Having to read a boring book may feel like torture.
Ever tackled a book so dull it nearly put you to sleep? You might wonder, why even persist with it? Why not switch to something more captivating, given the myriad of choices available? Yet, sometimes you’re obligated to slog through tedious reads for academic or professional reasons. Interestingly, regular readers report being 20% happier. But does that stat hold for lackluster literature? Fear not, strategies exist to extract value even from the dreariest tomes. Help is here!
“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.” – G. K. Chesterton
15 top tips on how to read a boring book:
1. Become interested in the times and circumstances in which the book was written
If you have a tome before you that you must read, but you hate the very idea of it, you won’t move an inch in the direction of actually opening it. For example, Don Quixote is considered both a masterpiece of literature and one of the most monotonous and unreadable pieces of prose. Yet people still read and talk about and study it. How is this possible? It’s because some people learn to take an interest in the background story, which makes the book much more interesting. Before diving deep into the first chapter, learn a little about the history that surrounds the story and the author who wrote it. Use your imagination, do a bit of research online, watch a few videos about the topic, and you’ll approach the book with a different frame of mind. You have to go from “I hate this book, and I want to die” to “I wonder in which circumstances this book was written and if something is interesting I can wring from it.”
“Everything intelligent is so boring.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
2. Instead of reading the book, listen to it in an audio format
This is one of the big secrets of conquering a difficult-to-read, insomnia-curing title. When reading in a traditional format, you have to use your willpower to keep turning the pages without falling asleep. There is a certain amount of psychological resistance there that you need to overcome with each new paragraph. But this can go away if you decide to go through the book in an audiobook format. Now your job is to put on your headphones (increase the speed of listening which is always recommended) and go through it much faster. You will realize that while the printed volume was sitting on your desk for days, pages unturned, the audiobook gets absorbed within 3 to 4 days. You can listen to it while doing chores, working out, or commuting. You’ll see that the voice of a good narrator brings the work to life. To download audiobooks, I recommend using the Audible platform. All you need to do is to create an account, and you will get two audiobooks for free. Audible has a massive database of books, so I’m sure that your dreaded read will be there as well. After the first month, the subscription is $15 a month, but you can opt-out at any time. I’ve been using this service for over a year, and I actually can’t wait for the new month to download a new book.
“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?”- Friedrich Nietzsche
3. Highlight like crazy and become more engaged with the book
When you look at a wall of text, it’s easy to get discouraged knowing that you face hundreds of pages (no pictures, sorry!) of monotony. This should almost be prohibited in the world of Instagram and YouTube, where you’re instantly gratified with splendorous visual content. You need to make your boring book a bit more accessible by engaging with it. Buy a few markers and start highlighting the most important passages. This simple act will make you pay attention to what you’re reading, and you’ll remember it better too. You can also use stickers and post-it notes to mark the pages you’ll need to go back to. Get physical with it because there is nothing more passive than staring at a page in agony and despair.
“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” – Émile Zola
4. Use a pointer (like a finger, a pen, or pencil) to direct the reading process
If you’re lying on the beach and enjoying your favorite summer read, there’s hardly anything that will snatch your attention from the book. But if you need to conquer a nearly impossible reading assignment (like an economics or history book that makes you want to blow your brains out), you need a pointer. Reading with a pointer will help you keep your attention on what you are reading. It will also improve your reading speed by 20% to 30% from the moment you start using it. Using a pointer will allow you to read the book faster and also understand more of it. It will prevent you from getting all fuzzy-brained, entering a semi-conscious daze where you wake up after 5 minutes (or hours), not knowing what happened.
“… millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” – Susan Ertz
5. Take notes in the margins and make the book yours
Most people are squeamish about writing in the margins of a book. It’s treated as a sacred object that deserves respect and admiration, like an old bottle of wine. But since you are reading something dull and dreary, forget about all this respect and start taking notes in the margins immediately. Exactly like highlighting the critical passages, taking notes will keep your mind engaged. Now you are not only the passive receiver of arcane knowledge; you are an active participator in the creation of it in your mind. Ask questions in the margins and become curious about getting the answers. Treat it as a study project and think of yourself as a distinguished scholar.
“Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
6. Read the book when you are alert and well-rested
This tip applies to many reading materials, but here it’s crucial – you must be well-rested before beginning your reading session. After studying or working for a whole day, the idea of reading a cumbersome tome will terrify you. That’s why, for most people, it’s best to absorb knowledge in the morning when you are wide awake and still in possession of vast reserves of willpower. If it means waking up a bit early to start reading, then so be it. Never stay up late or pull an all-nighter to finish your book. It’s scientifically proven that this is counterproductive, as it will screw up your brain and you will not remember anything you’ve learned.
“I am never bored; to be bored is an insult to one’s self.” – Jules Renard
7. Break your reading assignment down into smaller chunks (1 chapter / 10 pages)
Intending to read a 500-page textbook full of theoretical fluff may seem impossible at first. But this picture changes as soon as you start eating the elephant, one bite at a time. Check the list of chapters and create a plan for reading just one or two of them a day. Now you’ve gone from “OMG how am I ever going to finish this book!?” to “OK, today I will read a single chapter – no big deal.” You should plan your reading sessions with a definite starting and ending time. Let’s say, 1 hour a day (or 10 pages a day) starting at 7:00 AM (yeah right). Stick to your plan and soon, conquering your reading assignment will be an afterthought.
“The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.” – Hugh MacLeod
8. Use caffeine to increase your mental alertness
I’m sure you’ve been already introduced to the brown, aromatic liquid that illuminates your mind and makes tedious things interesting. Yes, coffee baby, the best friend of any serious learner and an unregulated psychoactive drug that is legal all around the world. Take advantage of it to boost your brainpower!
Here are a few tips:
- Start drinking 20 minutes before your reading session.
- Drink in small sips to spread the dose over 1 or 2 hours (you’ll avoid caffeine-induced anxiety).
- Drink using a tumbler cup to keep it nice and warm for longer.
- Don’t add sugar to avoid the insulin crash.
- Drink it in the morning to improve your alertness. The evening is a no-no.
“Our labor preserves us from three great evils — weariness, vice, and want.” – Voltaire
9. Develop a strong “why” for reading the book
Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost anyhow.” Replace the word “live” with “read,” and you’ll be on your way to understanding one of the secrets of motivation.
- Are you reading the book to pass an important exam?
- Are you going through it to advance your career and earn more money?
- Will this book ultimately make you a better person?
Think about your reasons and keep them close at hand to survive the tough times. No, you are not just reading another book – you are achieving your goals and building a better life for yourself and your family. Think about it this way, and you’ll read anything.
“Boredom is, therefore, a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.” – Bertrand Russell
10. Keep the distractions at bay (go airplane mode)
I know, I know you have a million other more exciting things to do than reading this stupid book. You could be scrolling through a social media feed, watching funny cat videos on YouTube, binge-watching your favorite show on Netflix, or spending hours of your life playing video games. These are all worthwhile activities, but you can’t let them prevent you from finishing your book. That’s why, during your reading sessions, you should put the phone in airplane mode, and block all the other distractions. Go to a library or your secret spot in the park if necessary.
“Considering Adrian had once gotten bored while reading a particularly long menu, I had a hard time imagining he’d read the Hugo book in any language.” – Richelle Mead
11. Imagine that he will have to teach the subject of the book to somebody (or create a study group)
By doing that, you will be much more engaged with your reading material. Go ahead, and form a study group around the book you are trying to read. This is great if you’re at college or university and know many other students who have to read the same thing. For example, you could agree that you will meet once a week and discuss two or three chapters of the book. This will help you remember what you’ve read much faster, as you’ll need to tackle the subject matter again during a discussion.
“I think boredom is the beginning of every authentic act. (…) Boredom opens up the space for new engagements. Without boredom, no creativity. If you are not bored, you just stupidly enjoy the situation in which you are.” – Slavoj Žižek
12. Read the book or forcefully pay $50 to an organization that you hate
Have you ever heard about a website called Stickk? It allows you to make a deal with yourself where you either achieve your goal within a specific deadline or you have to pay a sum of money to an evil organization. You will also work with a coach who will determine if you achieved your goal. This platform taps into the fear of loss, one of the most potent factors guiding human behavior. Use it as a last resort, but know that it’s powerful.
“The most total opposite of pleasure is not pain but boredom, for we are willing to risk pain to make a boring life interesting.”- Peter Kreeft
13. Reward yourself after completing yet another chapter (cookie, anyone?)
Making a deal with yourself is a great idea to keep you on track. For each section of the boring book that you read, you can give yourself a small reward. Think about what motivates you. For example, you could watch one episode of your favorite show, spend 30 minutes playing a video game, or eat one delicious cookie that’s currently sitting in your drawer. Whatever it is, do not indulge before completing your task. This will teach you the concept of delayed gratification, which will translate into many other areas of your life. By waiting for your reward, you build your character, and willpower, and become a better human being.
“Pensive they sit, and roll their languid eyes.” – John Keats
14. Try reading the book in an e-book format
Sometimes not having a good reading lamp or having to hold the pages of the book can serve as an excuse for not reading. How about reading it on a Kindle, tablet, or mobile phone? Kindle allows you to make notes within the app, bookmark exciting passages, and get instant definitions of words you don’t understand. This is super useful if you are reading a textbook where you’re not familiar with all the terminology.
“Isn’t ‘not to be bored’ one of the principal goals of life?” – Gustave Flaubert
15. Take regular breaks every 30 – 45 minutes
As humans, we have limited attention spans (unless we watch something like Game of Thrones which can be done for hours). To keep alert, make sure to take regular breaks. It’s best to set a timer on your phone and decide what you will read during the set time. When the alarm rings feel free to take a quick 5-10 minute break. During the break, breathe deeply, stretch out your limbs, jump around, and get some oxygen into your brain. This will enable you to come back strong for your next session. Also, remember that trying to read a difficult text for more than three or four hours a day is counterproductive. It’s much better to make small amounts of progress every day rather than trying to cram everything in one burst.
“I always think boredom is to some extent, the fault of the bored.” – Kate Ross
Are you ready to tackle your next reading assignment?
As you can see, you can develop strategies for reading even the most tedious of books. Of course, with a million pieces of useful information at your fingertips, the best approach is to throw it in the trash or burn it in public. However, this is not always possible because sometimes a book like this is part of your academic assignment. Or perhaps you want to conquer it, to prove to yourself that you are great at absorbing knowledge and taking your education to the next level… Do not despair; each person who went through an education dealt with large inaccessible volumes. But somehow, in the end, we all make it and even learn something from it. Now use the tips listed in this article and tackle your reading assignment. Next up, you may want to explore some tips on how to stop procrastinating.
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Hey there, welcome to my blog! I'm a full-time entrepreneur building three small companies, an educator, digital marketer, freelance writer, editor, and content manager with 10+ years of experience. I started RafalReyzer.com to provide you with great tools and strategies you can use to become a proficient digital marketer and achieve freedom through online creativity. My site is a one-stop shop for writers, digital marketers, and content enthusiasts who want to be independent, earn more money, and create beautiful things. Explore my journey here, and don't miss out on my AI Marketing Mastery online course.