How to Be a Well-Read Person

No matter what I’m doing—working, driving, sitting in class, hanging out with friends or acquaintances—I would always rather be reading.

I wish everybody felt this way, not just so folks would understand not to try and strike up a conversation with me when I’ve got my nose in a book on the bus, but also because reading for pleasure is directly linked to future success in children and teenagers and higher levels of empathy in people of all ages. Plus, it doesn’t only actually make you smarter, it also makes you look smarter, which is helpful if someone in a job interview, or on a date asks you what your favorite pastimes are.

Some people don’t discover the love of reading until adulthood. Others may have loved books at one point, but switched to streaming video when the Internet came along.

If you fall into one of those categories, get excited—you have SO much discovery ahead of you. Starting out on this adventure might seem intimidating, but don’t worry. Mama’s got your back. Reading is essential, but it’s also fun if you do it right. Here are some ways to start reading for pleasure, that won’t make you want to tear your hair out!

1. Sample lots of genres. 

Start with contemporary fiction—it’s super accessible and unbelievably varied, so no matter who you are, there’s a book out there for you. Don’t worry about what will be “useful” or what will impress people. Read what looks interesting to you. My favorite genres are realistic (sometimes called “literary”) fiction, fantasy, and young adult (which, yes, is totally worth reading even if you’re no longer a teenager). Other types of novels include mystery, science fiction, and romance. I’ve found something to enjoy in every section. Don’t reject an entire genre based on your perception of it. You could be pleasantly surprised if you take a chance.

2. Read what you said you read in high school.

Classics are usually classics for a reason: they tap into human experiences and desires that transcend time and place. If great literature seems daunting, it shouldn’t. At one point, even plays written by William Shakespeare were just considered entertainment for the masses. Today, the only differences between the Bard and an MTV reality show are rhyme, meter, and some depth of feeling. If the idea of reading “older” English intimidates you, start with something from the 20th century, like The Great Gatsby, Beloved, or The Catcher in the Rye, and work your way back.

3. Get some perspective.

Read books written by men, and books written by women. Read books written by people of every race and nationality and sexuality and gender identity and any other identifying characteristic you can think of. Don’t do this just to check off items on some diversity itinerary. Do it because all human stories are different from each other, and they are also all the same, and both of those things are vitally important to understand.

4. Go back to basics.

The children’s section of any bookstore is home to some of the best stories you’ll find anywhere. As C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, once said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” Reread your old favorites, and then discover some new ones.

5. Be a rebel.

Banned books are some of the most important books you can read, because if something upsets people, it is likely worth a lot of thought. Some people jump at the chance to read banned books (“CONTROVERSY! ALL RIGHT!”), but others are a little more hesitant. If you’re in the second group, consider that before you disagree with something, you should probably find out exactly what it is you’re disagreeing with—and that involves digging a little deeper than reading a warning label.

Reading banned books gives you the opportunity to decide how you feel about an issue—whether that’s profanity, prejudice or pornography—without having to rely on the opinions of a politician or a PTA member. As you’re reading, see if you can find out why the book got banned. Considering the work as a whole, think about what the author was trying to say with the contested parts of the book. Should the entirety of the novel be lost because a part of it offended someone? If you read it, that becomes your call and not someone else’s.

6. For the love of Dumbledore, read Harry Potter.

In fact, just go ahead and start with that.

Shelby Bouck is a college student living in Tallahassee, FL and experimenting with adulthood. She believes in competence, not excellence, in everyday activities, and blogs about those beliefs on She is currently reading (and thoroughly enjoying) The Ocean at the End of the Lane ​by Neil Gaiman.

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