Each person who lives by faith has what we call a “spiritual practice,” which involves incorporating activities that help develop our spirituality into our everyday lives. “Walking a path” towards a goal is one common metaphor to describe a spiritual practice. I argue that if we have spiritual practices, we also have reading practices that are just as in depth, meaningful, and fulfilling. Let’s go over what exactly a “reading practice” is, and then we’ll get into how to cultivate one by answering a few questions.
For many readers, books are a sacred object and reading is a meaningful activity that takes readers to a higher connection with the Divine, which you can interpret as any religion or no religion at all. “The Divine” might very well be agnostic, atheist, or faith-based. What I take “The Divine” in reading practice is a deep connection to literature, poetry, books, and writing.
The fact is, for many people, reading is a spiritual activity. They cultivate a mindful reading practice that is guided by several personal goals and guidelines. They read to live more fully with a better understanding of the big themes that stories embrace, which may include finding connection with others, developing a personal morality, defining values, promoting diverse voices and experiences, and being a responsible human. They read to understand the world more deeply; for some, that includes seeking an autodidactic learning experience of discovering new information, and for others, reading to connect to stories.
It’s no fluke that storytelling is among the oldest traditions in humankind. It is through stories that we live through our heroes’ journeys, learning valuable lessons, challenging our beliefs, and offering a way towards positive outcomes. Books offer hope, connection to other readers, and pure entertainment in dark and often difficult circumstances. Books save lives. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you’d agree.
For these readers, reading is a lifelong effort of walking the path towards bookish enlightenment, along the way reading to understand the world we live in, the human experience, and the big themes that dominate our lives, which includes love, friendship, acceptance, inclusivity, diversity, war, evil, and morality, to name a few.
How do you establish a reading practice? Try answering these six questions to put you on the path to reading more mindfully and with more intention.
1. Why Do You Read?
This is perhaps the most basic but deepest question of all. So, answer the question: why do you read? In a world with thousands of distractions and possible activities we could be doing at any time, why do you choose to read? What does reading offer to you? What is the actual experience of reading like for you?
2. What Do You Seek to Learn Through Books?
What do you want books to teach you? Some read to learn new information. Books are a way to explore new areas of knowledge. For them, reading is an instructional process, one to supplement, eclipse, or replace a formal education. I feel this question deeply. For many years, I was afraid of reading nonfiction. I didn’t think I was “smart enough” to retain information in nonfiction books. But then I read a few great narrative nonfiction books, and I was hooked. I read nonfiction to expand my worldview, to learn new things, and to understand the world a bit more deeply.
This question also applies to fiction: through fiction, we live vicariously through the actions of the hero. What do you hope to learn through storytelling?
3. What Goals Do You Have for Your Reading Journey?
If a spiritual practice is oriented around goals towards a spiritual journey, so too can we undertake a bookish journey by setting goals to give our reading a direction. In your reading practice, what goals do you have for your reading journey? Start with the most basic goal of all: set yourself up with a reading challenge goal for the year. Whether you want to read 12, 50, or 100 books each year, having a target like that will set you up with a substantial goal to read more. And isn’t our general goal to read more? You might also have additional reading goals, like fulfilling Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge each year, or reading X books in a new genre. For this question, look at short, medium, and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal might be to read eight books this month, a medium-term goal could be finishing your annual reading challenge, and a long-term goal could be a transition towards reading more diversely.
4. How Will You Document Your Reading Journey?
Without proper documentation, your reading experience can turn into data that’s lost when it could have been found. At a minimum, you’ll want to log your reading in progress, completed, and to-read on a site like Goodreads, StoryGraph, or LibraryThing. Adding books with shelves to tag with each book you record can help you remember a book. But you might want to go deeper and review each book on a social reading site, start a blog, or record your reading with a dedicated spreadsheet. You could also keep a notebook and record your reading data and reactions. No matter what you choose to do to document your reading journey, you’ll be creating valuable data you can reference later. Otherwise, and I know this from experience, it all becomes a blur.
5. How Will You Read More Diversely?
This is one of the most important questions of all. How will you expand your knowledge, expose yourself to more unique experiences, and develop more empathy for those whose backgrounds and identity don’t match your own? Easy: by reading more with more diversity and inclusivity in mind. It’s so important to read from authors writing about their own identities to understand the experiences of others from different backgrounds from our own. It’s crucial to utilize reading as a vehicle to explore our diverse world.
6. How Will You Connect with Other Readers?
Connecting with other readers is one part of your reading experience. Before the Internet and social media, it was harder to mesh with other bookworms. Now it’s possible to join in on the bookish Internet, from the Bookstagram community on Instagram or BookTok on TikTok. You might also find connection by joining online or in-person book clubs or starting a book blog and jumping in with seeking other book bloggers to encourage you to be the best reader you can be. The point is: reading doesn’t have to be an activity of isolation anymore. You can dive into the bookish world online and in person and experience the joy of books with others.
And there you have it: six questions to help you develop your personal reading practice. What questions shape your reading practice? What bookish goals do you have? Begin reading with more intention by establishing an ongoing and ever evolving reading practice.