Summer is for swimming, backyards, and pie, but as a former librarian I know it’s also reading season. With vacations and school breaks come long stretches of time to get immersed in a book, so it’s ideal for revisiting that goal you may have set in January to read more and scroll less.
I once started a summer book club for my adult friends that we loved so much, it ran for two more years (maybe it was my nana’s famous whisky balls, which I gave out as prizes.) Whatever plans you have this summer, we have tips and strategies to help you create the perfect reading environment, whether you’re on the road, at the beach, or in your own home.
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Give your space a tuneup
Just like checking your tires and buying snacks before a road trip, doing a little prep work makes summer reading better.
First, check your lighting. Dr. Scott Brodie, an ophthalmologist at N.Y.U. Langone Health, said your reading light should shine onto the page from behind you. Use at least a 60-watt light bulb — We have some favorites in our guide to the best LED light bulbs, as well as bedside lamps under $200 and floor lamps under $300. To create a cozy reading space, get a soft throw (Wirecutter recommends several) and a few firm, comfy pillows to prop you up (Our memory-foam pillow picks are the firmest). Add a cup of tea and a fluffy pet, if you have one.
Kids need a space, too. When I was a school librarian, I learned two essential truths: All kids love stickers, and they’re happiest on the floor. Pillows and permission to get comfortable got them reading. At home we put a beanbag chair in my 7-year-old’s reading corner, tucked between a bright window and some shelves that are tall enough for most oversize picture books. If your kids have summer reading assignments, designate a place for them so they don’t get lost, and make a place for library books, too.
Emily Nichols, associate director of Branch Youth Education at The New York Public Library, recommended helping kids tackle their homework early in the summer so that they can move on to leisure reading. At the library, “let the kids pick their own books,” she urged.
If you’re staying in a vacation rental this summer, pack spare light bulbs to make up for bad lighting. You could use a book light for dim hotels and planes, or you can try Wirecutter’s comfy headlamp pick. If you want to travel lighter, Wirecutter’s favorite e-readers have strong lighting, and you can enlarge the text.
On road trips, audiobooks are my go-to for everyone in the car. I’ve been listening to them since the cassette tape versions were considered high-tech, and my Audible membership is one of my best investments. To listen solo, consider a pair of noise-cancelling headphones (here are Wirecutter’s recommendations.) Also, take advantage of the books at your rental, B&B, or hotel library, and ask if you can leave your finished books behind for future guests.
Support your eyes
Before spending hours reading on vacation this summer, make sure your eyes are healthy. Don’t ignore headaches or eyestrain while reading, Dr. Brodie said. Get your eyes checked, especially if you’re over 40 or if you notice blurry text. Another clue: if you’re holding a book farther and farther away to read it. “People say their arms are getting shorter,” he said. Have a doctor determine your prescription, and then pick up a cheap pair of reading glasses at the pharmacy. “They’re actually quite well made,” Dr. Brodie said.
If you need a stronger prescription, check out our guide to the best places to buy glasses online. If you’re heading to the beach, bring cheap sunglasses you won’t mind losing (We have has recommendations for those, too). Dr. Brodie also recommended taking reading breaks every hour or so to rest your eyes.
Make it a habit
If you’re on vacation, give your smartphone a break to develop concentration. Maryanne Wolf, author of “Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World,” said that skimming screens has become the main form of reading, and people don’t always notice the impact. She told us that even she didn’t realize it was affecting her focus until she tried to reread a favorite old book. “I was no longer able to immerse myself.”
To fix this, Dr. Wolf made reading a habit: She read for 20 minutes every day, and after 10 days her focus improved. She also recommends avoiding screens first thing in the morning and right before bed. Limit screen use for kids under 5; allow it in moderation for kids 5 and up. There’s no need to ban screens completely, Dr. Wolf said — kids will just want the technology even more.
To nurture better reading habits, keep it consistent but fun. Judson Brewer, director of research and innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center, said, “If you’re bored with what you’re reading, no amount of dedicated time will make you a more committed reader.” With kids, read as a family — they need to see you with books to become readers themselves. When you’re traveling this summer, plan a reading night with takeout and treats, whether you’re with family or friends.
Use your library
Your local library is still the best resource for reading. Many libraries run summer reading programs for both kids and adults (with prizes!) or offer activities such as games, performers, and author visits. Your library card probably gives you access to Libby, an app that lets you check out free e-books and audiobooks, place holds, and read samples. You can also usually use your library’s website to place holds for pickup or download.
Lynn Lobash, associate director of Reader Services at The New York Public Library, said to talk to a librarian for ideas on what to read — it’s their job to know books. Even if you don’t belong to The New York Public Library, you can still take advantage of its list of resources to find something to read, including personalized recommendations.
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.
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