26 Books in 2018: How I Got My Pre-Baby Book Count Back!

In 2018, I actually surpassed my annual average in books. OK, OK, by one, but that’s a big deal for this full-time working mama. Here’s how I had my best reading year ever by changing my perspective on how and what I read!

Before my daughter was born, I read twenty-five books a year. And that’s twenty-five of what I called “the good stuff,” meaning titles that showed up on award-winning lists and had an impressive sticker on the cover. I saw myself as a Literary, academic reader, and I could not waste my precious reading time with anything that wasn’t edifying.

And then that precious little girl was born, and my brain space and time were taken from me. “The good stuff” started to bore me or depress me, and I went down to just twelve new books the next year.

Reading is what recharges me. Getting through only twelve books is a sign of just how exhausted I was that year. I needed to read more to feel complete, and this meant I had to change the way I engaged in my favorite pastime. Here’s how I beat my pre-baby book count:

#1: Changing HOW I read

Yeah, I’m one of those snooty snoots that likes to hold a physical book and flip real pages and remember the words as they looked in a specific part of the book. But it’s hard to get to that place of zen while balancing a baby on your hip or holding a breast pump to your boob. I did what I vowed never to do: read e-books and (gasp!) count audiobooks as “reading.”

Both forms are so much easier for busy moms. I can read e-books by the glow of my cell phone when I am stuck sitting in the dark, trying to cuddle Jaya back to sleep after she had a nightmare. I can listen to audiobooks during my 30 minute commute to work, or while I do my chores on the weekends. Seriously, audiobooks are the frickin best.

#2: Expanding WHAT I read

After reading Divergent and Maze Runner, I swore off YA fiction. I figured it was all the same: “strong” character caught in a romantic dilemma and navigating through a post-apocalyptic dystopia. You’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

But I also teach high school. When I started doing daily book talks for my students and encouraging them to read every day, I learned that most of them just weren’t into “the good stuff.” They were young. They wanted the fun stuff.

During the 2017-18 school year, I had a particularly nerdy group of freshmen. They inspired me to challenge myself: I only read YA books from Spring Break through the end of the year. Not gonna lie, I was scared of getting dumber in the process.

I was amazed. YA is so much more than just dystopian romances (although, yes, that is quite a bit of the genre). I’ll have to write a separate blog post about my experience. I will say that it totally changed the way I looked at the genre and my kids and myself as a reader.

After my experience with expanding to YA, I tried out nonfiction audiobooks in the fall, then cheesy romances in December. Both were genres I felt uncomfortable with before, but I learned so much in the process.

I’ve had to change what I mean by “the good stuff.” Now, I define a “good” book as a powerful story that helps me grow as a writer, teacher, and individual.

#3: Holding on to WHY I read (and making time to meet that need)

Life is busy and shit happens. It’s hard to find time to slow down and read. That’s why it’s so necessary to have a “why” that is strong and will work as your reading juice.

I often find myself at points in my day when I could power through and exhaust myself entirely by getting through my massive to-do list, or take a moment to relax and recharge with a book. My “why” is having enough sanity to be patient with my high school students at school, then with my toddler. I also need to read in order to be a good English teacher. These are the things I hold onto dearly when I’m struggling with time to read.

I have to find ways to incorporate reading into my pretty busy day. Audiobooks are perfect for this. I can listen to them while I drive to and from work, and while I get through that neverending load of toddler laundry at home.

I also weave some reading time into my work day. I’m lucky to be an English teacher because I get to build it into my class time. If you’re not a teacher, try reading during your breaks. And don’t feel guilty. Depending on what you read, you could count it as your own form of professional development (which I do, because reading is essential to teaching English). Or you can count it as necessary self-care at work. It’s proven that taking little breaks like this through a work day is proven to improve productivity— so do it!

At home, I take advantage of everyone’s sleep schedules. I usually sneak in at least ten minutes of reading when both my daughter and husband have fallen asleep, right before I go to bed myself. I also use this precious chunk of time to create or write, so my reading time depends on my energy level and creative to-do list.

I know. Finding time is where most people stop and say they just don’t have time in their busy days. My best advice to finding and making time for reading: remember why you read and hold onto it dearly. Audit your time, find a few chunks of time that work for you. From there, make reading a priority. For me, it is a necessary form of self-care and a way to grow as a teacher. For you, it may be education or connecting with others. Find your reason for reading and don’t let go!

On To a Successful Reading Year in 2019!

This year, I’m taking what I learned in 2018 forward. I hope my big takeaways from the past year can help you read more this year, too:

  1. Change your perspective on HOW you read, whether that be the time that you spend reading or the media that you use to read. If you have a mental block that’s keeping you from reading, assess it and challenge it.
  2. Change your perspective on WHAT you read. We so often limit ourselves to one or a few genres. It’s like ordering the same thing on the menu: there are so many other things out there just waiting to blow your mind! And, if you’re snooty about a specific genre, try it out. I suggest going off recommendations from people you trust, or respected book lists so that you are reading a good sample of that genre.
  3. Remember why you read and hold onto it. As with any goal-setting, knowing your WHY is crucial. For me, it’s a combination of giving myself time to relax, as well as growing as an ELA teacher. Get down to the heart of why you read and hold onto it dearly. Remind yourself of it when you find that you are holding yourself back from reading. It will be your reading juice.

In 2019, I’m still aiming for at least 25 books. I like to keep my goals realistic and attainable. (…But I’m secretly hoping for a few more now that I’ve grown as a reader.) What are your 2019 reading goals? Happy reading, nerds!

(PS Reading is the perfect break from grading!)
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