On the importance of being able to dance.

This pandemic and its resulting quarantine and lockdown measures have stolen a lot of precious moments from people of all walks of life. Yesterday, I was watching a news report about a woman whose father died in a nursing home from COVID-19, and they’ve been waiting three months to have a funeral. This makes sense to me when I recall a friend relating her experience of attending a funeral during these unprecedented times, and they weren’t allowed to hug or hold each other in a time of deep despair. There was no real comforting allowed, just people sitting six feet apart and crying. Granted, this happened early in the quarantine, but the awful way human beings have been isolated and separated continues. In April, the CDC confirmed suicide rates increased by 35% (from this article) and that opioid overdoses were on the rise after declining (from this article). In short, people are not okay.

So any semblance of returning to normalcy is a wonderful thing. On Monday night, I attended my first drive-in concert, seeing Andrew McMahon at Monmouth Park. I went with three other friends as only four people were allowed to a car, but we had friends – and friends of friends – in two other cars. I definitely agreed with my self-proclaimed introverted friend that not dealing with long lines and suffocating masses of people was a plus, as was being able to sit and have access to a cooler. It was like the concert came to us in the parking lot, like we never had to stop tailgating. I remember standing for about eight hours when I saw Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium. My friend and I had general admission tickets, so we had to stand and wait in line to make sure we got as close to the stage as possible, and we had to stand and wait for the concert to start once inside the stadium. There were more lines for drinks and food and merchandise, and it was a struggle to squirm and plead to get back to where you were standing. I agree that this drive-in setup has perks.

But it’s still not the same. There were eight of us gathered around the trunk, getting what we wanted for the cooler, and the security guards made us separate. We understood and complied with little to no grumbling. But for the majority of the night, they were insistent we be in our car. Monday was a hot one, and when the concert started, it was an absolutely gorgeous evening with a remarkable sunset. We didn’t want to sit in the car. They seemed satisfied as long as we were touching the car, but naturally those with convertibles and flat-bed trucks had an advantage.

It was better than nothing to be sure, and the return of live music is one I celebrate and embrace. But I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t miss traditional concerts. Some of my favorite memories are with people I met at concerts. People in line for Bruce Springsteen are hands down the nicest people I’ve ever met in any kind of line. One time, my sister and her friend befriended an older couple who danced with us and brought us food and beer and for a couple of hours, we were a little family or the oldest of friends. And I mean we danced – limbs flying every which way, totally uninhibited and completely joyful. In one of my new favorite films, Jojo Rabbit, the mother of the title character (played perfectly by Scarlett Johansson) explains that “We have to dance to show God we are grateful to be alive” and that “Dancing is for people who are free.” Not being able to dance was disappointing.

And even singing along seemed pointless when the only people who could hear me (and suffer, as I am a terrible singer) were the three people I came with. There’s something transcendent about singing as loud as you can with a crowd of thousands to your favorite song. My friend once filmed me singing along with Bruce Springsteen and captioned the video, “Mandi worshiping at the altar of Bruce,” which is exactly what I was doing. I remember being filled with a passionate angst when I saw My Chemical Romance, raising my first to the air and proclaiming that I was not afraid to keep on living. Instead, we sang under our breath and honked our horns to show we were having a good time.

Walt Whitman once wrote, “O to have my life henceforth a poem of new joys!/ To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on….” That is what we need to get back to; to be joyful to be alive and to be grateful and to celebrate. I look forward to being able to attend concerts and weddings, and to congregate with friends. I am ready to smile and laugh, to hug and hold, and to just be together. I could complain about the drive-in (and I have), but it’s important I end with hope. It’s all we have. And as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Let everything happen to you/ Beauty and terror/ Just keep going/ No feeling is final.”

On “A Surprise Proposal.”

Truth be told, I was struggling to come up with a topic for this week’s post, hence why it’s being published so late. I debated writing about the uncertainty of the start of the school, but that would be just a list of complaints and not very creative at all. I considered writing about the novels I’ve finished lately, but I always add the books to my shelves and rate them on Goodreads, and sometime I even write a review, so I didn’t want to be repetitive.

With my laptop literally perched on my lap, I take a deep breath and look around. My home is really coming together; I’m finally feeling a sense of pride in my home and inviting more and more people inside. Last night, for example, I had a small reunion with friends I made during college. It was an absolutely wonderful time, filled with love and laughter and seriously, there’s nothing more I could ask for. They’re all growing into good people with enchanting interests and big hearts, and these are the perfect people to fill my home.

My friends from college

And maybe because I’ve been reading Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer (leave me alone, it’s really for a book club I was bullied into), but I feel all sentimental and happy. So I’m sharing a delightfully adorable short story inspired by a prompt from Fresh Boiled Peanuts’ A Writer’s Book of Matches. Enjoy xoxo

A Surprise Proposal

Jenny was standing in front of the large mirror that spanned three sinks in the women’s restroom of the small diner where she worked. She had just finished washing her hands and was waving them about wildly in the air to dry them as best she could. Recently, she read an article about how paper towel dispensers were disgusting germ spreaders, and as the diner had not yet been update with air dryers, she had no choice but to shake her hands above her head. Growing impatient with the task, she wiped her wet hands on her thighs, avoiding the decidedly germ-y apron she’d been wearing for hours now, and pulled her long, dark, wavy hair free from the elastic band that kept it piled high atop her head. Strands were starting to fall and irritatingly cling to the back of her neck or at the crease of her eyelids. She pulled the hair back into a bun, for lack of a better term, and used the elastic band to keep the unruly mess in place. She knew she’d be back in the restroom in just a short time, fixing the bun again. She blew a burst of air upward, exhaled the frustration, and headed back out behind the counter.

She pulled her favorite blue pen from the far pocket of her apron so she had to reach low and across her hips to grab it. She’d read somewhere that people remembered things better in blue ink. Her memory wasn’t exactly bad, but she was always up for taking help wherever she could get it. The cap was badly chewed, a terrible habit she just couldn’t seem to break, so she popped it off with her thumb and let it fall back into the pocket, free to roll around among the lint and spare change and bobby pins. She grabbed the pad from the largest and most centrally located pocket, and set her face in an enchanting smile, ready to face whatever customer awaited her at the end of the counter.

The corners of Jenny’s lips lifted higher and the smile became more authentic. “Terrence!” she exclaimed. Terrence Fischer always came in for a BLT with extra fries and a diet coke between 1:30 and 2:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He had been doing so for the last five years, and had become Jenny’s absolute favorite regular customer. She was surprised to see him now, on a Monday night just before closing time, and especially because he’d been missing in action last week. Truth be told, Jenny was startled by how disappointed she’d been when she’d search the counter fruitlessly. Shoulders drooping, slightly deflated, she would move on to the next customer, or whatever menial task in the back needed completing, but she’d worry and wonder about where Terrence was.

Terrence was a delivery driver for a local furniture company. He spent a lot of time alone in the van, or with some fit college kid just trying to make some cash between semesters, and a lot of time eating fast food. He was sick of the grease and limited options, so one gray Tuesday, he’d wandered into the Starlight Diner, an unremarkable venue he’d passed a thousand times. He walked in through the entrance, running his strong hand through his dark blond hair to rid it of rainwater. It had been crowded, and rather than wait for a harried host or hostess to hurry him to some booth – or worse, a cramped table – to be forgotten about, Terrence had strode confidently to the counter and perched himself on the last and only stool available. Jenny had watched all this from behind the counter, watching the handsome man with interest as her usual clientele was older and typically in a hurry. She walked over and poured him a glass of water. “First time here?” she asked with a smile, already knowing the answer.

“Yes,” Terrence said, not taking his eyes from the menu. “You got any specials?”

“You gonna look at me or just bark questions and orders?” Jenny asked. Terrence looked up quickly, and saw Jenny’s hand on her protruding hip. She was no longer smiling.

“I’m sorry,” Terrence said. His cheeks burned. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

“Our specials aren’t any good,” Jenny said. “If you’re really hungry, I have a few recommendations, but if you’re just trying us out or in need of a quick lunch, I’d say the BLT is your best best.”

“Oh. Okay,” Terrence said. Jenny grabbed the menu from him, spun on her heel, and walked to the kitchen window. She felt his eyes on her and was satisfied. When she returned a couple of minutes later with his plate, she made small talk, asking about his job and his home. He ordered more fries and stayed for three hours, talking with Jenny. It had been a standing date ever since.

“What a pleasant surprise this is!” Jenny nearly sang. She was laying it on thick, but she didn’t care; she really missed him. “Where have you been?”

Terrence twitched his lips. It was a pathetic attempt at a smile, and though Jenny no longer had to wonder about Terrence, her worry increased dramatically. He looked thinner and paler. Everything about him was muted; no brilliance shone from his hazel eyes, no contagious laughter boomed from his wide mouth, and Jenny thought if she blew on him hard enough, he’d simply turn to dust and float away. He mentioned something about being sick, but he’d downplayed it so much that Jenny stopped asking about it. She felt like a real asshole now. “Hey Jenny,” he breathed. She could hardly hear him and had to lean in close across the counter.

“Terrence, what’s wrong?” she asked.

He blinked rapidly. His eyes were filling with tears, glistening in the light that came from overhead. He released a shaky breath. “Do you think I could get some water?”

“Of course. Right away,” Jenny said and returned in an instant with Terrence’s request. He drank greedily from the glass and Jenny watched it all with worried, narrowed eyes. He was shaking. She reached out and grabbed his free hand to stop the shaking or else she’d start crying. “What’s going on?”

Terrence drained the glass and set it on the counter before he even acknowledged Jenny had spoken. Drinking the water, or at least the time it had taken to do so, seemed to strengthen some resolve within Terrence. He smiled and said, “Could you come around the counter and sit with me for a minute?”

Jenny fulfilled his request with haste. They spun on their stools to face each other, Jenny’s knobby knees knocking into Terrence’s. He marveled at the contact and Jenny waited patiently for him to come back to the present moment. When he finally lifted his head to meet her gaze, he cleared his throat. “Jenny, the best part of my day is when I see you,” he said. He took her hands in his, and Jenny held them tightly to stop the tremors. He laughed and said, “The days I’m not in here, I must drive by a million times and try to get up the nerve to walk in. Sometimes I’ll even park and watch you through the front window, rehearsing what I’m gonna say in my mind, but then I chicken out and drive away.”

“You are always welcome at my counter, Terrence,” Jenny said.

“Do you remember when that kid spilled the chocolate milk in the booth there?” Terrence asked, flicking his head in the direction of the booth in question. “It went everywhere and the mom was mortified and she started screaming. The kid was crying and it was a mess.” Terrence dropped his gaze to his hands in Jenny’s. “You walked over there, all sunshine, and wiped it up, talking to the miserable little girl about how you just spilled a bowl of ice cream in the back and everyone was laughing and you felt bad. The girl talked to you about the ice cream and stopped crying, and the mom had stopped screaming to eavesdrop, and you came out with the best-looking ice cream sundae I’d ever seen.” He laughed again, softer this time. “Do you remember that?”

Jenny shook her head. “No, not really. I’ve been here so long it all starts to blend together.”

“Do you remember when John’s son was killed overseas, and you were driving three meals over to the house every day for a month?” Terrence asked.

“Yeah,” Jenny nodded. She was speaking slowly, trying to figure out where all this was leading.

“And do you remember when Paige was flat broke and you let her eat here without limit and it all came out of your paycheck and tips, but you didn’t complain once, not even when Paige didn’t pay you back?” Terrence’s face was flushed and he was speaking faster.

Jenny placed her warm hand on his cheek. “Terrence, what does all of this have to do with anything?”

“You’re a good woman, Jenny,” he said. “We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over these last five years, haven’t we?”

Jenny nodded, but the question was rhetorical. Terrence took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “I got some bad news last week. I’m not going to be around as long as I thought I’d be.”

Jenny’s heart broke. She brought her other hand to Terrence’s face and held it lovingly. “Oh no,” she gasped, trying not to sob. “What is -“

“What little time I have left, I want to spend with you.” Terrence, moving fast as lightning lest he lose his nerve, kissed Jenny’s mouth. Then he got down on one knee. Jenny covered her mouth with her hands, shocked into staying still. He pulled a small, velvet-covered box from his back pocket and raised open the lid. A simple silver band with a small diamond winked at her. “It’s not what you deserve, but with time being as short as it is, it was the best I could do.” Terrence cleared his throat to steady his voice. “Jenny Allen, will you marry me?”

On balancing books and movies.

Stephen King once said, “Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” Stephen King also insists in On Writing that no one – absolutely no one – can be a writer without reading A LOT. Writers should read and write every day; there’s no way around it.

I agree with King’s sentiments. After all, I just wrote an entire post about reading more books. Reading is essential, invaluable, and irreplaceable. However, life is all about balance, right? As we move into the final dog days of summer, I want nothing more than to load up on snacks, stretch out, and enjoy a movie in the cool darkness of my living room. How can I make this leisurely activity support my writing goals?

According to Shaunta Grimes, writing for Medium.com, the best way is to watch a movie like a writer. She explains the process in depth and provides helpful links here, but what it boils down to is structure. Screenplays generally follow a 3-act structure: Act One is the Setup, Act Two is the Confrontation, and Act Three is the Resolution. This is covered extensively in a number of different ways in any number of places, but for our purposes, I’m going to explain it the same way I do when I’m teaching the concept in my creative writing class.

  • Act One must introduce major characters, the setting and the conflict. It must have an inciting incident and end with a major plot point that changes the course of the story.
  • Act Two is the longest third of a screenplay. It often includes subplots and showcases character arcs. It includes a major plot point as well, but now the stakes are higher. It usually ends with a moment of crisis.
  • Act Three is typically the shortest third of a screenplay because it’s the showdown between the opposing forces of the conflict, and the resulting consequences of that confrontation. All loose ends are tried up, or least addressed.
  • Put even more simply: Act One, put a guy up a tree. Act Two, throw rocks at him. Act Three, get him down.

So as a writer, watching movies specifically for their structures and character arcs can help generate plot point, character development, and themes, and thereby help cure writer’s block! What kind of movies are best? That depends on what you’re writing, but the internet has come to a consensus that there are about 20 movies every writer should see.

I scrutinized nearly 20 of these lists myself. They came from a literary magazine at a respected university, writers’ blogs, marketing specialists, well-known magazines and databases (IndieWire, Writer’s Digest, IMDB, Medium), lesser-known magazines (Paste, High on Films) and Ranker and Google. There was also a random list I found with no real author or attribution, but I liked the titles, so I kept it. From the master list, I narrowed it down by the number of mentions on every list I searched. Without further ado, according to the internet, here are 20 movies every writer should watch:

  1. Adaptation (9 mentions and usually near the top of every list)
  2. Misery (9 mentions and usually near the top of every list)
  3. Midnight in Paris (8 mentions)
  4. Barton Fink (8 mentions)
  5. Ruby Sparks (6 mentions)
  6. Almost Famous (6 mentions)
  7. Stranger Than Fiction (6 mentions)
  8. Wonder Boys (6 mentions)
  9. The End of the Tour (5 mentions)
  10. Naked Lunch (5 mentions)
  11. Spotlight (4 mentions)
  12. The Words (4 mentions)
  13. The Shining (4 mentions)
  14. Sunset Boulevard (4 mentions)
  15. Finding Forrester (4 mentions)
  16. Dead Poets Society (4 mentions)
  17. Bright Star (3 mentions)
  18. Capote (3 mentions)
  19. An Angel at My Table (3 mentions)
  20. Factotum (3 mentions)
  21. Shakespeare in Love (3 mentions)
  22. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (3 mentions)

I bolded the ones I have seen and as you can see, I need to get working on this list! There is no particular order, other than the number of times the title was mentioned on the lists I studied, and there were quite a few honorable mentions, which I’m limiting to ones I have seen and loved:

  • You’ve Got Mail
    • This movie is more about reading than writing, but it’s all connected anyway. And who doesn’t love an enjoyable romantic comedy with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan? Dave Chapelle’s in it too, so there is literally something for everyone. Nora Ehpron at her most enchanting.
  • Genius
    • This movie stars Jude Law and Colin Firth. Need I say more? It chronicles the fascinating relationship between editor extraordinaire Max Perkins (think Fitzgerald and Hemingway!) and Thomas Wolfe.
  • The Rewrite
    • Hugh Grant plays opposite Marisa Tomei in an adorable and heartwarming romantic comedy about a screenwriter who used to be really good a long, long time ago and how he reclaims his former glory. Maybe fame and fortune aren’t everything.
  • Secret Window
    • Johnny Depp is FANTASTIC as writer dealing with his wife’s infidelity and a mysterious stranger who accuses him of plagiarism. A Stephen King special, the intensity climbs right up to the surprise ending!
  • So I Married an Axe Murderer
    • Mike Meyers at his funniest. He’s a writer who – you guessed it! – may have married an axe murderer.
  • Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
    • Confession: I haven’t seen this movie, but I’m a H U G E fan of Sam Rockwell, so I’m going to see it ASAP.
  • In Bruges
    • Not entirely sure what this film has to do with writing, but as far as films go, it’s damn near perfect. Colin Farrell gives a performance of a lifetime, and it’s from the unbelievably talented Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri).
  • Funny Farm
    • Chevy Chase has aspirations of becoming a serious novelist, so he relocates to the country, thinking he’ll find inspiration in a seemingly quaint country town. Hilarity ensues.
  • Music and Lyrics
    • Another Hugh Grant film (leave me alone), but this time he’s paired with Drew Barrymore and this is actually all about the writing process, particularly as it pertains to songwriting. It’s also adorable.
  • Adult World
    • One of my favorite movies of all time. Emma Roberts stars as a young woman who wants to be the protege to a famous, reclusive, brilliant poet (played perfectly by John Cusack). Evan Peters is in it, too. The heart in this film is surprising and wonderful.
  • Stand By Me
    • More Stephen King (are you really all that surprised?), but this is more about friendship and growing up and the choices we make inside of ourselves. Perfect, nostalgic, bittersweet coming-of-age tale.
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    • Johnny Depp as Hunter S. Thompson. Wonderfully weird. Need I say more? This cult-classic is definitely worth the watch.
  • Sideways
    • Road trip movie about two men in wine country, one of whom is a depressed teacher and unsuccessful writer. This movie speaks to me on so many levels.

Has this list inspired you? Do you feel strongly about any of the titles? Am I missing some great movies about writing? Let me know in the comments!

On learning how to read more and stop wasting “pandemic time.”

“Pandemic Time”

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about how the worst thing about this pandemic was the terrible contradiction of time still moving forward while lives were stuck “standing still.” I lamented all the time I was losing and was burdened by the weight of the injustice of it all. I wrote that post about two months ago, and time has continued to pass, but I have a better perspective, one that is not so defeated or helpless, and one that I am happy to say a lot of my friends are also embracing.

Don’t get me wrong; this pandemic sucks. Though that statement lacks eloquence, it is entirely true. The vast majority of people are having real difficulty in dealing with self-isolation, and the lack of human contact and interaction. Some people are terrified, and some people are indignant. Emotions are extreme and running high, and a volatile political climate is only exacerbating those emotions. Living in this modern world can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Therefore, I truly believe it is of the utmost importance to endeavor to adopt a positive, proactive outlook (at least part of the time), and this involves making a concerted effort to take care of ourselves as best we can: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. A lot of my friends on Instagram (in particular, I’m thinking of @_charley_mc and @jivajenyoga, but I know there are more) are teaching and/or practicing yoga. Charley’s posts are typically beautiful and inspirational, and incredibly welcoming; she offers little reminders that there are so many different ways to take care of ourselves. She’s even convinced me to sign up for a class or two. Jen’s posts are also beautiful and inspirational, and personal; her captions are authentically crafted, and she even told me that she “…just write[s] when inspired to.” My friend Matt is renewing his passion for drumming and shares awesome covers of songs (follow him on Instagram: @matthewvlossak). He’s also constantly sharing uplifting messages and has been open about his journey to becoming better (and that can mean a million different things to a million different people). These friends, and countless others, have helped me realize that posting about the injustice of life not going according to plan is not only stale and tired, but decidedly unhelpful. We all deserve to commiserate now and again, but when it becomes habitual, it can become dangerous to our health.

I’m now choosing to focus on self-improvement, which is the light at the end of this “quarantine tunnel” for me. So many people that I know have endeavored to better some parts of their lives, whether it be through diet and exercise, home improvement, or being more communicative with friends and family through video calls and emails. All of these things are wonderful! I admire how so many are putting a positive spin on the very difficult times we’re currently living in. I too am now making the decision to make the most of my “pandemic time.”

Making the Most of “Pandemic Time”

I began making a concerted effort to make the most of the unprecedented and somewhat abnormal opportunities this pandemic has created in my life. I recently started tackling home improvement projects I’ve been putting off for nearly six years. I painted my living room:

The top photos showcase the whimsical but dark green color of my walls (and if you squint, you can see the light green trim), which I have changed to “Drizzle gray” and the trim is now “Gold ink.” Please excuse the mess. And I’m still in the process of painting my ceiling because let’s face it: painting a ceiling sucks.

The home improvement is long overdue, but if I’m being honest, it’s not a top priority. For me, my two biggest goals (pandemic or not, honestly) are taking care of my body and mind (which leads to a better spirit, in my opinion). Now, I’ve never been athletic, but I was 50 pounds lighter, and I K N O W I need to get back to moving more and eating healthier. I need to relearn the good habits I broke when my depression got the best of me. That takes care of my body.

For my mind, I want to increase how much I read. And weirdly enough, the rest of the world seems to agree. According to one of the best guides I’ve ever read, “a US survey found that more than one-third of adults report a desire to read more books, with book reading second only to exercise as the most wished-for activity.” It’s good to know I’m not alone in my endeavor, and that there is a readily available community out there also wishing to improve its bodies and minds.

But how to get started?

Getting Started

One night while scrolling through social media (a TERRIBLE habit that I am breaking), I saw an Instagram ad for Psyche Guides from psyche.co, specifically a guide for “How to read more books.” Was that a sign from the universe or what?! There were so many elements and aspects of the guide to admire, but I was immediately impressed by the credibility of its author, Christian Jarret. He is a “… senior editor at Aeon+Psyche, with particular responsibility for writing and commissioning at Psyche. A cognitive neuroscientist by training, his books include The Rough Guide to Psychology (2011) and Great Myths of the Brain (2014). His next, on personality change, will be published in 2021.” Not only is he a cognitive neuroscientist, he’s an author as well! I also especially liked the way it was broken down into different sections, in the following order: Need to Know, What To Do, Key Points, Learn More, and Links & Books.

The “Need to Know” section was straightforward and gave a clear picture of what is ultimately required if a person wants to read more books: time. I have already discussed my struggle with time during this pandemic, but in truth, that struggle has always been there. “Anecdotally, many of us recognise this overwhelming sense of competing demands on our time. We hanker for the space to read more. We buy the books, they pile up, but we never get round to reading them – the Japanese even have a term for it, tsundoku.” While it’s completely awesome the Japanese have a word for wanting to read more books, the more compelling part of the quote is the phrase “competing demands on our time.” Because of COVID-19, those demands have either been removed or changed, for better or for worse. For me, I found myself with more time. Luckily, that’s the one thing I really need to read more books. “To read more books, you need to make it a higher priority, which means changing your daily habits and routines to accommodate more reading.” This seems like a no-brainer, but it helped shift my thinking. I thought that time was relentlessly moving forward (and it always is), and I was powerless against it, but that second part is not true. The real trick was to change how I was spending my time now that my “normal” life was interrupted. My daily habits and routines are certainly changing, so why not use that to my advantage?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but it has fallen by the wayside as of late. Instead of reaching for a novel, I’m typically reaching for my phone (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Gmail, Safari) or the remote (Netflix, Hulu, HBO). Reaching for my phone then creates a time lapse, in which I spend more time than I ever wanted scrolling through countless posts that more often than not leave me feeling angry or depressed. As for reaching for the remote, Ed Needham (creator of Strong Words and former editor of Rolling Stone) is quoted in the guide and shares my sentiments: “‘Sometimes, you just need the slightest encouragement to displace something that isn’t earning its keep in your routine,’ says Needham. ‘I remember [the US filmmaker and writer] John Waters saying he found it really easy to read every night because he never watched television. That made me realise it is really easy to stop watching television, because I get more from books than I do from the vast majority of television programmes.’” While I absolutely love watching a powerful film and I have television shows I simply can’t miss, is it necessary to binge? And I have to say there’s a level of cognitive absence; watching television or watching movies does most of the thinking for me and all I’m doing is reacting. When reading, I have to think critically and analyze AND react, so when it comes to bettering my brain, reading is the better path to take.

It’s well-known that reading more offers a slew of advantages. According to the guide:

There’s little doubt that you will benefit from reading more books. People who read literary fiction in particular tend to be better at reading others’ emotions and have greater moral sensitivity, possibly due to their simulation of the lives of complex characters; and reading nonfiction will increase your knowledge and broaden your mind. In fact, reading books is considered a cognitive ‘reserve building’ activity that could help to protect you from Alzheimer’s and related illnesses.

Christian Jarret, Psyche’s “How to read more books” guide.

I know why I want to read more, so specifically how to get started is wonderfully broken down in the guide in the following two sections. “What To Do” offers an in-depth look at each element of reading more, while the “Key Points” section summarizes them into a kind of checklist. I recommend reading the “What To Do” section if you’re truly interested in the subject, but if you’re just looking for a quick guide to how to read more books, I’ll share the “Key Points” with you now:

  • “Spend time thinking about why you want to read more books. The more motivation you have, the more likely you are to succeed. Start out reading books you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to quit books you don’t like.”
    • The benefits of reading are familiar to me, and I’ve already explicitly stated why I want to read more. Luckily, because I’ve been a reader my whole life, I can get started easily because I already know what kinds of books I enjoy. For me, the struggle will be quitting books I don’t like. I have the inexplicable and seemingly non-negotiable agreement with myself to finish every movie and/or book that I start. Can you believe I’ve never walked out of a movie theater, even when I’ve abhorred the film? I’m going to have to keep in mind a tip from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits (2018): “…start more books, quit most of them, read the great ones twice. I think that a lot of readers would be well-served if they did that.
  • “Lay the groundwork for your new reading habit by making books salient in the physical and digital environments you encounter every day.”
    • I love big bags and purses. They fit in with the bohemian style I’m creating for myself, but they also fit a lot of stuff. Though I never find anything I’m looking for in my purse, I can always find a book. I’m going to make doubly sure I always carry a book with me.
  • “Set modest goals, at least at first. Aim to read just a little each day.”
    • Right now, my current goal is to read at least 20 pages a day.
  • “Look at your daily routines and your existing habits. Consider where you could build in a new habit of book reading, in effect piggybacking on your existing habits. The more specific you can be, the more likely you are to succeed.”
    • Typically, I read at night while laying in bed. But after reading this guide, I’m thinking I should read whenever I reach for my phone. The guide states, “Unless you currently spend time each day sitting around doing nothing, it’s inevitable that, as you increase your book reading, other activities will have to fall by the wayside. You could confront this head-on by revisiting the audit of your everyday routines and identifying unwanted habits that you could give up.”
      • “‘Recognising that [acquiring a new habit] it is a substitution process is quite useful,’ says Gardner (Benjamin Gardner is a social psychologist at King’s College, London and an expert on the psychology of habits). ‘But then you have to come up with your own strategies based on what the old behaviour is and what the cues are to think about how you can disrupt that old habit.’”
      • But that doesn’t have to be a focus: Clear says, “Build your new book-reading habit […] and other unimportant things will naturally fall away.
  • “Try as hard as you can to always read whenever you are in that situation, time or place. Eventually, you will form a new effortless reading habit.”
    • Be consistent! This is also something I struggle with from time to time. To aid in this aspect, the guide suggests keeping a reading journal. I purchased one last summer at The Strand bookstore in New York City, and I love it. It’s also available on Amazon.
  • “Track your progress by recognising every day that you managed to read, rather than by ticking off completed books. After two weeks, you should start to feel that your new habit is deepening.”
    • The keeping of a journal will undoubtedly help with this.
  • “Consider whether your social world supports book reading. You could try joining a book group to chat with like-minded readers.”
    • This doesn’t have to be official. For example, I’m reading a Kurt Cobain biography with three friends, and after we’ve read a section, we message each other about it. Goodreads is also helpful, and I’m sure there’s hashtags on Instagram to follow and a million other places to connect with other readers virtually. If I come across an option I love, I’ll be sure to share it with you on this blog.
  • “Cultivate your identity as an avid reader of books. Write a sentence outlining the kind of person you want to be, and think about how book reading will serve that aim.”
    • Here’s my sentence: I want to be a beautiful, bohemian babe with literary aspirations.

I also personally recommend checking out the blog, “Years of Reading Selfishly” by Clare Reynolds. So there you have it, folks: an easy-to-use-guide for reading more books. How will you spend your “pandemic time”? Is reading a part of that plan? Let me know in the comments!