Updated on April 7, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. ET
If you'd like to read more, but you're finding it difficult — maybe you can't focus, you feel slow or like you're not enjoying the books you've tried — don't give up!
Nearly 20% of adults struggle to read, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics."People who have trouble reading are not dumb. They are bright smart people but they just read differently from others," says Manju Banerjee, the Vice President for Educational Research and Innovation and a professor at Landmark College, a school in Vermont for students with diagnosed learning disabilities.
Here are some ways that you can get started on your reading journey, especially if it's difficult:
1. Remember: if you are a slow reader, or if you struggle to read, that doesn't mean you're not smart!
Reading slowly, or struggling to read happens to all kinds of successful folks — just ask Stephen Spielberg, Kiera Knightley or Whoopi Goldberg! Of course, there's a huge range of what it means to struggle to read — please know that in this piece we're being as broad as we can when we speak to all you smarties who struggle to read. From folks with dyslexia, folks who just can't seem to pick up a book and all of y'all who worry that social media has effectively put your brain into the microwave. And heads up, if you think you have an undiagnosed learning disability — talk to your doctor.
We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to read quickly when we read, which Banerjee says is really counterproductive. "I see so many individuals benefit from extended time," she says. "There is there is that pressure around if you're not a speed reader then you're slow and slow is associated with not being smart." So, she says, take it easy on yourself and give yourself enough time to pick up whatever book is interesting to you and release yourself from the pressure of time.
2. Drop! Everything! And! Read! Read whatever you want, but make time for it.
Carve the time out of your day or night to stop scrolling Instagram or fretting about tomorrow and tell yourself "I'm going to do this for 30 minutes," or whatever you've got time for on that particular day.
Also, reading doesn't need to be highbrow — you don't have to read some massive doorstopper! If the classics don't do it for you, let 'em go. "People who do read a lot can have a little bit of snobbishness about it," says Juanita Giles, who writes a delightful column for NPR and is also the co-founder of the Virginia Children's Book Festival. If you're wondering what to read, just ... read whatever the heck sounds interesting to you without judging it. So that dishy celeb memoir you're reading is fine! It's a book! And if you're reading it, that is the point in and of itself.
"Give yourself that time at night to read. Just dedicate that time, and you'll find if you don't like it, the book that you pick out at first, put it down and just try another one," she says.
3. If you want to read more, make sure you have books all over your life.
"I have an upstairs book and a downstairs book and a car book and a bathroom book and a bathtub book," says Giles. "I have books everywhere. You know, make them available to you. And pretty soon you'll pick one up and you'll start reading, and then there you go — you're a reader."
Giles and Banerjee stressed that you don't necessarily need a physical book — if your eyes are having trouble taking in books, try an audiobook! Or even use a program for text to speech. Banerjee says that Microsoft's Immersive Reader software works well, especially in reading aloud, translating words in the text that are in other languages, like Latin, and in making it possible for readers to highlight text in audio. She also says that Adobe Acrobat Pro and the standard Adobe Acrobat both have a helpful feature that allows her as a teacher to embed a spoken note in the text that the student is reading.
4. Break it down with this 4-part reading strategy
We have some useful strategies from Banerjee that are rooted in neuroscience that I think can help all of us. Think of it like a little Russian nesting doll of advice for how to read:
- Pre-reading: Evaluate how much time you have and how much you want to read.
- Gist reading: Skim everything you've got and get a sense for it. I remember my mom taught me this smart trick about skimming, which is look out for numbers and bolded words, any titles and sort of move your eyes over the page.
- Strategic reading: Strategic reading is all about finding the meaning in what you just read. Basically, you read slower and focus on keeping that information in your brain.
- Review reading: This final step, Banerjee says, is a little more for the classroom than it is for just sitting down and reading your novel, but it's where you go over everything you read to make sure it's all there in your brain.
So these four steps: Pre-reading, gist reading, strategic reading and review reading are the way to get those words from the page to stick in your head. But Banerjee recommends that you can be flexible with these steps depending on what you've got on your plate.
Bonus Tip — Change word spacing
Banerjee highly recommends that anyone struggling to read check out the work of Matthew H. Schneps. "He's done some very fascinating studies which show that if you reduce the number of words in a sentence and add more white space between words those who are different couldn't read before can actually read," Banerjee says. If this seems interesting, be sure to click around here and here to learn more about this research and the ways in which it could help you.
Where to find books these days?
Many of the physical places you'd normally borrow or buy books are closed right now, but there are still ways to access new reading material. Try checking out an audiobook or e-book from your local library using one of these apps: Libby, OverDrive or Hoopla. Many local bookstores are allowing pick-up or delivery for book purchases, and you can still order books from online retailers.