How to read again: Falling back in love with books

Published on: 22 July 2019 Author: Candy Gourlay

Our Writer in Residence Candy Gourlay was a huge bookworm when she was growing up - but then life got in the way. How could she fall in love with books again?

Candy Gourlay - photo by Paul Musso

Photo: Paul Musso

I was the quintessential bookworm as a child. Never knowingly seen without my nose in a book. The space under my bed was packed with books on the go. I was routinely scolded at the dinner table for hiding a book on my lap and eating/reading with my nose under my plate.

And when I was still an impoverished reporter, sharing a tiny flat with a gazillion other girls, we had NO TV and the internet and the smartphone had not been invented yet ... so I read even MORE books.

But then life moved on, I got married, had children.

And stopped reading for ten years.

I don't beat myself up about it – and if it has happened to you, you shouldn't either. I was simply too busy to settle down with a good book. I was learning how to be a wife. Bringing up my children. Learning how to live in a new country. I was trying to teach myself new skills like building websites and understanding the internet. There was simply no time and no room for reading.

At the time I told myself I was still reading. I read newspapers. Subscribed to magazines. Read manuals and 'how to' books. Later, when it became clear that the internet was going to dominate a lot of young minds, I remember saying, 'No worries, they are still reading - young people who are on the internet are reading.'

But they weren't. And neither was I.

Trying to fall in love with books again

Candy Gourlay

What made me decide to return to reading again - which was a bit like returning to a forgotten love - was deciding that I wanted to write.

How could I write if I didn't read? I needed to read again so that I could find out what sorts of books were getting published. I needed to read again so that I could re-read the books I loved and remind myself what I loved about them. I needed to read again because I needed to remember what it meant to love books.

But it was difficult. When I opened a book, my attention wandered after a few lines. The house was too noisy, too full of children and chores.

And I was full of reproach. I accused myself. How could I have forgotten how to read? Why did I allow it? Had it made me too dumb to appreciate a book again? Why did long pages of text seem so daunting? Why had I become so easily bored? So easily put off? So lost?


I think that has to be the best way to describe what happens when one can't find their way into reading again. You might be a parent struggling to fall in love with books again. Or a tired teacher desperate to read but intimidated by how much you have to catch up on. Or a grandparent trying to show a good example to a reluctant grandchild. Or, like I was, an aspiring author, former bookworm, who'd lost her way.

We are lost. And we need to find our way into that magic, safe, place, where reading is a pleasure. Not a goal. Not an education. Not a requirement. A PLEASURE.

The rights of the reader

Parents, teachers, librarians,
please on no account use these pages
as an instrument of torture

This appears on the dedication page of The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac, which is described as a 'passionate defence of reading for pleasure ... founded on his belief in our right to read anything, anywhere, at any time, so long as we are enjoying ourselves'.

A reader, Pennac writes, has the right not to read. The right to skip. The right not to finish a book. The right to read it again. The right to read anything. The right to mistake a book for real life. The right to read anywhere. The right to dip in. The right to read out loud. The right to be quiet.

Basically, it's a declaration that reading, any which way, is okay.

But what if you did love books, once upon a time, but lost the ability to lose yourself in a story?

A few simple strategies for learning how to read ... again

Candy Gourlay

  1. Take the time. Put a timer on. Fifteen minutes. Thirty minutes. Go for minutes, not hours. This is just to get into the swing of reading again. If you're serious about reading, don't pick a time when you get sleepy - though sometimes bedtime can be the only time to read. If so, try to stave off sleep by sitting up properly.
  2. Turn everything off. Leave your gadgets in another room. Stay far away from screens and other things that may command your attention. It's only for a short time, nobody is going to miss you, and you aren't going to miss them.
  3. This is not the time to read Anna Karenina. You are looking to re-start reading, not save World Literacy. What do you love? Something funny? Something short? Something satisfying? Romance? Crime? Thriller? Get ahead by picking something you think you might love.
  4. If it doesn't grab you, try again. Don't waste time soldiering through a book if it isn't hooking you in. There will be another. Find it.
  5. Remember your rights. You can skip boring bits. You can stop if you hate it. You can read it again. You can dip in and out. You can read aloud if you feel like it.

'There is no room for pain. There is no room for struggle. There is no room for boredom,' says Paul Jennings of instilling 'a love, an attitude, a passion' for reading in The Reading Bug (subtitle: 'And how to help your child catch it'). Advising parents on ways to encourage a love of reading in children, Jennings says: 'The early stages of reading should not involve any effort on the part of the child.'

Same for folks trying to read again.

You can't just pick up War and Peace and get on with it. Falling in love with reading again is not instant. You need to want it. You need to make it happen. You need to give it time and a little bit of gentle practice.

And you need a damn good read.

Some books that made me read again:

  • About a Boy by Nick Hornby (and all of Nick Hornby's books thereafter)
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (and all of Louis Sachar's books thereafter)
  • The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean (and all of Geraldine McCaughrean's books thereafter)
  • Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (and all of Sharon Creech's books thereafter)

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