The Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour

Looking for English books in Amsterdam? You’ve come to the right place. As someone who loves 1) books, 2) a bargain, and 3) giving unsolicited advice, I’ve combined all three, and put together the Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book tour.

What is this Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour? The Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour (DAEBB, for short) includes a selection of the best English bookstores in Amsterdam. What makes them the best? The places that made this list each offer a different type of book, with a different environment, varying price points, and are all within a short radius of each other in the center – for ease of access. Plus, I’ve highlighted pit stops on the way so that you can keep up your caffeine and sugar levels in between.

What makes this book tour “definitive”? Easy: it’s got everything you’d ever need in a walking book tour:

  • Walkable
  • Picturesque
  • With various price points, putting the most affordable reads first
  • Much-needed pastry breaks

Here is the route to take if you want to get as many English books as possible, accompanied by well-timed snack breaks along the way.

Starting secondhand: The Book Exchange – Used English Books

The Book Exchange – Used English Books, Kloveniersburgwal 58

The Book Exchange – Used English Books is the perfect starting point to your book tour for several reasons:

  1. You can unload your old books, trading them in for cash or store credit. They don’t take in all English books, as it depends on if they think it will sell. But, you can always head to their site, where you can send them a picture of the book spines, where they’ll tell you in advance which ones they’ll take in.
  2. It’s got the largest selection of secondhand English books on the European continent. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a popular title or something more obscure – they’ll have options for both.
  3. Out of all of the stores in this tour, this one is the cheapest. You can satisfy that book-buying urge with little financial guilt, from the get-go.

The space itself is a book-lovers dream, with three floors and a basement filled top-to-bottom with titles of all kinds. You could spend hours rummaging around, enveloped by the smell of well-worn books. As should be a requirement in any good secondhand bookstore, the staff are characters in their own right and know their stuff.

Oh, and if you’re a sci-fi or fantasy buff, head straight to the basement. Their sci-fi and fantasy selection is incredible – from the usual big names to obscure, D-list titles, with amazingly cheesy covers.

Indepent bookstore for activists of all types: Fort van Sjakoo

Fort van Sjakoo, Jodenbreestraat 24

Exiting The Book Exchange, you’ll head straight on to Waterloopplein, where you’ll find the independent bookstore, Fort van Sjakoo.

Here, there’s a different kind of book selection, available mainly in English and Dutch. The titles sold at Fort van Sjakoo are more political and radical than what you’ll find at your average bookstore. Now legitimized, this store has its roots as an unofficial bookstore in a squatted building. You’ll find titles about climate action, anti-racism, communism, anti-fascism, and everything in between.

If you’re trying to steer away from mainstream literature and towards more critical political ideology, it’s worth a visit.

For the ones looking for that diamond in the rough: Oudemanhuispoort

Oudemanhuispoort, Oudemanhuispoort

Leaving Fort van Sjakoo behind, we’re retracing our steps, crossing familiar canals, and going back towards the center, through the Oudemanhuispoort passage.

Cheap, second-hand books have been sold at stalls of Oudemanhuispoort – now owned by the University of Amsterdam – since the 18th century. Van Gogh himself used to frequent these booths, having documented his purchases at the time.

Nowadays, you can find a selection of books in English, Dutch, and occasionally other languages. While less curated and organized than the other options on the list, for those with enough patience, it’s worth perusing the selection available. For those without, you should at least walk through and experience a bit of Amsterdam’s history.

Snack break: De Laatste Kruimel

De Laatste Kruimel, Langebrugsteeg 4

Time for a snack break.

On your way to the next stop, there will be a bakery called De Laatste Kruimel, tempting you with baked goods in the window. Do not resist the temptation and go in.

Doesn’t matter if you’re more into sweet or savory, there’s something for everyone: scones, quiches, cakes, pies, and croissants. Grab whatever it is you’re craving, get a coffee, and get ready to head to the next stop.

Cheap, popular titles: New English Bookstore

New English Bookstore, Kalverstraat 223

The New English Bookstore won’t be the most exciting or unique when it comes to its charm or selection, but it is reliable and well-priced. Consider it the Subway of bookstores – nothing to write home about, but you know what you’re getting each time, and there are way worse options.

This store’s specialty is cheap classics and popular books – think around the 5-11 euro range for your Orwells or Austens. It’s nothing too fancy, but a good place to stock up on the basics before you move on to the next store.

More secondhand books: Boekhandel De Slegte

De Slegte, Vijzelstraat 53

A secondhand bookstore that has good options for the Dutchies, too.

I’d skip their English fiction section. Most of what they have on offer, you’ll find at the other stores on this list. Instead, if you’re interested in a specific genre (i.e. history, business, psychology, etc.), you’ll find some gems in English interspersed among the Dutch titles.

Their art, fashion, and design books are the best of the bunch. If you’re looking for a good deal on the usually prohibitively-priced coffee-table books, you’ll find them here. Personal anecdote time: only last week, I bought a great foundational art book that’s been out of print for years, going for 120+ euros online, for only 30 in-store.

Time for a cheeky cocktail with a view: Blue Amsterdam

Blue Amsterdam, Winkelcentrum Kalverpassage, Singel 457

Your feet might be a bit sore at this point, and your bags are probably heavier than when you started, so it’s time to sit down and enjoy a drink at Blue Amsterdam.

If you walk up the busy Kalverstraaat – the shopping street of Amsterdam – and into the Kalverpassage mall, take the elevator all the way to the top, and you’ll be at Blue. They’ve got an assortment of bites to eat if you’re feeling peckish, and some cocktails too, if you’re feeling cheeky. Most importantly, they’ve got a panoramic view of the city that’s all yours to enjoy.

So sit down, have a drink, and enjoy the view, before moving on to the next one.

Ol’ Faithful: The American Book Center

The American Book Center, Spui 12

At this point, you’d think you’ve seen everything there is to see, but that’s where you’d be wrong. If there’s a bookstore in Amsterdam that has that one trendy book that you haven’t been able to find anywhere, it’ll be at the American Book Center.

The American Book Center (also known as ABC), feels like it has every book, on every topic you’d think of. Music biographies, art, fashion, fiction of all types, graphic novels, business, self-help… everything. They always have a selection of recommended books by the store, including a wall of “what we’re reading” that gives it that personal touch.

The American Book Center was the first English-only bookstore I’d been to in Europe since I moved from the US. It holds a special place in my heart, which is why I recommend it over Waterstones, which is just opposite, closer to the Kalverstraat. You can go there too, but in my totally subjective opinion, ABC has a better selection

Bonus round on Fridays: Book market

Amsterdam Book Market, Spui

If you’re still on the prowl for more, follow this route on Fridays. Every Friday, from 10:00 to 18:00, there’s a book market right in front of American Book Center and Waterstones, on Spui square.

People will be selling new and secondhand books, and even art prints, for those more artistically-inclined. It’s a fun bonus round of buying if you catch it at the right time.

Now hobble on home, and get ready to curl up with your new selection.

Thank you for joining Livelong’s Definitive Amsterdam English Bookstore Book Tour. Please don’t forget to leave us a scathing review on Yelp (we live for the drama) and be sure to pick up a typo-riddled t-shirt written in Comic Sans at the gift shop on your way out!

Oh, and here’s the Google Maps route if you want to give it a go.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

I Read 100 Books In 2021: Here Were My Top 20

In 2021, I read 100 books. It might have meant spending the two weeks leading up to New Year’s speedreading eight books, but what matters is that in the end, I made it. Of the 100, I’m highlighting 20 of my favorite reads last year, in no particular order.

When taking a quick look at my Goodreads account, it’s become evident there are certain genres I’ve given more love to than others. To keep it simple, I’ve split my top 20 into these categories. Get ready for some recommendations on the following:

  • fiction,
  • autobiographies,
  • graphic novels,
  • essays,
  • feminism,
  • and professional development.

Fiction

Fiction will always have my heart over non-fiction, despite this last year being more focused on the latter for speed reasons. Still, I made sure to add fiction to the reading list whenever possible (aka whenever I wasn’t behind). These were the best of the best.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a sucker for well-done satire, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle did not disappoint. If you’re looking for a genuinely funny, satirical take on science and religion, look no further.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The story of a young, handsome, yet cruel man who seemingly never ages, but who’s driven mad by a portrait of him that becomes older and uglier with each act of cruelty.

Clever writing paired with great characters and a hint of controversy (at the time) for its homosexual subtext. Oscar Wilde’s wit is famous for a reason.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Before reading this book, I was well-versed in Neil Gaiman and a newbie to Terry Pratchett. I’m now trying to remedy the latter.

A fun read about an angel and a demon who are working together to avoid the apocalypse because they like being on Earth too much. Add in some anti-Christ and witch shenanigans, and you’ve got yourself a fun comfort read.

Out of Bounds by Beverly Naidoo

On the heavier side of things, there’s Out of Bounds by Beverly Naidoo, a book about racism and apartheid in South Africa throughout the decades.

Each chapter details a separate story related to the societal changes caused by increasing (and eventually decreasing) racism during each particular decade. It’s a heartbreaking and sobering reminder of the potential humans have in being inhuman to others, based on something as arbitrary as the color of one’s skin.

Autobiographies

Sometimes the best life advice comes from people sharing their own stories. In 2021, spending most of it cooped up in my home, unable to do much, I leaned into my obsession with hearing about other people’s interesting lives and dove into some top-shelf autobiographies.

My Life in France By Julia Child

Julia Child is a treasure. I picked this up because of the Julie & Julia movie and was not disappointed.

It follows Julia Child’s life after she left the US, detailing her lifelong affair with French cooking (and France itself). Highlights include her loving relationship with Paul, the arduous journey of publishing her first cookbook, and her frank but wonderful tone of voice, that sweeps you into the story of her life with ease.

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane

Some background: my partner, G, and I sometimes read books to each other in the evening. If you’re white, I do not recommend trying to read this out loud, because you’ll be censoring yourself a lot.

Despite this initial hiccup that led to choosing another book to read out loud instead, this book made me majorly respect Gucci Mane. From his roots to his rise to fame, to his battle with addiction, to his arrests, each page had me hooked. His story deserves to be heard, and his redemption is one you’ll be rooting for by the end of the book.

You don’t need to be a rap fan to appreciate this one.

Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem by Dapper Dan

Love it or hate it, logomania has its place in fashion history, and it all started with Dapper Dan.

A hustler turned fashion trendsetter, Dapper Dan was the first to take high fashion brands’ logos and not only make entire clothing items out of them but also make them available to the black community. Going largely unrecognized by these same fashion houses he helped modernize for most of his life, he helped cement the relationship between these fashion houses and some of the greatest black entertainers from the 80s onwards.

If you’re into fashion history that deviates from the traditional European luxury brands, I’d check this out.

Cash by Johnny Cash

Things I recommend: this book. Things I do not recommend: reading this book and then remembering that the music video Hurt exists and re-watching it five times in a row on YouTube, with a glass of white wine, until you’re sobbing all over your keyboard at one in the morning on a workday.

In this autobiography, Johnny Cash looks back at his life, sharing the highs and the lows, from amphetamine addictions to his relationship with June Carter Cash.

Graphic Novels

If you’re still on the fence as to whether graphic novels count as real novels, these next few might finally convince you otherwise. We’re moving past superheroes for this one.

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

A first-hand account of a young woman living through the Iranian Revolution, and the ramifications of it on her life including her move to Europe.

It’s hard to find a more unique, poignant, and deeply personal story anywhere else. All I can say to not spoil it: just check this one out.

Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea by Guy Deslisle

Guy Delisle is a French-Canadian animator who makes travelogues of his work supervising animation studios in other countries.

In Pyongyang, he offers insight into what life in North Korea is like as a foreigner, without being sensationalistic. His approach makes the strange mundane, giving it a more “slice-of-life” feel than the usual exploitative, sensation-seeking, undercover journalist one that tends to be the angle of most insider stories about life in North Korea.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

I used to read Allie Brosh’s blog, Hyperbole and a Half, religiously in middle school. Whatever she posts hits me right in the funny bone, every time. On top of that, she’s also able to hit an emotional nerve, with her last book having one of the most recognizable depictions of depression I’ve ever come across.

So, when I found out she released Solutions and Other Problems, I bought it and read it within two days. Once again, Allie Brosh hits the perfect balance of funny, bizarre, and heartbreaking that gets me every time.

Essays

This might not be a surprise to those who regularly read my blog, but I love essay compilations – especially funny ones. Here are the highlights of 2021.

The Best of Me by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors, and as such, a compilation of his top essays was always going to end up on the best list. Snort-worthy, slightly neurotic, and off-beat – just what you’d expect from one of the funniest authors out there.

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman by Nora Ephron

Another compilation of funny essays, this time by Nora Ephron. Although I originally knew her for her writing work on my favorite rom-com, When Harry Met Sally, her essays didn’t disappoint. A fun read covering topics ranging from aging to housing in New York, that’ll make you chuckle.

Feminism

2021 was the year of moving beyond my narrow understanding of the female experience, instead choosing to focus on intersectionality. Here were the best of the bunch.

It’s Not About The Burqa by Mariam Khan

A compilation of essays from different English-Muslim women about what it means to be a Muslim woman, and more specifically, what it means to them to be a Muslim woman in the United Kingdom.

A book interested in giving a voice directly to these women, instead of having a white knight Westerner speaking for them.

Hood Feminism: Notes From The Women That A Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

Feminism that chooses to leave some women behind to benefit others, isn’t feminism.

In Hood Feminism, Mikki Kendall breaks down exactly where modern-day feminism is lacking in supporting black women (and other women of color) in America today. By stating the facts, she leaves little doubt as to why feminism should focus on intersectionality and encourages magnifying BIPOC women’s voices to help their communities, instead of hogging the microphone and turning to blanket solutions that ultimately silence them, while raising up the few.

Whipping Girl: A Transexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serrano

A trans woman shares her thoughts on feminism, misogyny, and womanhood, based on her experience being raised male and later living as a woman.

Her point of view on misogyny, female sexuality, and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (also known as TERFs) are eye-opening, to say the least.

War’s Unwomanly Face by Svetlana Alexievich

A tough read, but one that’s worth it.

Svetlana Alexievich shares interviews with hundreds of Soviet women who fought in World War II. In it, the pomp and circumstance of war are torn down, and the everyday stories of women on the front lines are pushed forward.

Svetlana Alexievich does a fantastic job of not only highlighting the difference in these women’s experiences compared to the men but also the differences in storytelling between men and women. The little details are what make this one a must-read.

Professional Development

In January of last year, I started off the year at a new company, with a new role. To make sure I made the most of it, I added many books on marketing, communications, and writing to my reading list. These were the ones that stood out.

The Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan

If you’re not in marketing, you can skip this one. But if you’re in marketing, this book is your essential guide to content marketing.

In it, you’ll find actionable advice, real-life examples, and a person-centric approach. The last part, in particular, is what sets it apart from the rest of the marketing drivel.

Lost And Founder: The Mostly Awful, Mostly Awesome Truth About Building A Tech Startup by Rand Fishkin

A book I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. Although I have no interest in being a founder in a start-up, it’d been so heavily recommended, I caved. And I’m happy I did.

It’s clear that Rand Fishkin is an experienced writer. His openness with his failures (and not just successes) and de-romanticization of the start-up sphere make this the first start-up-related book I’ve read that doesn’t come across as an extensive ego-trip.

On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King

I’ve already written about why you should read On Writing by Stephen King if you haven’t already, so I’ll keep it short: great tips about writing from a great writer. The memoir part of this book is phenomenal.

And that’s a wrap! I’m doing 60 instead of 100 this year, so if you have any recommendations based on these, drop them in the comments. I’m always looking to add to my never-ending reading list.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

How To Read 100 Books In A Year (From Someone Not Organized Or Good At Finishing Things)

If there’s something I hate, it’s book snobs.

You know the ones.

The ones who give you 75 quotes on why every successful person on the planet reads 5 books every day so you should be doing it too. The ones who put reading books on a pedestal of “the ultimate, bestest way to consume information and improve yourself/your life”.

I love books and reading is an important part in my life, but I feel like people forget that reading should be accessible and easy and fun.

While sure, reading can make you more productive or intelligent or more empathetic or a more interesting person, it doesn’t have to be the end goal. I read because it’s fun. And you should too.

Because I wanted to get back into enjoying reading as much as I did when I was a kid, I’ve been setting reading challenges for myself. After two successful reading challenges in the last couple years, I’m finally on track to conquering 100 books for this year.

There’s a lot of advice out there online, but most of it seems to be for the more organized, hustle-culture, productivity-booster type of individual. I do not count myself among those. I’m more of a loosey-goosey, absent-minded, eccentric-art-teacher, later-in-life-diagnosed-ADHD kind of type.

And here’s what worked for me.

Start small.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’ve heard it all before: don’t run until you can walk, don’t bite off more than you can chew, slow and steady wins the race, ad nauseam. It’s cliche, but in this case, it’s cliche for a reason. Of course it’s exciting to set your first reading target to be 100 in a year. It’s an impressive number, but it can be overwhelming if you’re not already in the habit of reading regularly.

If you’re starting off setting a reading challenge, have it be relative to your starting position. For me, I started with 25, then 52, and this year 100, because that’s what felt feasible.

Build up to it. As you see your want-to-read list grow, you’ll also be motivated to take on more next time.

Prioritize reading

There’s no getting around it, you have to make reading a priority. Expect to significantly cut down on watching shows, movies, or spending time on social media.

It’s necessary to be mindful of what you’re reading when building in the habit to go for a book instead of… anything else. If you use other forms of media to unwind, don’t try to immediately replace them with books on gender or quantum theory. Try to go for something that you could see as being equally as entertaining.

Basically: you’ll have to get off that darn phone, but feel free to replace mindless scrolling with mindless fluff books if that’s your jam. Just make it a switch you look forward to.

Read what you like (and what you think you might like)

Start off by reading what you like.  

If you’re not sure what you like because it’s been some time since you picked up a book or are deciding to start for the first time, this is where you brainstorm.

If you’re already a reader, go back to your old favorites and start there. If you’re not, there will be genres and topics you find interesting in other forms of media that you can carry over into the books you choose.

I love comedy, but never read funny books when I was younger. One of the first things I did when starting my first reading challenge was look up “funniest books” and tick off a bunch on that list. Even if your niche is “bleak Scandinavian detective shows”, there will usually be a literary equivalent.

Feel free to start exploring topics you’ve always wanted to know more about. I do enjoy non-fiction (despite what it may seem like from my tips), but only in very specific topics like illustration, gender theory, autobiographies, or marketing and communications – because I can apply the last one to my regular job.

If you suspect there might be a topic you could enjoy, add that to the list.

Do your research

What do I mean by the list?

The list will be the place where you put everything you want to read. This can include anything from:

  • Book recommendations from friends
  • Book recommendations from influential people you respect
  • Books you’ve been wanting to read for a while
  • Genres you want to explore
  • Specific authors you enjoy and want to know more on
  • People you find inspiring/interesting who you’d like to read about
  • Topics related to professional development (your job, industry, productivity tips)
  • Topics related to personal development (hobbies, self-actualization, philosophy)
  • Anything and everything you could think about that you’d like to spend time on.

The list will be essential in meeting your reading goals.

Now that you’ve given some thought into what you’d like to read, jot them down. Organize it however works best for you – through Excel or through an automated platform.

Sometimes one of the biggest problems with reading is wondering what you’re in the mood to read. Take the guess work and mental strain out of figuring that out and just use your list as your go-to.

Automate keeping track of what you’re reading

If you’re not on Goodreads already, get on it. And for those who don’t want to support Amazon (Goodreads is owned by Amazon, in case you didn’t already know), StoryGraph provides a great alternative that gives you even more data on your books, like mood, average length, and difficulty.

Either of these platforms will give you a great place to input what you’re reading, let you set a reading goal, tell you if you’re on track with it, and a place to dump your want-to-read list. Plus, you can categorize and rate each book, which will lead to more book recommendations.

If you’re looking to switch over to StoryGraph, you can even export your Goodreads data into StoryGraph so you don’t have to manually input everything.

Physical books, tablets, and e-readers, oh my!

You don’t have to stick to physical books during the entire challenge. If you want to save money and space, combine them with a tablet and/or e-reader.

Having several devices for reading is beneficial because each has their own benefit:

  • Physical books can be great to read at home, especially if you’re reading before bed.
  • Physical books are easier to read if you’re prone to getting distracted.
  • E-books are cheaper and take up less space than physical books.
  • E-book libraries are much more accessible than physical libraries since you don’t have to worry about physically returning anything.
  • If you’re traveling, an e-reader or tablet is more practical than carrying around books. Plus, if you get bored with your current read, you’ll have many more available.

Not limiting yourself to one medium means that you can read whenever works for you. Yes, this means you can still have screen time and read at night and sacrifice your sleep. We’re focusing on how to read more. If you’re already going to stay up late, you might as well replace your phone or TV time with a book.

VARIATION. IS. KEY.

Don’t stick to just one genre or author. Combine short books with long ones. Switch up difficulty levels: combine dense novels with easy breezy reads. Go for fiction and then non-fiction.

Read several books at the same time so you can hop between them in case you get stuck on one and don’t be scared to keep on turning to the list and mixing things up.

If you’re not easily bored, you can skip this one. But, if you’re like me, keeping things varied will make sure you don’t feel stagnant. Following up a marketing book with a graphic novel may seem odd to some, but it can help keep the challenge exciting.  

Variation keeps things fresh.

Keep a mini-library

Make sure you’ve got a pile of books ready to be picked up. This goes for both physical and digital copies.

It’s almost inevitable that you’ll reach point where you don’t know what to read and you want to make it as easy for yourself as possible. If you have pre-selected options to choose from based on the list you made, you’ll be more likely to keep going.

If you’re feeling stuck, going out to buy a new book could be an extra mental hurdle that leads to procrastination. If it’s already there, you’ll be less likely to resist the idea of starting a new book because it’s glaring back at you to read it.

So keep your e-reader stocked with options and stop vilifying the unread stack of books piling on dust in your house by using and replenishing it.

It’s more than fine if you fall behind

I’ve already professed how great I think Goodreads is, but I must admit that sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. Goodreads will let you know if you’re on track for your reading challenge. And it feels great when you’re ahead.

But when it shows you that you’re four books behind (like I currently am at the moment of writing) it can be a teensy bit anxiety-inducing. I want to read and achieve the goal of 100 books, but I know if I panic, I’ll end up procrastinating.

Then I remind myself that I set this goal for myself and no one else and that the whole point is to have fun with it. And I also know this has happened before and I can catch up – I just have to prioritize reading a bit more for the next couple of weeks.

Remember: this is for you and it’s really all about reading more, not about hitting that magical number 100. Don’t stress if you’re behind. Enjoy the journey and read as much as you can.

Part of what led me to challenging myself to read more were some key encounters with old friends. Right when I’d resigned myself to reading less (the motivation wasn’t there anymore) quite a few people in my past started bringing up the fact that they became interested in reading because of how voraciously I read.

The reasons why? Up until then 1) they didn’t realize that reading being fun was an option and 2) they thought to be an avid reader you needed to be on some higher level of self-improvement, or some intellectual path.

That’s really what it took to get the fire going again. A reminder from some old friends of something I’d almost forgotten: reading should be fun and accessible.

If you want to know what didn’t work for my disorganized brain, head here.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Rekindling the Love of Reading: What Didn’t Work & What Did

My life has always been consistently inconsistent. Books, although, have always been one of the few constants in it. With a fervor for reading that made those around me say I ate books instead of reading them, I was known as the reader in whatever circle I was in.

And then from one day to the next, I lost interest in reading.

Not coincidentally, those years overlapped with a bout of depression, insecurity, and a general period of darkness.

Because I was scared of losing that part of me completely, I started actively challenging myself to read more. Over the past few years I’ve gone from 25 to 52 to now trying to hit 100 books this year.

Having to force myself to do something I once loved has made me have to start finding ways to start liking it and be relatively consistent with it. In order to prepare myself, I started reading many articles on this topic and noticed that a lot of it was geared towards people who want to read because of this hustle, millionaire-at-30, CEO-life mentality.

This was and is still not my goal.

I read because it’s fun, I’m curious about learning new things, and it makes me feel more fulfilled than other forms of entertainment. There’s no snobbery or higher goal I aspire to.

If your goal is just to read more and instill that habit into your life, especially if you’re not the most organized, type-A human being, then you’re in the right place.

Here are the tips I avoided like the plague and what worked instead.

You don’t have to schedule your reading to make it a habit

While I love scheduling, I am trash at sticking to plans.

Linking to pre-existing habits only works if you have pre-existing habits to link to. Which if you do, congrats! But if you don’t, it’ll feel like linking a stone in the ocean to a grain of sand, hoping it’ll stay in the same place wave after wave.

Instead, create a general guideline and figure out what works best for you as you progress through your books. For me, something like I have to read x amount of books in x amount of time tends to be good enough. I go for x amount a week, because it’s long enough that it doesn’t feel pressuring, but short enough that I remember to do it.

Plus, unless you’re already prone to being super organized, scheduling it can suck the joy out of any reading challenge and make it feel like… a challenge. Fitting it in wherever it works best for you, be it in 5 hour chunks at night, every other night, waking up ridiculously early, or split through the day will make you more likely to want to do it, instead of only making time for it.

It’s OK to stick through reading something you don’t LOVE

You’re not going to love every book you read.

Even if you do all the research and prep work in the world, there will be books that will feel like a chore to get through. Of course, you should choose books you think you’ll enjoy. But there’s no guarantee that every book, especially once you’re over the one-book-a-week threshold, will be to your taste.

This is especially relevant if you’re halfway through the book anyways – by that point you might as well finish it. The good thing about finishing a book that leaves you disappointed is that it’ll be a good indication of what to avoid in the future.

Instead: if you’re going to commit to a book that you’re not sure you’ll like, make sure it’s a short one. Also make sure you have another one simultaneously that you can pick up in case one of them is making your brain hurt.

Screens are not your enemy

A few facts people like to ignore when recommending people only stick to physical books to avoid distractions:

  • Books are expensive.
  • Books take up space.
  • Getting every book you want is not always possible, especially if you want a book that’s not in the native language of the country you’re in.
  • Not everyone wants to resort to Amazon to buy their books (for those yelling “why don’t you just buy them on Amazon?!)

You’re challenging yourself to read more, not collecting for your personal library or trying to get better sleep. Sure, it’s harder to read if you’re constantly distracted by notifications, but there’s a reason Do Not Disturb exists.

Use it.

Reading in bed is fiiiiiiine

Which leads me to the next piece of advice that seems inescapable: never read in bed.

The reasons why? Well, because it might make you sleepy and you won’t be able to focus. Oh wait, it makes you lose sleep. Oh wait, actually it’s because you need a division of reading and sleeping and it’ll confuse your brain.

While I agree you shouldn’t pick up the habit if you already have that clear division of sleep/play/work area and a consistent sleep schedule, let’s be honest for a second. Most of us scroll for hours on our phones, in bed, every night.

If you already do that, then feel free to read in bed.

Replace the phone for a book. Those arguing you won’t retain important information are assuming you’re reading books to be a smarter, more intellectual, more cultured person instead of just reading for the fun of it. If it’s interesting to you, you’ll remember it.

So maybe just don’t read boring books in bed.

Read at your own pace. Just be mindful of what that is

Real advice I’ve read: read faster. Just read faster? That’s the advice?

Most of us won’t take a speed reading course to prep for a reading challenge. And you shouldn’t.

The fact is, you’ll get through books faster the more you read. Don’t sweat it if you feel slow and clumsy at first. Just like anything else, reading is like a muscle – the more you do it, the more you’ll flex it, and the more dynamic you’ll get. Just keep your pace and focus on what you can read that would match whatever your pace already is.

It’s easier to adjust the book content and size you’re reading to match your speed than it is to learn to read faster.

Read what interests you, not what people tell you will interest you (like practical, non-fiction books)

If you just want to build in regularly reading, focus first on what you enjoy.

You definitely don’t have to love everything you read, but you should at least like it. If practical, non-fiction books are your bread and butter, ignore this section. If you’re like me, a fan of stories more than how-to’s, then start with what you love.

My love of reading really came back in full force when I started reading more fantasy and graphic novels. I’d had a few false starts before where I’d been forcing myself to read classics, self-help non-fiction, and educational books.

While now I’ll gladly pick up one or two (or more) of these, when I was just starting, this made me automatically associate reading with it being another task, making me procrastinate.

Just read what you like and only then focus on all things practical and self-improvement. You’ll be much more willing to give it the time and energy needed for the more tedious books, once you’ve satisfied your taste for the stuff you actually want to read.

A book is a book is a book – you don’t need to break it down into pages

Math hurts my brain. This is why I chose to study social sciences and humanities. Turning something that feels like the opposite of math into something vaguely math-y just sucks the joy out of the experience.

When I started setting myself the goal of picking up more books, all I wanted to get out of reading more was finally getting to the ones I’d put off for so long.

Breaking it down into pages read and how much is the equivalent to one book average and yadayadayada may work for the more goal-oriented, one-track minded of the bunch, but for me, this is a hard pass.

A book is a book is a book. Whatever you consider a book and whatever you think you can manage, just stick to that. If you want to make it more structured for yourself, you are more than welcome to bring out your calculators and Excels.

But for me, keeping track of how many I’ve read and need to read is already a lot, so I keep it as simple as I can.

Basically, if you’re trying to make reading not feel like a chore, don’t make it a chore.

I don’t believe in a world where everyone enjoys reading books, or will fall in love with it if they find the perfect book, just because it’s something that I do. I myself don’t like podcasts or audiobooks because I don’t have the concentration for audio-only, yet know a lot of people who find them even easier and more productive than reading.

One way isn’t more valid than the other just because we’ve given this almost untouchable quality to books.

What I do know, is that you can make it easier for yourself to incorporate it into your daily life.

And if you’re one of the people who gets enjoyment out of it but seems to have this stack of unread books in the corner or their room that feels kind of daunting because everyone loves waxing poetic about how much better of a person they are because they read actual books and are educating themselves but this added pressure only makes you want to do it less so you’ve been ending up just scrolling through your phone all evening then, hey, I’m Nicole and you’re not alone in wanting to change that.

I might not be able to help make you a more productive reader, but I can do my best to give tips on how to make it fun again.

If you want to learn more about what actually did help me in getting back into reading and hitting my reading targets, I’ll be covering that in a few weeks time.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every Sunday/Monday where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

A Reading Retrospective: The Metamorphosis of a Bookworm

I’ve always been known as an avid reader. Like for many others, books provided the perfect outlet for someone with an overactive imagination and who is prone to escapism.

It was so bad as a kid, that the only time I’d get into real trouble was because of reading. The astigmatism from reading with a flashlight for hours under the covers and the pile of stolen third-grade books with the scratched “Ms. Oppy” in permanent marker on each one’s corner are reminders of that.

I’ve gone through periods of reading a lot and then not reading so much back to reading a lot again. Some of the books I read were because I really enjoyed them, others because there wasn’t anything else.

Now, trying to go 3 for 3 for a yearly reading challenge (my target is 100 this year) and with the resources to read whatever I feel like, I make lists of what I want to read based on what I enjoyed in the past. Here’s what I’ve gathered from this reading retrospective.

Chapter One: Scholastic & Spitting Fun Facts

Any American who loves books and who’s experienced a Scholastic fair can tell you that it feels like what they imagine Charlie felt when first entering the chocolate factory. You go to school expecting just another day and before you know it, you have your foot through the door and are hit by the smell of plastic and new books. I don’t remember exactly what I read during this time period apart from The Babysitters Club – all I remember is it was definitely Scholastic.

This was also around the time that I had a stint as an amateur book thief. Let me be clear: this wasn’t intentional, I was just a very forgetful child. My teacher, Ms. Oppy (sorry, Ms. Oppy!!) probably only realized when it was too late. A few months into my thieving stint, I moved to Spain with my stolen goods.

I also took a liking to reading childrens encyclopedias. I used to read these and then relay all the information I’d learned from them to whoever would listen. Which was usually my poor brother who had to hear me prattle about Amelia Earheart being eaten by coconut crabs and lamprey eels. This is most likely what instilled my bad habit of spouting random facts I find interesting to unsuspecting listeners.

Chapter Two: The Obligatory Millennial Harry Potter Phase

Like a lot of millenials, I was obsessed with Harry Potter. From 8 to 13, the Harry Potter books were my Bible – despite having read the Bible. For an 8-year-old, the way I found the first Harry Potter book was the closest to divine intervention I’d experienced. I just found a beat up copy in the back of my dad’s closet, under 10-year-old tennis shoes and a pile of winter coats. He states never having bought it in the first place.

I was obsessed. I read Prisoner of Azkaban 13 times. I drew every single character up until book 5. I had a 500-page unofficial guide to the mythology in the books with notes in the margins, highlighted, and dog-eared. I made potions with shampoo’s and my moms expensive perfumes.

Other notable reads: Roald Dahl, french comics like TinTin, and my first book completely in Spanish: “Me Importa Un Comino El Rey Pepino”. This roughly translates to “I don’t give a damn about the pickle king”. I only recently found out the book isn’t even originally Spanish, but German.

Chapter Three: The Traveling Library That Couldn’t & The Cult That Could

Two factors led to strange literary tastes for a pre-teen: we moved to Spain to a very remote town that didn’t have a library, and we didn’t have much money for books for when we actually returned to civilization.

The town I grew up in was a small town with less than five thousand people and a heavily dispersed population. While they now have a library, back then there was only the “library bus” – known as el Bibliobus. The Bibliobus was meant to come every Thursday.

In reality, the Bibliobus came whenever it felt like it.

This lack of access to new books meant that I read whatever we had at hand. Since my mom loves John Grisham, he became a staple. This time period also coincided with my family’s weird temporary foray into the Jehova’s Witness. The Witnesses took notice of my love of reading and plied me with all the books they had from their own publication, The Watchtower. This never seemed to concern my parents much since I spent most of my time complaining that they didn’t make any sense.

This was also the first time I hated a book: The Secret. My mom, a true proponent of The Secret, urged me to read it. Because The Secret felt even more like cult-like propaganda than that of the actual cult, I didn’t care for it.

Chapter Four: Hiding in The Library

Finally, in middle school, I had access to a library again. The librarian and I quickly became friends since I spent most of my free time there. This was about the time my friends became interested in boys and drinking and cigarettes and I still had a couple years to catch up.

I needed an escape from these newfound hormones and awkward teen years. I found it in the Eragon series and Isabel Allende’s take on magical realism – both her adult (Hija De La Fortuna) and YA books (Ciudad De Las Bestias).

Around this time, I read A LOT of manga. We finally had a good enough internet connection that I could read scanlations (scanned fan-made translations) well into the night. Some that stick out: Vampire Knight, Fairy Tail, Ouran High School Host Club, NANA, and One Piece. Somehow, Naruto was the one I never really got into.

Chapter Four: The Lost Years

During high school, with a bout of depression came a disinterest in reading.

We had some good school books that I read: Watchmen and Camus’ The Stranger were highlights. Near the end I started reading more on my own. I’d reverted to ignoring friends that were never really good friends in the first place and hiding away to read during breaks. This was about the time I slowly started feeling like myself again. The books that stand out are The Book Thief, Catch-22, Maus, and Ubik.

Here, I fell in love with The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I read and re-read this book over and over, with Iron & Wine as its soundtrack – a match I will still recommend for those who are looking for that perfect state of nostalgic ennui.

Chapter Five: Getting Back Into It

After that dry spell, I started challenging myself to read more. For that, I thank George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, because I blasted through that and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading in the first place.

Two genres kept on cropping up: beatnik literature and contemporary Japanese literature.

I can blame the beatniks on my ex-boyfriend, who had an obsession with everything 60s and 70s Americana. Because I was still picking off books from other people’s library shelves, it meant a lot of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs. Out of this genre, my favorites were the autobiographies, in particular Off the Road by Carolyn Cassidy – the “untold story” of the wife left behind on Kerouac and Cassidy’s ramblin’ adventures. Looking back, it’s probably because the manic beatnik writing style stresses me out.

Here was also my first foray into Japanese literature – completely unrelated to my initial anime obsession. For this, I can blame Convenience Store Woman and the Traveling Cat Chronicles. I picked these two up on a whim in a book store in Turin and was hooked from the first page.

Chapter Six: A Little Bit Of Everything

Last year I made myself read 52 books. This year I’m aiming for 100. Because of that, I read… a little bit of everything and anything that piques my interest. I finally bit the bullet on avoiding non-fiction and try to balance fun with some professional and personal development. I’m also no longer snobbish about only reading physical books: they are expensive and take up so much space.

Because there’re too many to go into, here’s the short version, with my favorite book in each category:

  • Funny – anything by David Sedaris will do. Calypso in particular made me cackle.
  • Sci-Fi – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
  • Classics – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.
  • Graphic Novels – The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  • Autobiographical – The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
  • Fashion books – Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes
  • Marketing/Communications books – They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan
  • Writing books – On Writing by Stephen King
  • Illustration and art books – Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

The only books I refuse to read are self-help books. I’ve accepted that I’m too stubborn and don’t like being told what to do.

Are you what you read or do you choose what to read because of who you are? Regardless of the answer, the conclusion is the same: the books you read show something of yourself and the circumstances you’re in. It’s why I love getting book recommendations from friends over researching online.

Every time someone recommends me a book, I feel like they’re letting me in on a little secret about themselves. Even if I don’t like the book.

Especially if I don’t like the book.

Like whenever anyone recommends me The Alchemist they’re letting me know “psssst, I don’t know good books and carry around a sense of pseudo-altruistic self-importance I try to disguise as depth”*.

And how else could you find out that sort of thing?



*Disclaimer: I am still friends with people who like The Alchemist. I just don’t trust their taste in books. Just like a lot of people don’t trust my taste in films because my favorite movie is The Room. We all have our hang-ups!