learned that it’s really different for everyone. Allan, for instance, was horrified to learn that I read while listening to classical music. He believes that reading should be done without any distractions, including music.

I, as aforementioned, like to make a production of it. I sit in a cosy chair, wrapped up in blankets, propped up on pillows. I burn candles – sometimes even incense – and I sip tea and often nibble at cake or chocolate, too. And yes, I have music playing in the background.

I also read on the subway and in waiting rooms, or even sometimes in line if I have the misfortune of being in a long one. What I’m talking about here, though, is creating a time and space for yourself in which reading feels like a ritual, a decadent treat. I’d be curious to know how others do this.

Read while walking, read while lining up, but also take the time to read in a more relaxing setting, perhaps while sitting down! (Image: William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Read while walking, read while lining up, but also take the time to read in a more relaxing setting, perhaps while sitting down! (Image: William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

For me, there are three important things to take into account to best ensure a joyous reading experience:

  1. Schedule it in: If you don’t already do it, try scheduling reading time into your week. Maybe you’ll read every night between 10 and 11 p.m., or maybe you’ll read for two hours every Thursday night and Sunday morning. Find a time that works for you, write it down, and stick to it. Scheduling it in makes you much more likely to actually do it; it also takes some of the guilt out of reading for pleasure, if you, like me, are prone to feeling guilty whenever you do something fun.
  2. Set the stage: Figure out your favourite setting for reading, whether it be curled up and cosy on the couch with music and tea, sitting in your favourite armchair in a silent room with no distractions, sipping a flat white at your favourite coffee shop, or even riding on a noisy, packed subway car (hey who am I to judge your depraved tastes?).
  3. Choose wisely: The other two steps won’t matter much if you’re not reading a book you actually enjoy. Choosing a great book is easier said than done, but with the help of reviews on sites like Goodreads and Bookmate (disclaimer: we’re affiliated with Bookmate through our e-book converters) it’s not impossible. When choosing a book to read for enjoyment, try not to think about what you “should” be reading; instead, honour what you feel drawn to. Life is short and you don’t have time to read everything, so choose your books wisely! (And try not to become paralysed with fear at the thought of choosing poorly.)

With all of these steps I think it’s important to be flexible. Your ideal reading setting might change, and your schedule might change, and even your ideal books might change. Maybe this month you’re reading up on Italian Neorealist cinema, but then next month you’re feeling down (perhaps from all the Italian Neorealist cinema?) and need some inspiring or comedic (or inspiring and comedic) fiction. It may not be generally advisable to let your moods guide you, but I think it’s okay to do so when choosing books. Let books be your medicine. Let them be the decadent treat that you allow yourself to enjoy, whatever that enjoyment may look like.

This is a weekly blog written by Dana Keller, who operates as a girl Friday at Vagabond Voices, picking up various jobs as they come. The purpose of the blog is to discuss reading- and publishing-related topics, and to hopefully start a discourse with our readers and other publishers. 

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