How to be a Voracious Reader

I am always on a relentless pursuit to find ways to squeeze more reading into my day. Too many books and not enough time is one of my life’s biggest struggles. I prefer long reading sessions, but those are difficult to find time for, especially during the work week. Below are the ways I find time to read every day.

Bathroom Reading

The bathroom is my favorite place to read. I find that bathrooms consistently have excellent overhead light for reading. Bathrooms also offer quiet time alone where you can get some serious reading done. At least until your pushy pug forces her way through the door and stuffs a soggy toy into your lap. To make the reading experience even more immersive you can find a playlist for reading on Spotify. There are many and you can even find one that matches the genre of your book. Most times I find myself reading on the toilet long after my bowel movement is complete.

Reading Rewards Between Chores

This method may only be effective for the true book lovers, but I enjoy using reading as an incentive to get chores/tasks done. Some days there’s no motivation to meal prep, do laundry, take out the trash, clip my toenails etc. So, I turn my to do list into a game. I reward myself by reading 10 pages or a chapter after completing an item on my to do list. I consider this a healthy form of procrastination.

Cardio Reading

Recently, I tried combining reading with one of my other favorite hobbies, fitness. Normally when doing cardio, I stream a TV show on my phone. I’ve tried audiobooks in the past but found that my mind wanders without having printed words to focus on. I find myself constantly rewinding to hear back portions of audiobooks I missed, while I was daydreaming of buffalo wings. Since I’ve been doing more cardio recently, I’ve been determined to get some reading done at the same time. Luckily, I do low impact cardio. I either use an elliptical or walk on a treadmill set at an incline. If you’re a jogger I’d imagine focusing on printed words as you bounce up and down can be challenging. Hopefully in that case audiobooks work for you. I choose one book as my cardio book, and I only read that book when doing cardio. If I pick a book that I’m excited to read, there’s extra motivation to get to the gym each morning. While I prefer physical books over electronic, it’s been great to get some use out of my neglected Kindle. Whether you use audiobooks or eBooks the Libby app is an excellent resource for downloading free books, many libraries are connected to Libby.

Reading to Start and End the Day

I try to begin and end every day with some reading, even if it’s only 5-10 pages. When I’m not starting my day with cardio at the gym (where I’m likely reading anyway) I enjoy reading a few pages while sipping my morning coffee. My bed routine, which always leads to a great night’s sleep is putting my phone on do not disturb and reading. How many pages I read depends on how tired I am and how exciting the story is.

What did I Read During my Blogging Hiatus?

I’m back! I had to take a hiatus from book blogging while I prepared for the horrendously maddening customs broker exam. Thank goodness I passed! I don’t know how I would’ve coped with failure knowing how many books I could’ve been reading instead. In between slogging through thousands of pages of dry customs regulations I was able to sneak in some reading for pleasure.  

Here are some brief thoughts on the books I read during those trying times.  I’m hoping to expand on some of these with full reviews in the future.

True Story:  What Reality TV Says About Us by Danielle Lindermann: To make my guilty pleasure of watching reality television less guilty, I read this sociological take on my favorite tv genre (I watch Survivor religiously). I didn’t find any of the content to be groundbreaking, but I did enjoy learning some of the basic concepts of sociology through a topic of personal interest.

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio: My first foray into dark academia was fantastic. This murder mystery within a prestigious Shakespearean acting program was brilliant! Upon finishing I immediately googled lists of must-read dark academia books. I’m thinking Donna Tart’s The Secret History is up next.

Seeing Ghosts by Kat Chow: This is an excellent memoir, though be warned it will get you in your feelings. Kat Chow writes of the loss of her mother to cancer, and her family’s subsequent grief. The author beautifully weaves stories from past generations of her Chinese American family into the narrative. Anyone who has lost a close family member can relate to this book. I sure do.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: I finally read Giovanni’s Room! This has been sitting on my TBR for far too long. This novel has been referenced in many contemporary queer books I’ve read and for great reason! It is a powerful story that I highly encourage everyone to read.

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite: This book is beautifully written, yet highly disturbing. Equally disturbing my younger sister gave me this book as a Christmas gift. Gay serial killers killing gay men, cannibalism, necrophilia, AIDS, gay men being rejected by family, this book is packed full of gay trauma and gross violence. It is easily one of the sickest stories I’ve read. Somehow the quality of writing kept me reading.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman: This was a wonderful novella that made me nostalgic for the fantasy I read as a child. Anyone looking for a short book to get back into reading should give this a try.

Her Body and Other Bodies by Carmen Maria Machado:  This is a highly creative short story collection from Machado. I honestly didn’t understand most of the stories’ plots because they were loaded with ambiguity. Nonetheless this collection is powerful and still lingers in my thoughts months later.  The Husband Stitch is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. Many of the themes in this collection are especially relevant today with the infuriating possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers:  I love my wholesome science fiction!! I was disappointed when I realized this did not follow the main characters from the first book in the Wayfarers series. But I quickly got over it and fell in love with these new characters.

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny: I read this for a book club, and it was a major struggle to get through. The premise, which blends Hinduism and science fiction, was cool, but the language was so dense it was a slog to get through. I found myself skimming and relying on the Wikipedia summary. It was comforting when I got to the book club meeting and realized that many of my fellow members had a similar experience.

How Long ‘til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin: Jemisin is a major talent, and I will read anything she publishes. But I do question her decision to include so many stories in this collection, quite a few were weak in my opinion. It was neat to read earlier versions of what she later fleshed out into full novels. Favorite story:  L’Alchimistra

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: Oh Hanya Yanagihara, I’m still not over the piece of garbage that is A Little Life. I’m aware most people love that book, but for me it’s a piece of hot, stinking trash (maybe one day I’ll get around to writing my planned rant). Out of curiosity I read her newest novel and it was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t offensive or distasteful. I think it could have been edited down to fewer pages, but I enjoyed its unique structure and prose.

Does Reading Books by Authors from Marginalized Communities make me an Activist?

Recently, I listened to Ocean Vuong’s discussion with Sam Fragoso on the Talk Easy podcast for a third time (because it was so good).  Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese American, queer poet and novelist that grew up in Hartford, CT.  He is the author of the fantastic novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which has the best writing I’ve encountered this year. Because we grew up in the same metropolitan area and because of his immense talents, I’ve become an Ocean Vuong stan.  Ocean Vuong’s speech is as thoughtful and poetic as his writing, making the podcast worth multiple listens.  One particular portion of the podcast has stuck with me and impacted how I read.  In the podcast, Vuong discusses his frustration that many readers, mainly white, pick up novels related to social justice topics with the primary goal of developing empathy or understanding.  He believes that empathy should not be the sole objective when one interacts with any form of art.

In the podcast Sam Fragoso brings up the senseless shootings that took place at Asian salons in the Atlanta area on March 16th.  Vuong has a personal connection to this tragedy because his mom once worked at a nail salon.  Sadly, she sadly passed away from cancer in 2019.  In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong beautifully describes the harsh wear the work had on his mom’s hands:

“Because I am your son, what I know of work I know equally of loss.  And what I know of both I know of your hands.  Their once supple contours I’ve never felt, the palms already callused and blistered long before I was born, then ruined further from three decades in factories and nail salons.  Your hands are hideous—and I hate everything that made them that way.  I hate how they are the wreck and reckoning of a dream” (Vuong 79)

Because of his literary success, Vuong received many requests for his thoughts on the shootings from the media.  He explains, “All of a sudden my books were on these lists, you know my name was referenced in all these places and there were all these reading lists to…empathize with Asian-American life.  So, it is a horrific feeling I think to suddenly be relevant because six Asian American women are murdered.  I don’t wish that feeling on any artist.”  I often read books that are written by authors who are part of marginalized groups featured in the news.   I never considered how authors must feel horribly when their book sales are increasing because of tragic events within their communities.  While a portion of those readers are people of color seeking resilience in a time of stress, there are a lot of white readers, like myself, also picking up copies.  Vuong is not optimistic about the intentions of the white audience that reads these books.

Some white readers that consume books related to racial justice topics aim to develop empathy for a marginalized community.  Vuong presents an important question.  “What does it mean to need a book to empathize?  What is the role of empathy? Because in literature it’s often an unquestioned utopic destination…often of white readers only”.    Vuong continues to expose the flaws in this behavior.  He says, “when I see this sort of recruitment of engaging in cultural relics (novels) in order to value life, I get very pessimistic all of a sudden.  Why can’t these lives be inherently valuable without any knowledge, without any books or film”?  Vuong states the obvious, we as humans should have the ability to hold empathy for others, without the aid of a book, or any form of media.  It is not an author’s responsibility or a book’s purpose to make a marginalized group’s cause worth caring about.  I believe some white readers feel that reading these books is a form of activism.  Upon completing it they feel like they’ve checked off a box that makes them anti-racist and then feel better about themselves.  However, I think there is value in white readers continuing (or starting) to pick up these novels.  But the intention, or motivation, behind the reading must be reframed. 

Activism begins after reading the book.  We need to make sure we’re entering these books with the intention to learn and understand, so that we can take that knowledge into action.  Here are some possible anti-racist actions we can take with insight gained from these novels:

  • Using new understanding to engage in informed conversations with family, peers and especially those with problematic thinking
  • Supporting businesses owned by the community you just read about
  • Contact politicians to demand necessary actions are taken to create anti-racist policy
  • Make informed decisions to support anti-racist candidates on election day
  • Donate money to organizations that are aiding the marginalized group you read about

Link to the podcast: