Top Tips for Bookworms Who Have Fallen Out of Love with Books
by Ruth Connanon, Book Doctor with Children's Books Ireland.
The past few months have been tough for bookworms. Although a lot of time at home may seem like the perfect opportunity to delve into those to-be-read piles, the facts are that living through a global pandemic is stressful and just a tad distracting. It’s no wonder that many young readers are finding it harder than ever to get stuck into a book. At our Children’s Books Ireland Book Clinics, we hear from children that have previously been voracious readers but are now struggling to get through a chapter –never mind a whole novel.
If you are worried that your reading superpowers may have disappeared, please let me reassure both young readers and their parents, carers or guardians that it is completely normal to not feel enthusiastic about reading all of the time, especially right now. Even if some elements of normality have returned, we are still living in exceptionally unusual times. It is natural that our attention spans are not what they used to be, or that we may simply have more on our minds, making it hard to get lost in a book. Today we are sharing some of our tried and tested top tips for reading when you really don’t feel like it, because believe it or not, even Book Doctors like me have struggled to get hooked on a book the past few months! And be sure to check out our list of Great Books for When You Really Don’t Feel Like Reading for inspiration.
First things first, if you are finding reading difficult particularly because you feel it is too hard to concentrate, the best thing to do is to look at the length of the books that you are reading. Perhaps you were once able to read large books very quickly, but if you are feeling distracted, there is no shame in choosing books that are a little bit shorter.
Barrington Stoke are a fantastic publisher that focuses on making sure their books are super readable; this means you get fantastic stories by amazing authors in a condensed way with shorter sentences, chapters and fantastic illustrations. Some of my favourite stories published by Barrington Stoke include the hilarious Mary’s Hair by Eoin Colfer and Richard Watson, the spooky The Ghost in Annie’s Room by Phillipa Pearce and Cate James, or the chaos-filled Good Dog McTavish by Meg Rosoff and Grace Easton. Alternatively, why not try an anthology or compilation of short stories? Collections like Once upon a Place edited by Eoin Colfer and illustrated by P.J. Lynch offers lots of adventures in different areas around Ireland, or if you like magical tales The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner by Terry Pratchett is a fun-filled option. Although these books look long, they are really a series of shorter stories that you can dip in and out of whenever you feel like it.
If you are still finding these options a bit too long, try reading verse novels or poetry collections. It’s amazing the kinds of stories that poets can create with far less words than a traditional novel; for example The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson celebrates the struggles and achievements of African Americans throughout history, while collections like Overheard in a Tower Block by Joseph Coehlo and Kate Milner are a series of poems based around life in urban spaces.
Keep in mind that not every book will be one that you enjoy, it is ok to put a book down without finishing it. I always try to use the twenty-five-page rule: if you are not enjoying or curious about a book after twenty-five pages, it is very reasonable to ask yourself if you want to continue. There are lots of books in the world, so it’s no harm if a few don’t work out here and there. Here’s a link to a useful list of Short Reads
For a very long time, my favourite books to read were historical fiction, however, I have read very little of these stories since March and if I am honest, I don’t really feel like reading them even now! When we go through big changes in life, it is normal that our interests may change. If you feel like you can relate to this, perhaps it is time to try something new and fresh to get your curiosity going again. For example, if you always read fiction stories, maybe now is the time to try some non-fiction?
The best way to do this is to use the types of books you previously enjoyed as a jumping-off point for what you would like to explore next. Perhaps you enjoyed Anna Carey’s book The Making of Mollie which deals with Irish Suffragettes, a good non-fiction alternative for this might be Suffragette: The Battle for Equality by David Roberts which explores this topic further. Maybe you’re a big fan of Who Let the Gods Out? by Maz Evans, or the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, why not try Cool Mythology by Malcolm Croft and Damien Weighill which shares different mythology-based stories from around the world.
Or maybe you are a big fan of The 13-Story Treehouse series by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton, so you may enjoy an active book like Lonely Planet’s Backyard Explorer: Adventures Right on Your Doorstep by Nicola Baxter. This is an inspiring activity book that will help you to explore the outdoors and create your own adventures from the comfort of your back garden. You could try Fantasy books, Adventure books, Historical books or Folklore, Myth, Legend
Maybe reading a story doesn’t feel too enjoyable right now, but there are lots of ways we can consume a story without having to actually read one. Talking books or audiobooks are a fantastic way to get your story fix without having to do any reading yourself. Believe it or not, listening to a story stimulates our brain in a similar way to actually reading and is just as enjoyable.
There are lots of ways you could incorporate listening to audiobooks into your daily routines. For example, you could listen to a story at bedtime to help you nod off, in the car or bus on a long journey, or if you are the type of person that doesn’t like to sit still, you could listen to a story while drawing or to help make tidying your room a bit more entertaining.
There are plenty of audiobooks to choose from by all your favourite authors that can be accessed through apps like Audible and Spotify, with some authors even doing special readings or videos on YouTube. Alternatively, Borrowbox is a fantastic free library which can be accessed using your library card number and password. There is a useful list here on Children’s Books Ireland Reading Club with RTÉjr.
Believe it or not, reading images is just as much of a skill as reading words. Another good way to catch a short attention span is through reading comics and graphic novels. The beauty of reading in this way is that graphic novels can often feel more fast-paced than traditional novels, so if you are impatient, or find your mind often wanders, this is a great way to get through a whole book before you have even realised it, which is often a good incentive to read another! If you are a creative or a visual person, you will also love having the added element of beautiful or intricate illustrations to examine that interact with the text of a story to create an entirely different experience.
You can always start off with reading something classic like these series: Asterix and Obelix, The Beano, Garfield or even Snoopy, but more current go-to options include Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez Gómez, The Wolves of Currumpaw by William Grill or Death by Chocolate by Alan Nolan. There is a really useful suggested reading list here of Graphic Novels.
In a world where lots of things are changing very fast, it can sometimes be comforting to have one thing that we know we can rely on to stay the same. This is why re-reading some of your old favourites can feel so relaxing and reassuring. You already know that it is a story you love, you know how the plot of the story unfolds, so there are no nasty surprises when it comes to the story’s ending. And because you are familiar with the characters of the book, it can feel like revisiting an old friend who you hadn’t realised you missed quite so much. This familiar reassurance means that you are simply free to enjoy your book and get lost in the story without worry, something which always feels distinctly cosy and warm.
Maybe your problem is that you still enjoy reading, but are finding yourself less motivated or the stories less exciting because you aren’t able to share it with your friends or classmates? An easy solution to this is to start a book club of your very own. There are lots of ways you can do this based around the new normal. You could meet with neighbours in each other’s gardens, have a lunchtime book club with your classmates in the yard during breaktime, or even ask a grown-up to help you set up an evening time Zoom chat with your friends so you can discuss what books you are reading.
But book clubs don’t just have to be for friends, if you have brothers and sisters they can get involved too! If you are the big sibling, perhaps you could start a book club with the little ones by reading them some of your old favourite stories. If you and your siblings are lucky enough to be close in age, you could all try to read the same book and see what different opinions you all have. Adults can get involved too – maybe your grown-ups have a special book from their childhood that they would like to share and could read aloud to the whole family. Sometimes sharing a story in these ways can make your reading time more exciting and engaging, as well as creating lots of memories and special moments with those around you.
Normally this is the exact opposite advice I would give at a Book Clinic, but unprecedented times call for unprecedented advice! Maybe you have been feeling more drawn towards watching films or TV series on Netflix than settling down to read. Being hooked on screens is a hard habit to break, even for grown-ups, so it’s best to do this little by little. One way is to link your reading with your watching. A lot of great TV shows like A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Babysitters Club and Hilda or films like How to Train your Dragon, The BFG and Coraline actually started their lives as books.
Perhaps you could set a goal that the next time you start a new series or movie on Netflix you will try to also read the book on which it is based. You could begin the book either before or after you watch, or if it is a series, read along with each episode. This is a great way to ease yourself back into the habit of reading and will help you to notice all of the big and small changes that happen between page and screen, so that you can decide which is truly the best version of the story.
Have you ever read a story and thought you could do a better job? Or is there a story you would really like to see in the world, and you are getting impatient waiting for someone else to write it? Now is your chance to get creative and write your own story. All authors have to start somewhere, and many started experimenting with writing when they were very young. If writing fictional stories is not really your style, you can always write the story of you.
Even if you never let anyone read it, keeping a journal or diary is a great way to untangle any thoughts or worries you might be having and is like a special story just for you. However, if you did want to share your own personal story, it is worth remembering that no one has ever lived through a time in history just like we are now, so it might be interesting to keep a diary for your grown-up self to look back on someday or to have as a memoir when you are rich and famous – please be sure to send me a signed copy when this happens!
Sadly, our in-person Book Clinics probably won’t be happening for another while yet, but the good news is that doesn’t mean that you can’t still reach out to a Book Doctor. We have loads of online Book Clinics that work just the same as our regular ones. You will be able to chat to a Book Doctor and get a special prescription of books to read, all from the comfort of your own home!
If you would like to take part in an online book clinic, you can keep an eye on our website and social media to find out where and when the next one is happening. Appointments book up fast so make sure you book ahead and set a reminder, so you don’t miss your session! Keep an eye on the events page of Children’s Books Ireland’s website.
Patience is key. I promise you, if you had a superpower for reading that seems to have disappeared, it is not gone forever. Even if we really love a hobby sometimes life circumstances might make it difficult for us to fully enjoy it. If you are gentle with yourself and try to follow your curiosity when it comes to what you feel you would like to read, your superpower will surely make a welcome comeback.
If, on the other hand, you have always struggled to love reading and are now finding it even more difficult, you need to have EXTRA patience with yourself. If you found something difficult in normal circumstances, in abnormal circumstances it is understandable that this would be even harder. Just remember that doing your best is certainly doing something and as long as you are willing to give some books a go, try a few new things and be open-minded. Someday, as if by chance, you too will find the book that makes you a reader.