Reading for Pleasure

For the first few years of medical school, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that there was always something else I could be studying. Whether I was making the decision to stop for the day or taking a weekend off to visit my long-distance boyfriend-now-fiancé, it always felt like I should be doing more. Like I was being really lazy, and what on Earth was the matter with me? My school has a very self-directed curriculum, by which I mean we spend very little time in lecture, slightly more time in problem-based learning small groups, and the vast majority of our time outside of school altogether, depending on our own initiative to learn and study the material. Needless to say, reading for pleasure fell by the wayside.

Even if I wanted a distraction, reading became too much work and I defaulted to mindless TV-watching instead. Don’t get me wrong, I love mindless TV shows and even (embarrassingly) count myself among the numbers of people who still watch Grey’s Anatomy all these years later. I think it’s probably even more tragic that I’m a medical professional-to-be who watches Grey’s, but I can’t bring myself to stop.

All that aside, I realized it took a concerted effort on my part to bring reading for pleasure back into my life, but that it was something that was important to me. There were so many great books out there and it was a much better way to unwind at the end of the day than staring at my TV or computer. And it turned out that even though studying during the first two years and reading up on my patients during clerkships left me too tired to read (especially since I’m not as speedy as a reader as I used to be), there were a few ways I could trick myself into loving books again.

1. Audiobooks. My local library has tons of eBooks to borrow from my iPad, but it also has a lot of audiobooks you can download as well — who knew? I struggle a little with insomnia, so my nightly TV-watching and habit of playing on my phone before bed weren’t really what you’d call model sleep hygiene. I found out that these audiobooks had timers, so I could get in bed and have the thing read to me for 30 minutes without having to strain my eyes or stare at a screen before bed. Another option is to listen to these books from your phone when you’re out on a walk or going for a jog.

This way of reading books was actually pretty life-changing for me. And so much more soothing than my previous bedtime rituals. I even managed to get through some intimidatingly long books I wouldn’t have otherwise read, like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

2. Books on CD. Are you noticing a trend? After so many years of medical reading where I try to absorb every detail I read, I’ve sadly found that I’ve become a much less efficient pleasure-reader. So in addition to the audiobooks, I really like having a book on CD in my car. Whether I’m driving to different clerkship sites or to visit my fiancé, the books on CD are not only a great distraction for long trips but another chance to get reading.

Plus, it can be really entertaining to hear the reader(s) do different voices. Long ago, I listened to a Harry Potter book I’d already read on a family trip, and it was wonderful to hear all the characters and their particular manners of speech come to life. These days, I’ve listened to everything from silly Meg Cabot chick lit to suspense novels on my drives. Right now, Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood is in my car. It’s sort of a creepy mystery set in the Ozarks, and it’s so great to hear all the Missourian accents read aloud.

3. Make it easy on yourself. Choose books you’re going to want to read. This encompasses a lot of genres for me, but the books I can most count on are the psychological thrillers. They aren’t going to win any literary prizes, but they keep me so interested in figuring out what’s going on that I can’t help but want to read. I have lots of favorites, including:

  • Sister by Rosamund Lupton. I also really enjoyed her second novel Afterwards and have a hold placed at my library on her most recent one, The Quality of Silence.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. This is more of a mystery than a thriller, but I couldn’t put it down. I keep forgetting to read the next one in the series, The Silkworm, but it’s on my list!
  • All the Gillian Flynn books, though Gone Girl is actually my least favorite of the three. Sharp Objects was super creepy and I totally loved it.
  • The Julia Heaberlin books, which are a little sillier than the others I listed but still entertaining. I liked her first book, Playing Dead, better than her second, Lie Still, but I am still excited to read her new one, Black-Eyed Susans.

Also, it was mentioned above, but The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is so far a great suspense novel.

There are other books I enjoy a lot that don’t fall into the mystery/thriller category but are so up my alley in other ways, that it’s super easy to get into them. I grew up loving Judy Blume, so her new book for adults, In the Unlikely Event, has been really fun for me and it also happens to be a truly good book, not just fluff or suspense. I also read a lot of blogs on simplicity and minimalism and about a year ago, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was all the rage. More on my love affair with the (sometimes crazy) genius Marie Kondo later.

4. Blogs. As mentioned above, I’m a big fan. Small, digestible posts on everything from fashion and natural beauty to more serious topics that are important to me, including women’s health issues and systemic injustice. A few of my favorites are listed on the front page. My simplicity guru is Reading My Tea Leaves‘s Erin Boyle and feministing.com keeps me up to date on the world, particularly in terms of badass women. The Hairpin is all sorts of amusing.

So, how do you get your reading in? What’s on your shelf/iPad/bookmarks tab these days?

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