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How to read again


Edited 5/28/2024 for improved (but still not great) readability

Update: I've recently read you’ve been traumatized into hating reading (and it makes you easier to oppress). by Ismatu Gwendolyn, who stresses the importance of reading a million times ever than I ever could. Please give it a read.

So you used to be a reader.

You remember those days where you were hiding books under your desk as the teacher prattled on to your less literate classmates about a topic you already understood. You were the middle school Battle of the Books champion – churning through books like an otter churns water. 200 pages in an afternoon? No problem.

But now you can’t. You haven’t picked up a book in years. Your old reputation has long left you. You dream of the idea of sitting down at a peaceful indie cafe, sipping your preferred drink while reading your new book from the bookstore – but you never do it. You actually don’t know any indie cafes nearby, and if you do, you’ve gone on your phone or computer instead.


It’s not your imagination that reading is harder now if you haven’t picked up anything (except maybe fanfiction) in years. For one thing, your middle school brain couldn’t grasp half the implications that your adult brain can. Go back to find a book you read in middle school – one that you haven’t memorized. The flaws become more pronounced the older you get. The shitty YA you loved when you were 10, or 14, or 17, is now just… shitty YA. 

What do you even do then? How do you bridge the gap when you haven’t read in years?

And why haven’t you read in years, anyway? Maybe it’s because we live in an attention economy where your attention is degraded, to the point that concepts like “dopamine detoxes” exist. Maybe it’s because if attention is a resource, then just like any other resource that provides capital, capitalism will extract it to the greatest possible point- regardless of anything else.

And that is why you see flashing advertisements in your break room, or constant popup ads wherever you go on the internet, or billboards on the highway, or painted on the sides of buses, or on the floors of your hallways… 

Believe it or not, it’s actually very difficult to go against psychological conditioning. You may resist it at every moment, but the resistance always costs you something. Fighting “the man” is a good fight, and more than that it’s an important fight, but it must be done persistently and continuously. Rage and fear can only sustain you for so long – you must find a way to sustain yourself perpetually in this war you wage.

But you must wage it. To surrender is death, and a life forever lived in exhaustion, overstimulation, and injustice. 

If reading started and ended with shitty YA, it wouldn’t be so crucial as an act of resistance to read. But it doesn’t. Reading is possibly the most essential skill to learning difficult topics, and to increase your knowledge on things. In our misinformation-filled ecosystem, being able to read the whole context of a situation, instead of just a short soundbite, is critical. If you have any desire to participate in politics, especially activism, you need to understand the history and stories behind what you believe, or you will be just as quick to change your beliefs and adopt new ones as whatever the next trend online is. 

But how do you start from ground zero? How do you begin to read when our world encourages anything but?

I have compiled a list of things that help me, and things that I hope can help you.

Please note: It is better to try both reading more and increasing your attention span at the same time. Do not use “increasing your attention span” as a reason to procrastinate reading. You should start as soon as possible.

If you have a busy schedule, working 40 hour shifts with family to care for, or college classes on top of your job, or live in an abusive environment, this may take you longer than someone with lots of free time. Do not punish yourself for small amounts of progress. 





What a struggle! If you’re just dabbling in reading again, I recommend Libby or Libgen for e-books, and to check out/download whatever catches your eye. You can look up genres or themes you might want to check out, and often lists will appear. Maybe you’re interested in pirates, or samurai, or cowboys- they’re all from the same era after all. Or apocalyptic stories. Or cyberpunk. You can search for all of these tropes, and very likely, there’s a story that you’ll love.

If you’re more interested in dabbling in non-fiction, then think about what interests you. Very likely, there is a book on it. 


Book Recommendations (based on what I’ve recently read and enjoyed):

Classical Lesbian Vampirism? Try Carmilla

Classical Gay Vampirism? Bram Stroker was a repressed gay man who wrote Dracula 

Malaria Conspiracy? Secret history? Post-colonial themes? Try The Calcutta Chromosome.

Transmasc YA? Apocalypse? Body horror? How about “Hell Followed with Us?” 

Graphic Novels? You can start with the infamous Maus, or even Abina and the Important Men.