book on windy beach with bright blue water | how to make time for reading
Read time: 7 min

Key points

  • Reading for fun has cognitive benefits that can actually improve your performance at school. 
  • Fitting more reading into your schedule is surprisingly easy by breaking it up into bite-sized chunks. 

By summer break, picking up a book may feel like the last thing you want to do. But recreational reading isn’t just a good way to put down your phone and get out of your head; it also has some great brain benefits. In a study published in Brain Connectivity, researchers had adults read a novel over a nine-day period and took daily MRI scans to measure brain activity. They found that reading boosted connectivity in brain regions associated with comprehension and perspective, and had long-term benefits of increased activity in the area of the brain that processes sensory information. Another small 2016 study among teens found that those who read for pleasure had higher test scores on average.

“Discussing life over the topics in books can be a great way to get to know new friends.” —Nora S., first-year student, Saint Louis University, Missouri

Reading is also a great way to form social connections—bonding over books or joining a book club is a great way to meet new people and expand your social network. 

How to find time to read

It’s hard to find time to read for fun, especially as a student. But there are plenty of easy ways to work it into your day. Build up the habit now when you have more free time in the summer, and it will be easier to carry into the next school year. Try these tips, and you’ll be breezing through your reading list: 

  • Read for a set time period (e.g., 10–30 minutes) every morning before your first obligation. 
  • Read for 10 minutes before you go on social media or watch TV. 
  • Download an e-book to read between classes. 
  • Join an online book club or start one in your dorm or with friends.
  • Set a reading goal. Whether it’s books per month or per year, a goal will help you stay motivated. 

“Reading a book instead of watching a screen can improve your sleep by eliminating the blue light you are exposed to at night.” —Mitch B., fourth-year student, Trinity University, Hartford, Connecticut

  • Try an anthology of essays or poems that’s easier to read in bite-sized chunks (humorous short stories are also great for this).
  • Read one chapter of a book each night before bed.
  • Read more than one book at a time. You might want nonfiction on your lunch break and a novel before bed—keep a rotation to keep things interesting.
  • If you still can’t find time to read, download an audiobook to listen to while you’re cooking, exercising, or brushing your teeth. Pro tip: You can also check out audiobooks for free at the library.

If you’re not big into recreational reading or are simply feeling burnt out from all the reading you have during the school year, it may be time to rethink your reading list. Just because it’s a bestseller doesn’t mean it will be appealing to you. Instead, try to find something that aligns with your interests—whether it’s a juicy biography of your favorite celeb, a guide to becoming more socially active, or even a graphic novel, which tends to be lighter on the words and more fun to look at than plain text on a page. You can even revisit a favorite book from your childhood or tween years as a way to rekindle your love of reading.

Your summer reading list

Not sure where to start? We’ve got the best reading picks right here.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet

The intellectual beach read

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Bennett takes a deep and provocative question—What if you could choose your race?—and explores it in an engrossing family saga through the tale of twin sisters, one of whom lives as a Black woman in her hometown, and the other who moves to a white community and lives as a white woman. Part mystery, part ode to family bonds, The Vanishing Half is a book you’ll fly through and then never forget.

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

The true crime thriller

We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper

As an undergrad at Harvard, Becky Cooper hears a story of a student murdered in the ’60s, which haunts her for the next 10 years. We Keep the Dead Close is the astounding product of a decade of reporting to solve the unsolved murder buried deep at the heart of the Ivy League. 

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Dia

The poetry that will make you cry

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz

Postcolonial Love Poem is an “anthem of desire against erasure.” In her second collection of poems, Natalie Diaz, an indigenous writer, explores the power of loving marginalized bodies, walking a fine line between pleasure and grief. 

Here for It- Or How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

The hilarious memoir

Here for It: Or How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

In this humorous collection of memoir-style essays, R. Eric Thomas explores the experience of what it’s like to be an outsider, taking an unexpectedly hilarious look at reconciling his faith with his sexuality, code-switching in the Ivy League, and covering the 2016 election.

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The fantasy escape

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The first novel in the Dark Star trilogy follows Tracker, a mercenary hired to find a missing child. The tale that unfolds draws on African history and mythology to tell a deeply gripping story about mistrust and a quest to find the truth. 

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

The campfire read

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

Before Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat Pray Love, she went on an entirely different type of journey profiling naturalist and survivalist Eustace Conway in The Last American Man. The result is a fascinating exploration of the American male psyche and life in the wild told with Gilbert’s signature humor and wit. 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The engrossing drama

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

In The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri weaves a rich tapestry of family drama that spans continents and generations through the stories of two brothers linked by a tragic event, and a woman haunted by her past. It’s a chance to explore time and culture and the evolution of geopolitical landscapes as you move from the 1960s to the present through the very human stories that make up family lore.

Under a White Sky- The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert

The environmental action plan

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elizabeth Kolbert directly addresses the many questions about the world we’re creating through climate change. Under a White Sky is a fascinating (and motivating) look at how human invention has impacted our planet—and how it can save it. 

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The eerily prescient novel

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds may take place during the Great Depression, but the Dust Bowl-era tale of privilege and the things that divide a nation gained critical acclaim for expertly sussing out themes that feel more relevant than ever. 

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Article sources

Balkovek, C. (2019, January 14). How to read more. Book Riot. https://bookriot.com/how-to-read-more/

Berns, G. S., Blaine, K., Prietula, M. J., & Pye, B. E. (2013). Short- and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain. Brain Connectivity, 3(6), 590–600. https://doi.org/10.1089/brain.2013.0166

Davis, S. S. (2017, March 30). Tips and tricks on how to read more. Book Riot. https://bookriot.com/tips-and-tricks-on-how-to-read-more/ 

Houston, S. M., Lebel, C., Katzir, T., Manis, F. R., et al. (2014). Reading skill and structural brain development. Neuroreport, 25(5), 347–352. doi: 10.1097/WNR.0000000000000121Whitten, C., Labby, S., & Sullivan, S. L. (2016). The impact of pleasure reading on academic success. Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research, 2(4), 48–64.