By Adriana Beltrano
According to Time, reading improves vocabulary and reason. It also improves our EQ, or our emotional intelligence. Those who are devoted readers are better able to identify others’ emotions, which may lead to a stronger ability to empathize with those around us.
Last year, I deleted most of the social media apps on my phone. I realized I was endlessly doom-scrolling on Instagram and wasting hours of my days on Tiktok. Most importantly, I realized I was doing a lot of reading—but all of it was contained within Reddit.
I hadn’t made any progress on my year-end reading goal in months. I wasn’t starting any books and I surely wasn’t finishing them either. There was a time before phones when I raced through book after book; I wanted to return to spending my time like this, and I think anyone can.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports reading can even reduce stress. A 2009 University of Sussex study found that reading reduces stress by 68%. Reading provides a healthy escape from the real-world.
According to Gallup, Americans said they read an average of 12.6 books in 2021. This is compared to an average of 18.5 books in 1999. 17% said they didn’t read any books in 2021, and 40% said they read 1-5 books. If you haven’t been keeping up with reading lately, you’re not alone. But how do you get back into reading?
Reading can be a great way to unplug and spend time focusing on yourself and your surroundings. I love finding a relaxing place to read, especially when it’s raining.
Use the weather to your benefit and romanticize yourself and the fact that you are reading! When it’s sunny, take your book outside and spend time on nature. Bring a book to the beach and read while you get some sun. Read while reclining in the grass under a Live Oak in the Plaza of the Americas. Take a hammock and a book to Lake Alice and spy on the gators in the water while reading a steamy romance. Watch the bats fly into the night sky while reading about distant planets.
Reading is also a great way to transition into or out of meditation. Start your meditation with relaxing reading, whether it’s a motivational self-help book or a favorite fiction book. Or pick the book up after you’re out of your meditative state to help you ease back into the real world. I find that reading can both center and distract me, and it is a sort of meditation in and of itself.
If you’re not sure where to find books, a good place to start is with getting a library card. Library cards are, of course, free, but I would bet that most college students don’t have one at their new local library. Library cards provide access to a literal library of books, audiobooks, magazines, movies, TV shows, video games, and online borrowing resources.
One such resource is Libby, which allows you to borrow free ebooks and audiobooks through your library but from the comfort of your phone. If you want to venture outside of your home, libraries are a great place to study, use a printer, and get research advice from the librarians. Most importantly, getting a library card helps your local library get better funding. It gives them more numbers of participants to provide to their local government or donors.
Another free and sustainable option is Project Gutenberg, which is a completely free database library with more than 70,000 books. Founded in 1971, it’s the oldest digital library and is run off volunteer work to archive and distribute cultural works. All the books are in the public domain. You can use Project Gutenberg to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to name a few options.
If you prefer reading a physical copy but want to still be sustainable, thrift stores are great places to browse for and find a wide collection of cheap books. Gainesville has two locations in Gainesville. You could also look at St. Patrick, St. Vincent De Paul, Haven, or Outreach Thrift Store. I recently bought Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Stephen King’s Misery for under five dollars from the Antique City Mall in Micanopy.
If you want stores dedicated to used books, check out Books and Music, Wormhole, a local Gainesville business that sells and accepts donations of used books and music. You can also look at 2nd and Charles, a chain that sells used and recycled books, music, movies, and video games for a reduced price.
If you want new books but still want to support a local business, visit Third House Books in Gainesville. Book Gallery West is another local bookstore that sells both new and used books.You can also ask the people around you for book recommendations. I love talking with friends about what we’re all currently reading or what we’ve recently enjoyed. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself with a group of friends who love to read, throw picnics or beach days where you can spend time reading together. I also love using. Goodreads, a website that helps me track my reading and find new books.
If you really want to start reading again, set challenges for yourself! On January 1, I set a reading goal for the year on Goodreads. Last year, I read 37 books out of a goal of 35. In 2020, I wanted to read eight books, and I ended up reading eight books. This year, my goal is 52 books (I’m currently at 29). You can set your personal goal as high or as low as you’d like. Even if it’s just one book a year, every page counts.
You can also challenge yourself to read every day. In the morning, instead of reaching for your phone, start your day with reading a couple pages. Or get ready for bed with a book. You can also challenge yourself to read 5-10 minutes or a chapter each day. Hopefully, you won’t want to stop turning the page.
If you also want to spend time off of social media, Phys.org recommends a “soft delete”: remove the apps for a week or two, let friends know you’re taking a break, and reevaluate how you feel at the end of the trial separation. This can help you break free of a social media habit while retaining the option to return after a break. They also recommend narrowing down the number of social media platforms you use. I did this myself; I kept Snapchat to keep in touch with people, but I deleted the apps where I was scrolling more than communicating. It’s freeing to not feel compelled to switch back and forth between apps.
At the end of taking one or both of these steps, reevaluate your relationship with social media. Has not having access to it improved your mood or reduced your anxiety?
Reading can sometimes seem like a lost art, especially unplugging and spending time reading outside. But books can connect us to the world and ourselves in a way being online can’t. Let’s make this the summer of spending time reading in nature.