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  • Milena Williamson

The Joy of Reading

Lockdown hasn’t been easy, but I’ve found great company in books. Many, many books. I’ve rediscovered my love of reading, especially as ‘reading’ has been synonymous with ‘school’ for quite some time now (As a PhD student, I’m in 19th grade). Here are my six tips to help you read more and more purposefully, if that’s something you want!


Read vs. to-read: If your goal is to read more, this is my best piece of advice. Separate the books you’ve read from the books you want to read. Keep your to-read books in a particular stack. That way, when you finish one book, you know exactly where to go to grab the next one. Keep a few options in this stack, don’t let it get too low! Reading begets reading, so keep your momentum going by making it easy to pick up the next book. And when I finish a book, I put it on my shelf in my living room. My shelves are separated by genre and alphabetized so each book has its proper place. The books in my room or at my place on the dining room table, are in-progress or books to-read.


Read the books you want to read: I’m a PhD student so okay, not every book I read makes me jump for joy. As a poet, I feel a particular drive/pressure to read as much poetry as possible, to always be learning from someone else’s craft. To read as a writer. And most of the time, that works for me, because I love poetry and my goal of becoming a better writer does make me happy—even if it does occasionally overwhelm me. But reading beyond poetry has reminded me of the joys of reading. I devoted a full week to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and Normal People (plus the BBC series) back-to-back. I read Irish non-fiction hits such as Notes to Self by Emilie Pine and Constellations by Sinéad Gleeson. I’ve been living in Belfast for almost three years now, and I want to embrace all the Irish literature I can while I’m here, which means reading more than just one genre.


Every book I read makes me feel this way-- diving into poems and stories provides comfort, a temporary reprieve from the stress of the pandemic.

Find your spot: Don’t just get cozy but ‘appreciate deep coziness’ as Eric Weiner writes in The Geography of Bliss. My favorite reading spots are on my front steps (‘the terrace’ as my housemate calls it). I sit in my camping chair, ideally in the late afternoon when our side of the street becomes the sunny side. I recently discovered that the drinks holder of the camping chair is big enough to fit a packet of dark chocolate McVitie’s digestives or a chocolate orange (or a drink, obviously). A good book, a pencil, sunshine, and some chocolate means I’m at the x marks the spot of my own bliss.


All the books I've read during lockdown. Prose and poetry in separate piles.

Underlining: This might be a controversial suggestion, but I like to underline in my books. Occasionally, I’ll star a passage or draw a heart. For nonfiction, I fold down the corners of important pages. For poetry, I star my favorite poems in the contents page. Obviously, I don’t do this with library books and owning books is a privilege. But when I do own books, I want to feel like they’re my books. Heck, maybe I even want the books themselves to feel like they’re my books. It’s not just about the reading, but how I feel when I engage with the words on the page. When I write in my books, I think more deeply and feel happier.


Make a list: During lockdown, I realized I was reading more than I had been in quite some time. Keeping a list of the books, even a simple list (title and author), helps me keep track of what genres I’m reading, how one choice of book influences the next, and the races and genders of the authors. For those more meticulous in their record-keeping, I’d recommend a color-coded spreadsheet (publisher, pub date, genre, length, etc.). The other good thing about making a list is that when someone asks me for a recommendation, I can consult my list and give them a well-researched recommendation, rather than just the first book that comes to my mind. Sharing my book knowledge with others makes me happy because…


My housemate is endlessly patient as I say for what might be the millionth time, ‘Wow, listen to this…’

The best things in life are meant to be shared: As twin sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski write in Burnout, ‘No one is “complete” without other people…We need both connection and autonomy. That’s not a contradiction. Humans are built to oscillate from connection to autonomy and back again.’ My housemate is endlessly patient as I say for what might be the millionth time, ‘Wow, listen to this…’ and reel off a fun fact or nugget of wisdom (including this one from Burnout). Another friend helps me on my reading journey by providing her recommendations. I’m currently reading The Geography of Bliss, thanks to her. As Eric Weiner zips from country to country, searching for happiness, I feel like I’m flying across the world with him, traveling in a way that the current Covid-19 situation prohibits. The journeys in The Geography of Bliss are literal, but actually, every book I read makes me feel this way-- diving into poems and stories provides comfort, a temporary reprieve from the stress of the pandemic.


If you want to recommend a book or would like a recommendation from me, please get in touch!


Sending love an ocean away!

Milena Williamson is a poet and PhD candidate at The Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast.

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