Five Ways to Cultivate a Healthy Reading Habit

Sangeetha Alwar
5 min readMay 10, 2020


They say it takes 21 days to form a habit but three months to cultivate it. With books, however, its another ‘story’ (get it? yes, I suck at puns); Moving on, one of the best things about being a professor is that I get asked to recommend books — and I absolutely love it!

My much-abused bookshelf!

The catch, however, is that most of the people who have come to me have not read a lot outside their academics/syllabus. This, I believe, is one of the biggest issues with the Indian education system — the exposure to non-academic reading is very limited, leading to problems with communication. English, being taught as a subject, rather than a language only adds to the woes. (This generalization, however, doesn’t largely apply to ‘international schools’, but that’s a larger class and caste issue we will have to tackle in another post.)

When we grow up with such a limited perception of the world around us, it is only natural to fall into its web of lies — to assume that one can only be a serious reader if they read a 550-page novel and limit their reading to a particular set of writers. This approach to reading not only prevents you from experiencing the joys of flipping through a book but also limit your perception of literature as a whole.

Any activity can be cultivated into a hobby if one finds it pleasurable.

Cultivating a reading habit takes more than just going to the bookstore and picking out a novel the internet recommends. Sometimes, the first few books we pick up leave quite an impact — they might even be the difference between becoming a reader or a person who listens to 10-minute audio summaries of books (yes, there’s an app for that too, and no, I will not tell you what it is). Here are some tips that I have found to be helpful to cultivate a consistent reading habit:

5. Start Small

It is human to want to begin with ‘great expectations’ (yes, that’s a book pun) but picking up Moby Dick or The Tale of Two Cities for your first read might not be a great idea. I have found that starting with a smaller book — both with respect to its length and its depth actually let’s one discover the potential and the joys of reading. Taking the first step of your reading journey with R.K.Narayan, Enid Blyton or even Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories would surely be fun initiation. (Keep in mind, this is for people who haven’t read a lot at all, not even the editorials in the newspaper.)

4. Explore Genres

The easiest way to enjoy reading is to pick up a genre you like. If you like mystery, read Sidney Sheldon or Jeffrey Archer; if you have enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, pick up The Tales of Beedle the Bard. If you, like me, jump straight to the comic section of a newspaper, try picking up a graphic novel (which are notoriously expensive, I would advise visiting a secondhand bookstore rather than your friendly Higgin Bothams). We need to acknowledge that genres might not appeal to us across mediums, for example, just because I like watching James Bond, I needn’t love reading it. It is advisable to explore genres, who knows, you might watch Dexter but love reading Pride and Prejudice!

3. Look Beyond the Novel

One of the most common misconceptions about reading is that the novel is the cornerstone of all literature.

Your grandparents and ‘learned’ uncles/aunts might opine that Crime and Punishment is the best place to begin your reading journey — ten pages in and you’re back on Netflix.

This should be your mantra “look beyond the novel” (read it in Rafiki’s voice, it’ll make more sense.)

Graphic novels like Persepolis or Maus, Poetry, Essays, Letters, Short Stories and Plays are literature! Moreover, the language is simple in a lot of these genres, making the reading more enjoyable to the novice-reader.

2. Read What you Know

The subject you choose to read is as important as the genre. When I read The Famous Five, I had no clue what ginger beer was. It simply was not something familiar in my immediate environment. When we fail to relate to what we are reading, chances are, it becomes tedious. Choose a writer who talks about your country, your experiences, your festivals and culture. This is a good place to begin, one can always read other people after the habit is formed. As an Indian myself, I loved reading about Mumbai through the lens of authors such as Rushdie, Jeet Thayil, Manu Joseph and Gregory Davies Roberts (not as much as the others, but he counts too, for now).

1. Read Outside the Canon

Wordsworth, Dickens, Austen aren’t for everybody. You are not obligated to read them. The mark of a good reader is what they get out of their reading and not who they read. It also goes without saying that canons are quite archaic by nature — the language and context is not something we are used to.

Let us acknowledge one thing, canons of literature are merely byproducts of colonialism.

While the literary merit of these canons is obvious, we need to look beyond them in the interest of expanding our horizons as readers.

Lastly, enjoy yourself. Do not get caught up trying to critique the first book you read. You have plenty of time to do that once you get the hang of it!



Sangeetha Alwar

A Professor of English by day, a “Quasimodoesque” figure while hunched over the iPad, a reluctant academician and a passionate reader.