Don’t Like Reading?
You’re not alone.

Fast asleep, my lifeless face had completely conked out on the book. Even though my elementary book report was due tomorrow, I failed to read past the first few pages until the last possible day. Not to worry—I would eventually wake up in the middle of the night and remember the wretched reading I still had to do. I’m pretty sure this happened more than once.

I knew reading was important. I was supposed to enjoy it. And I liked the idea of books. But reading for fun—for me—seemed impossible.

While the rest of my friends spent their childhood with The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and The Mysterious Benedict Society, I was more interested in music, sports, and Lego. I wasn’t necessarily bad at reading; I might even check out a book on dinosaurs or animals from time to time because I liked the material. But I never just read for fun—for reading’s sake.

As a teen, I never finished a secular book outside of school. Sure, I enjoyed English class, and I certainly read for school projects. But I still couldn’t bring myself to read for fun. Going into college, I bought big, important books, visited the library regularly, and even joined a book club. But all efforts were wasted in vain.

Maybe you can relate. Of course, you know how to read (unless this is being dictated to you for some reason), and you might even be good at it for school purposes. Certainly you’re aware of the importance of reading. But if you have difficulty reading for the sheer pleasure of it, you are not alone.

Something has changed, however, since my elementary book report days. You see, I’ve learned to love reading for fun. And you can too.

1. Find a reading mentor.

It was the start of another year at college. As new incoming students started arriving on campus, one in particular caught my attention—for two reasons.

First was his awesome personal library—the largest I had ever seen from a student. This was no common hodgepodge of feel-good self-help books. Rather, he carried a treasure trove of literature: everything from modern scientific treatises to stories written before the Roman Empire existed.

But what impressed me even more was his way of thinking. He was able to provide excellent analysis on any subject. He also knew how the mind worked, which made him an extraordinary student. If anything, he was an incredible conversationalist.

Clearly, if I wanted to think like him, I’d have to learn to read like him. So I talked to him often about his books. He showed me several reading lists, shared how he took notes on his reading, and taught me the value of a good translation. Most importantly, he infected me with his love of reading.

Looking back, the both of us often had lots of differing opinions about what we read. My library ended up looking pretty different from his. But to this day, he still provides me with phenomenal reading advice.

If you can, find a “reading mentor.” It could be a teacher, an adult in your congregation, or even a parent, but for me, it was one of my own peers! Simply find someone who 1) loves reading and 2) thinks deeply. Then, get infected by their love of reading.

2. Don’t be a sophomore.

One of the first books my reading mentor told me about was How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren. He said he wished he read it before anything else he read. That was enough to convince me.

Only four paragraphs in, I came across this: “We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few.”

Wait a minute.

This whole time, I had been reading simply to learn more things. But Adler was challenging that notion: Reading was about more than just facts—it was about growing into a deeper thinker.

“It is true, of course, that you should be able to remember what the author said as well as know what he meant. Being informed is a prerequisite to being enlightened. The point, however, is not to stop at being informed.”

The ancient Greeks had a word to describe those who read many books in a wrong way: “sophomore,” literally meaning a “wise moron.” Up to this point, I was a sophomore—only reading to accumulate more information. Perhaps this is why I never cared for reading: Why read when I can just learn these facts elsewhere?

But now, reading had a whole different meaning.

This can be hard to break if you’re only used to reading for school. But the point of reading isn’t to get through every last page, memorize all the facts, and remember every last detail of the story. It’s about letting the author’s message change you.

As Solomon said: “Of the making of books there is no end.” If you’ve gotten all you can out of a book, don’t be afraid to put it away and start another. “One hundred minus your age” is a good guideline to follow: If you’re 16 years old, read at least 84 pages. Then, if you think there’s something better out there for you, move on (keep in mind, you can’t judge fiction until you know the whole story). The point isn’t to read every page. The point is to grow.

By the way, if you want my number-one book recommendation, get How to Read a Book. Then, when it comes in the mail, let it change you.

3. Lift heavier weights.

“You will not improve as a reader,” Adler writes, “if all you read are books that are well within your capacity. You must tackle books that are beyond you, or as we have said, are over your head.”

When I was in second grade, I got in trouble from my public school administration for reading a fourth-grade level book. I’ll admit, it was definitely out of my comfort zone. But this castigation sucked out all my ambition.

Adler was now offering me a second chance. Yes, it would be difficult, maybe even uncomfortable. But I was no longer reading to accumulate information—I was reading to grow. So I was ready for a challenge.

Wanting to start with a history book, I picked the History of the Peloponnesian War by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. We had briefly learned about it in school, and Adler even talked about it in his book. My “reading mentor,” having read it himself, told me it was one of the more difficult books he had encountered. But I was ready for the challenge.

To be clear: I’m not saying you should read Thucydides first. I only picked it because I was interested in Greek history. You should start with something you’re interested in (that helps with learning to love reading). All I’m saying is that the books you pick should challenge you. Thucydides definitely challenged me.

This history, written in the 400s b.c., told the story of the war between Athens and Sparta. The minutiae of detail regarding naval boats, small islands, and internal political debates were hard to follow, partly because they had little effect on me. But, as Adler notes, world leaders have been studying this book for millennia. It’s stood the test of time—some scholars even consider it one of the first history books ever. It didn’t matter whether I liked it: this book had already changed the world! The only question was whether I would let it change me.

Don’t be worried if you’re sometimes overwhelmed by a book. Muscles only get stronger when they lift heavier weights. When a book challenges us, it’s a sign that we’re growing. And isn’t that what reading is all about?

4. Never, EVER read without a pencil.

For my reading mentor, one book recommendation stood above the rest: the essays of Michel de Montaigne, a 16th century French writer and philosopher. If you’ve ever written an essay in school, you have him to thank for literally inventing the essay. Montaigne’s works cover a wide range of topics: everything from the education of children, to war horses, to … books!

His essays contained some incredible points—points I wanted to remember and apply in my life. To make sure I remembered them (or, at least, where they were), I marked them with a pencil and wrote my thoughts in the margin.

However, I didn’t always agree with him. For example, he says he only liked discussion with competition and debate; unity was boring to him. While I do love thought-provoking discussion, I disagree that unity should be “boring.” I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate those thoughts, though, were it not for the pencil in my hand.

For a book to change us, we have to think. And we simply cannot think quite like we do when we hold a pencil. Even when I’m not marking something, the pencil is a personal reminder to put everything the author says to the test. Personally, I like to put my markings in the book itself, though others prefer a reading journal or commonplace book. These also provide a valuable reference—especially if you ever choose to go back and write an article about how you learned to love reading.

At this point, it didn’t even feel like reading. It felt like discussion, and with one of the Renaissance’s greatest thinkers! Plus, Montaigne would probably appreciate that, in my discussion, I disagreed with him.

5. Read 30 minutes a day.

If you’re still reading this, it means you’ve warmed up to the idea of learning to love to read. So allow me to share one more piece of advice that helped me on my journey: Read 30 minutes a day.

This advice comes from a writer and public speaker named Tim Urban. His reasoning? If you read the average reading speed—250 words a minute—for 30 minutes, you read 7,500 words a day. At that rate, in one year, the average person could read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Moby Dick, all of Shakespeare, Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography, and four more books—2.7 million words a yearno speed reading required.

Urban’s math checked out. Even with a busy college schedule, I always felt like I had time to read: Thirty minutes wasn’t that big of a commitment.

To be honest—I still have to force myself to read at times. It’s hard to shut everything else out and concentrate on a book for 30 minutes. But once I do, it’s usually harder closing the book.

Since doing this, I’ve caught myself deep in histories of colonial America and ancient Ireland. I’ve been stunned by how easily a mapmaker can lie with a map. I’ve had my mind blown with papers on archaeology and foreign languages. I’ve relished in works of poetry and politics, and I probably owe some friendships to a delightful book on body language.

If you don’t like reading, I know exactly how you feel. I was there. But learning to love to read has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. Yes, it was something I had to learn how to love—but it’s something you can learn to love too. And yes, you will love it.