What if the Reluctant Reader is the Grown-up?

A dear friend of mine sent an e-mail saying she had read about two books in the past six months instead of her usual thirty.

If even the avid readers are struggling to read during a season when it seems we should have more time for solitary hobbies, then what’s a reading advocate to do?

Lower her standards, that’s what.

This season is not the time to tackle Crime and Punishment. It’s not when you are finally going to read Anna Karenina. It’s not even the period when you will convince your reading-averse friend to just trust you and read Pride and Prejudice.

It’s time to read something easier.

Gretchen Ruben already took the stigma out reading kids’ books with her children’s literature reading groups, so there’s no shame. Read them to a child if you are feeling sheepish, but I have spent many a happy hour curled up in a nursing chair or hammock with Harry Potter, The Fault in Our Stars, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, or The Wizard of Earthsea. Yep, books for teens count, too.

But maybe you have some lingering shame from middle school, when someone teased you for reading something babyish or for stumbling in a class read-aloud (arg!). Maybe you can’t bring yourself to start a children’s book. Okay.

You could try a beach read, like The Two Lives of Lydia Bird (though, now that I think of it, this one’s a little heavy – maybe something by Rainbow Rowell or Jenny Colgan instead).

Or if you feel like this season is too important to waste your time on lighter fare, try the easily readable but still important I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. I haven’t read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime yet, but given his brilliance in combining comedy with serious social commentary on his show, I’m assuming this one’s a winner, too.

Memoirs are great, just pick someone you love. This probably isn’t the month for something heavier like When Breath Becomes Air or Making Toast or The Glass Castle, but it’s definitely time for something like Bossypants by Tina Fey.

How about old favorites? I’ve read and re-read Jane Eyre so many times the pages are crumbling, much to the bemusement of my dearest friend, who when visiting the home of the BrontĂ« sisters thought, “No wonder they wrote such terrible books.” I love every minute of it, and even my husband (who, gasp, has never read it) will say, “That is a fiction–an impudent invention to vex me.” I love him slightly more every time he does. My daughter (and kindred spirit) is on her thirteenth (13th!) round through the Harry Potter series. So if your brain can’t handle something new, read something old! Even if it’s The Baby-sitters Club or The Seventh Tower Series.

I know most people will groan at this idea, but I love self-improvement books. Want to be motivated to exercise? Read Drop Dead Healthy. Want to organize the kitchen since you are spending oh-so-much-time there these days? Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. Want to be happier (who doesn’t right now)? Read The Happiness Project. Want to stop having to fuss about how much more domestic work you do than your partner? Read Fair Play. Want general advice in the most interesting of formats? Read Tiny Beautiful Things. Want generally better habits? Read The Power of Habit or Atomic Habits. This category goes on for days.

Another idea – do you love the movie The Princess Bride? Who wouldn’t like to stretch that enjoyment over the course of a novel instead of just an hour and a half of screen time? My kids adored the movie and loved the book even more. Their shouts of “Inconceivable!” make me smile every time. And my husband kept joining the read-aloud and chuckling along with the kids through the adventures. There are so many book-movie combos you could do, like Wonder, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Eat, Pray, Love, Hidden Figures, Becoming, the list goes on!

What about a magazine you used to love? Would leafing through Time at the end of the day make you feel more connected to the outside world? Would Vogue help you de-stress? Would having Sports Illustrated or Vanity Fair or The New Yorker or Bon Appétit on the nightstand make you feel more like you? Do that!

Don’t forget audiobooks. Turn dish time (there are so. many. dishes. right now) into me-time.

Maybe it’s too hard. Maybe you’re just keeping your head above water with childcare and work and technical difficulties and worry. That’s okay.

But it’s also okay to take even five minutes a day to curl up in bed and do something fun for you. Because wouldn’t it be nice to think of quarantine as the season you rediscovered (or discovered!) your inner reader, rather than focusing on all the hard bits?

I think so.

Happy trying!

Bribing Reluctant Readers – The Scavenger Hunt Method

Here in Oregon, our quarantine circle closes tighter and tighter around us. Now the smoky air has taken even our socially distant play dates and jaunts into the woods, though honestly we just feel grateful our house isn’t a pile of ashes and rubble, like so many right now.

As our kids struggle to enjoy life within the confines of our walls, I’ve been struggling to find ways to insert fun in the day.

Which is why the discovery of this book in my spice drawer was so fortuitous.

A little background –

As I’ve said before, I don’t have reluctant readers. I have had a reluctant writer, however, and I think the method we used to make writing fun translates well to readers.

Katie Clemons’s journal for mothers and sons (she has one for daughters, too, and a gender-neutral gratitude book) is simple and lighthearted, encourages drawing (not just writing!), and each entry is varied to keep interest levels high. The idea is to pass the book back and forth, reading your mom’s or son’s entry and then filling your own.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Ha. My son would roll his eyes if I said I wanted to journal with him.”

I know mine would have. (More writing???)

But when I introduced the journal I said, “I’m going to write an entry in this book and hide it somewhere in the house. Whenever you find it, read what I wrote and then write an entry yourself and hide it somewhere for me, and so on.”

He was thrilled.

I’ve found the book tucked in with my yoga mat, in my cookbooks, in my bedside basket. He has found it in his LEGO bin, sock drawer, under his pillow.

We only hit a snag when he hid it in my desk drawer, where coupons go to die. I finally found it when binge-watching The Home Edit’s new Netflix show inspired me to tackle that beast. We were both so excited (it had been months and we’d forgotten about it), and when I found it in my spice drawer, peeking out between the ginger and oregano, I laughed out loud.

We need more of those delighted giggle moments right now, don’t we?

So maybe you don’t hide this journal (though I highly recommend it). Maybe you hide a chapter book and whenever it’s discovered you drop everything and read a chapter with your child right then. Or if dropping everything on a moment’s notice isn’t possible, you place two bookmarks inside, one for parent, one for child, and you read until you catch up to each other’s bookmarks. Or maybe it’s actually a book bag and you tuck a different picture book inside each time. You have lots of options. The hunt is the thing. Be creative! (But learn from us and avoid the black hole junk drawers.)

And, in case none of that gets your kid excited about reading or writing, I recommend tying a chocolate bar to the cover. It pairs well with any book.

Happy hunting!