HarperCollins Head of Fiction, Catherine Milne.
HarperCollins Head of Fiction, Catherine Milne.

How to rediscover your love of reading

The past few weeks have proved to be a time of huge change for us across the world.

While we have - theoretically - more time than ever to sit down and tackle that ever-growing TBR pile, some readers have been finding it tricky to relax and escape.

Here is some advice to get you back on track.

I don't know about you, but for a while back there, I was having some fairly dark days. I could barely concentrate on work or home, as it seemed like adjusting to WFH was taking all my brain cells and energy.

At the end of each working day, after endless Microsoft Team and Zoom meetings, and countless emails, I was left feeling depleted and frayed. There were many times where I'd find myself slumped on the couch at the end of the work day, watching Netflix - but even then I couldn't concentrate.

I was only half watching, half aimlessly scrolling through social media on my phone, looking for news, information, an image or a moment that would briefly hook me in … and of course that meant I was missing large chunks of what was happening in the dark Nordic crime drama or whatever was playing out on my screen at the time.

So everything felt stuttering, incomplete, dissatisfying. Some evenings I was even juggling three screens at once: the TV, my iPad, my phone, flipping from one to another for hours, like some sort of weird, jerky Olympic digital marathon. It was too much and it left me perpetually frustrated and heavy.

 

Catherine Milne - HarperCollins Head of Fiction.
Catherine Milne - HarperCollins Head of Fiction.

 

In those dark days, reading just felt like too much effort, I couldn't do it. And this is me talking - a publisher.

Books are literally my livelihood as well as my passion. I'm usually reading two or three books at the one time, not to mention juggling countless manuscripts, and all the while, greedily looking out for more. But lately, I found I just couldn't settle to any books, and it was messing with my head.

Are you the same? If this feels deeply familiar to you, I just want to say to you: HANG IN THERE.

After trying one book after another and discarding all of them for weeks, I finally found the book that unlocked the joy of reading for me. I slipped into it, like a released fish sliding back into the water - easily, naturally. 'Ahh,' I said to myself, 'I remember this. This is how it is meant to feel …' It's that delicious moment when you lose yourself, lose all awareness of what's happening around you, and you just … surrender to the story.

You sink into it. Everything else falls away. The world is lost to you, and there's only the world of the book. A good book requires our full attention - then, and only then, is when it offers up its riches. In Julia Baird's beautiful new book, Phosphorescence, in which she explores awe, wonder and what it is that sustains us when the world goes dark (and how timely is it, that this book comes along exactly now, when we all need it?), she says the first lesson she learned in her quest to find what Emily Dickinson calls 'the light within' is: to pay attention. This resonates deeply with me.

 

Julia Baird’s beautiful new book, Phosphorescence, in which she explores awe, wonder and what it is that sustains us when the world goes dark. Picture: Supplied
Julia Baird’s beautiful new book, Phosphorescence, in which she explores awe, wonder and what it is that sustains us when the world goes dark. Picture: Supplied

 

It's almost unimportant what book it is that regained my attention (though if you must know, it was Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell), as everyone will find the book that works for them. Because that's kind of the magic of books, isn't it? You've just got to find the one that works for you … even if someone else raves about a book, doesn't necessarily mean it's going to work for you. So, persist. Keep trying. Keep picking up new books - or old books, there is nothing to beat the joy of re-reading - and that feeling will come back, I promise.

I'm so glad I rediscovered the joy of reading.

Catherine Milne is Harper Collins Head of Fiction.

Originally published as How to rediscover your love of reading



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