How To Read When You Hate Reading, Have Become Smartphone-Faced, or Just Don’t Have Time

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It’s hard to read printed words these days. Who wants to crack open a boring old book when you’ve got an infinite scroll of the latest Twitter hatefest, non-stop booty-shaking TikTok videos, and Pepe Frog memes to look at? Now with Web3 out there, or the Metaverse, or Zuck’s Uncanny Valley, or whatever the hell they’re calling it, the days of reading plain old black and white text on dead trees are surely numbered.

Just look around you. Everyone’s become “smartphone-faced.” That’s when you hold your phone so close to your face it practically is your face. Ancient Hindu swamis once warned the youth of their day not to stare too long into the River Ganges, or else it would absorb their soul, and they’d spend eternity trapped underwater. The same warning could be applied to everyone today and their O.C.D. (Obsessive Cellular Disorder).

(NOTE: I made up that part about the ancient Hindu swamis, but the lesson still stands).

As a word-munching kiddo I used to read until I fell asleep every night. No Berenstain Bear book was safe from my crayon-smeared fingers. My mom would know I’d conked out because she’d hear the books thump against the carpet as they fell from my hand.

I loved to read. Still do. But even as a novelist and online wordsmith, reading sometimes feels like a slog to get through. I get smartphone-faced, too. I find myself falling into slumps, distracted by the circus of social media, or the impulsive need to Google stuff. Or I just get bored or don’t have the time.

Then comes the awul guilt for not reading from my inner finger-wagger. A cardinal sin for writers.

To be fair, not everyone has the time to get absorbed into a book as they’d like. And to be even more fair, there are a lot of bad books out there not worth even looking at. The New York Times Bestsellers list is less a list of quality than a ranking of which sales team did the best marketing for their product.

If you’re struggling with staying focused on reading these days, it’s important first to get over any guilty feelings you may have. Reading is all about learning, and there are a ton of mediums you can use to do that. Not just books. Losing temporary interest in reading could just be your brain’s way of saying it wants to try other means of data extraction.

When I was in college, I remember a student submitted a thesis asserting that people can learn history or other topics just as well through gaming as they can through researching books, using immersive MMORPGs, and historical-themed games as examples. His case study revealed that both the gamer and the reader retained information about equally. Which is great news, as I can finally call myself an Oregon Trail historian like I’ve always wanted.

Here are a few ways that can help you “read” without reading.


Most everyone is aware of Amazon’s Audible program, which offers thousands of audiobooks on its platform. But there are also numerous audiobooks available for free on YouTube. Everything from classic books, to big name authors like Stephen King, to cult hits like Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. In addition, there are tons of nonfiction bestsellers on there, like The Richest Man in Babylon.

If you don’t have the time or energy to read a book the old fashioned way, just type in a title and enter “audiobook” afterward into YouTube’s search bar. Chances are it’s on there, and narrated by a professional.


Everyone and their grandmother has a podcast these days. Which is awesome, because it virtually guarantees there will be something out there you’ll be interested in, no matter how small the niche or audience. True crime stories are really popular. But you’ve also got scary/paranormal stories that are getting big.

One of my favorite types of podcasts are behind the scenes ones for shows I like. I used to listen to the Better Call Saul podcast after each episode until the series finale aired. If you’ve got a favorite TV show or movie, chances are either the cast or crew has started a supplementary podcast. Or fans are still talking about it. Even shows that have been off the air for years, like The Office, have ongoing podcasts run by some of the cast members, such as Office Ladies.

Another favorite podcast of mine is Inside of You by Michael Rosenbaum, the actor best known for playing Lex Luthor on Smallville. Rosenbaum mainly interviews actors and other celebrities in a kind of therapist-on-the-couch manner, focusing on the psychological impact of fame and the grind of Hollywood. He’s even interviewed his former Smallville co-star Tom Welling, aka Superman. Times are tough when Lex Luthor is counseling the Man of Steel.

YouTube/TikTok Book Summaries

Sort of the Cliff Notes version books. These channels are increasingly becoming more popular, as people are interested in learning about what’s out there, but may not have the time to get deeply invested in any particular topic.

TikTok’s “BookTok” community has actually become so large and influential that its creating New York Times Bestsellers. Madeline Miller’s book The Song of Achilles became a viral breakout hit this year. I wrote about BookTok in an article awhile back. It’s becoming the place to go to not only learn about new books, but get reviews and summaries for genres you might be interested in, and even market your own stuff. Sometimes the best part about “reading” isn’t the actual reading, but discussing what you’ve read with likeminded people.

Read Aloud Feature on Medium/MS Word

Automated, or “AI” voices have made some progress in mimicking human speech. Medium’s read aloud feature sounds close enough that it doesn’t throw you off that much.

MS Word also has a good AI voice under the “Review” tab. I find using that feature is a good way to proofread, or get a sense of the flow of a document. But if you’re a busy professional, let’s say, and you’ve got briefs and other docs to read, using the Review AI voice could be a good way to save time while you do other things around the house.

In addition, there’s been a growing number of YouTube channels that summarize the news or particular subject interests, creating condensed and quickly digestible pieces. Altcoin Daily, for instance, covers a wide swath of cryptocurrency news and distills it all into a nicely condensed daily video. Then you’ve got pop culture channels like YellowFlash2, that talk about current events, with some added colorful commentary.

Go Back to Favorites You’ve Loved

Of course, you don’t have to go the headphones-and-listen-electronically route. You can go right back to physical books, which still exist believe it or not.

If you’re in an anti-reading rut, or stuck in that bizarre fog where the very idea of reading seems impossible, it doesn’t hurt to go back to the books you once read and enjoyed before. The books that may have inspired you to get into reading in the first place. Many people credit the Harry Potter books with that. While I’ve moved on from the Berenstain books, I’ll always enjoy a good Stephen King or Ira Levin novel.

Try Another Medium of Writing

Such as screenplays. So many scripts of classic or popular films are available on the web. You can get scripts for The Terminator all the way up to the latest Best Picture winner. Every year a certain number of unproduced screenplays are chosen for the Black List, and they’re almost always available for download. The 2021 Black List selections are all available here, for instance. And if you’re reading this year’s unproduced scripts, you’ll be aware of new films coming out before anyone else.

It’s also really instructive to the creative process. Screenplays are basically blueprints. It can be really cool to see how a movie starts from the page and progresses through the filming process. You get to see earlier drafts of stories before they were changed for the screen. For instance, in the original Alien script by Dan O’Bannon, the entire crew was male, including Ripley.

You can also try fan fiction, which has become pretty huge. Fifty Shades of Grey started off as Twilight fan fiction, and that worked out well for everyone. Or not.

Join a Book Club (Online or In-Person)

This can be a good way to force some accountability into your regular reading habit, though it may be more time-intensive than the previous methods. There are many book clubs on Facebook, of course. But usually your local library will be the place to go for in-person clubs.

If there’s not one in your area, consider starting one yourself. It could not only be a great way to discover new books, but meet new people.

Hopefully, these seven methods will help restart your drive to read. The world’s unfortunately become filled with zombies addicted to glowing rectangles with vibrant flashing images. Time will tell the kind of damage that will do to the human brain on an evolutionary scale, though we already know attention spans have shrunk to microscopic levels for many.

Spending time deep in a book is an increasingly lost art. It helps strengthen focus, foster critical thinking, and can create an appreciation for language and imagination. Social media and video may provide a pleasurable jolt of dopamine, but the effect is superficial and temporary. Those forms of data distribution also tend to be passive. They deaden and hypnotize the thoughts and senses. Whereas a good book (fiction or non) can be like stoking a fire inside your mind. Massive movements, revolutions, whole empires, have sprung from written works like the Bible or The Communist Manifesto. I don’t see the booty shakers on TikTok inspiring a lot of meaningful social change.

Even if some of the above solutions aren’t technically “reading,” they may help to put you back on a better path toward active learning and data processing. And that’s something we could all use more of these days.

TikTok is Trying to Kill You

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TikTok is like some kind of fictional mind virus from a dystopian sci-fi novel. 

Except the video app with the psychedelic logo is quite real, and it often targets people with completely insane and sometimes even deadly hashtag trends. 

Like almost every social media app, TikTok operates on an algorithm, curating videos based on a user’s interests. 

But this is an evil algorithm. 

It targets the young. It targets children. The ones who make up most of TikTok’s user base. The app is quite intuitive at collating communities around addictive hashtags, which can lead users being exposed to all sorts of crazy shit. 

Sometimes, this can be a productive thing. For example, “BookTok,” TikTok’s highly active army of book worms, is transforming the publishing industry. I wrote about it in article here.

But goodness on TikTok is purely accidental. There’s also a very dark, very deadly, and very weird side to an app that seems to have sprung straight out of Satan’s asshole. 

Here are just a handful of ways TikTok is trying to kill you:

The Blackout Challenge

Originally known as the equally ominous “Choking Game,” this viral self-strangulation trend has claimed the lives of numerous children over the last few years. 

The idea is simple as it is ghastly. Participants are encouraged to choke themselves in order to to get high, or to fall unconscious, all while on video. People have used belts, ties, ropes, and other devices to purposefully hang themselves in the hunt for internet points. And it’s costing them their lives.

Last July, 2021, an eight-year old girl named Lalani Erika Walton hanged herself with a rope from her bed after absorbing hours of TikTok videos of others attempting the challenge.

Earlier that February, a nine-year old girl named Arriani Jaileen Arroyo also fell victim to the trend. She had used the family dog’s leash to hang herself. Her father found her unresponsive.  

Then later in March, there was a 12-year old boy named Joshua Haileyesus who was rushed to the hospital after being disovered unconscious by his twin brother. He spent 19 days on life support before finally passing away. 

As a child growing up in the ’90s, I remember learning about how you can purposefully choking yourself to get high. But back then you generally only found out about that stuff word of mouth, and usually from some weird kid in a torn up Metallica t-shirt who sat in the back of the class. 

But with TikTok , a bizarre and risky trend like that can spread faster than Covid on a NY subway. For many kids, who are highly impressionable, it seems thrilling and fun. They do it without knowing the enormous risks. And it’s killing them or injuring them for life.

The Fire Challenge

Scratch what I wrote above about TikTok being a dystopian mind virus. It’s more like a digital demon that possesses people.

This trend started from a user who sprayed hairspray onto a mirror, and then lit it on fire to create different designs. Imitators quickly spawned, including Nick Howell, another 12-year old, who wound up burning 35% of his body in March of this year, when he accidentally ignited a bottle of rubing alcohol.

In June of last year, a 13-year-old Oregon girl wound up in the hospital with severe burns on her body due to exploding a bottle of isopropyl alcohol in an effort to mimic the mirror trick. 

But if manipulating people into lighting themselves on fire isn’t ghastly enough, how about — 

The Eye Challenge

Which got people to put bleach in their eyes, which supposedly changes eye color. 

This one, like many of these TikTok fads, started off as a joke from some kid named Greg Lammers trying to show off his cool video editing skills. In his video, Lammers instructed viewers that if you fill a plastic bag with jelly, hand sanitizer, bleach, or shaving cream, and place the bag against an eye, it can change their eye color. After performing the deed, Lammers then cut to a new shot, showing off his supposedly changed eye color. Except he had actually used a contact lens (duh). 

While Lammers never expected his video to go viral, it did. To the tune of 300,000 likes, 25,000 chares, and 3,000+ comments. Imitators then started posting their own attempts at the technique, which only resulted in them burning their eyes. Big surprise. 

The Milk Crate Challenge

This trend blew up about a year ago. People made videos of themselves trying to scale pyramids of milk crates they had cobled together, which often resulted in them falling down and getting injured. Hospitals saw an influx of patients with cracked ribs and other broken bones over the course of the hashtag scourge.  

Like in all the previous deadly and dangerous trends, TikTok made sure to issue a statement about how the app supposedly:

Prohibits content that promotes or glorifies dangerous acts, and we remove videos and redirect searches to our Community Guidelines to discourage such content.

Right. “Prohibits.” Totally. 

The problem is that by the time a trend has become big enough to cause real damage, it’s too late. TikTok was the most popular app in 2021, having been downloaded 3 billion times, and having garnered a mind-blowing 1 billion users. 

One freaking billion! That’s one seventh the world population. 

About a quarter of TikTok users are children or teens ages 10–19, and the kiddos are spending roughly 75 minutes per day on the video-sharing app. Another statistic of note is that the majority of TikTok’s successful ads communicate their message or product immediately. As in like 3 seconds. 

In other words, TikTok is custom built for short attention spans. And because of its ravenously-obsessed youthful users base, a trend, however absurd or dangerous, can spread at the speed of human stupidity (which is WAY faster than light, contrary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity). Millions of clips are posted daily, and users are often sucked into a rabbit hole of algorithmically curated videos designed to keep them hypnotized. 

There’s no logistical way TikTok could realistically govern or filter out a questionable trend because of the speed at which they grow through the app’s multiverse-sized ecosytem.

So, what is the solution, if any? 

I’m reminded of the thematic summation in the classic Mathew Broderick-starring 1983 film War Games about the Cold War threat of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction.”

“The only winning move is not to play.”

The only way to beat TikTok is to delete the app, and make sure gullible kids can’t see it in the first place. 

Yeah, good luck with that. TikTok and all its poison, is here to stay.

Looking for Ways to Market Your Book? BookTok May Be the Answer

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For anyone who’s self-published a book, or even had one put out by a traditional publisher, you know that selling your book can prove challenging. Many would-be indie authors might even put off self-publishing to begin with due to not knowing how to successfully market their work.

If you’re an author who’s struggled with this problem, then Booktok might be your solution.

What is Booktok? It’s a very popular, very active, very trendy, and evidently very influential book-loving community within the massive ecosystem that is TikTok.

Booktokers post reviews and reactions to all kinds of books, ranging in length from a few seconds to several minutes.

According to Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, who writes in the journal Cybersychology, Behavior, and Networking in her editorial, “Booktok Made Me Do It: The Evolution of Reading,” what makes Booktok particularly unique, as opposed to what you might find on Goodreads or YouTube (BookTube):

BookTok posts usually highlight the reader’s emotional reactions to the plot and characters, often featuring evocative imagery and dramatic soundtracks.

These types of micro reviews might at first appear superficial, silly, or inconsequential, especially to those outside the Gen-Z cohort. As an older Millennial/late Gen-Xer myself, I’ll admit I’ve kept TikTok off my radar until very recently. But as I explored BookTok after reading Wiederhold’s editorial, I found it was better to think of this particular social media not as a some refined mosaic of individualized editorial content, but more as a fluid, on-going conversation. Whereas YouTube rewards more structured and formalized mini-TED Talk-ish type content, Booktok is messier, unfiltered, but also more authentic and conversational.

Writes Wiederhold:

In a way, with its widely accessible, authentic, and entertaining content, TikTok in general — and BookTok in particular — brings storytelling full circle, back to its oral roots.

Okay, so people have found a new social media hangout to discuss their passion for reading, and they’re putting out all sorts of creative, funny videos.

Now for the big question:

Is the Booktok trend actually leading to higher sales?

Uh, yeah. Some publishers, like Bloomsbury, have seen a 220% rise in profits, which they report is due to BookTok. Many publishers also observed that many books on their bestsellers lists were not necessarily new releases, but older books experiencing renewed interests on TikTok’s virtual book club. This is a fascinating trend, as more often than not, a book tends to have its best success right at initial release, then generally fades away into obscurity barring something like a big shot movie deal or an uptick in ad spending.

Unsurprisingly, many of the books that have been elevated on BookTok are in the young adult and contemporary fiction categories. But the BookTok phenomenon has caused many publishers to rethink their marketing and promotional strategies for all kinds of genres.

For indie authors, BookTok could be a possible solution to generate organic interest in a new release, or maybe an old one that’s been sitting there collecting dust with a big ol’ goose egg sales count number that you’re trying to figure out how to put into reader’s hands. But it’s important to keep in mind that Booktok’s main currency is authenticity, not mindless shilling.

As Wiederhold says:

TikTok users tend to upvote honest, personal experiences.

And these experiences tend to be short and to the point. Whereas YouTube reviews usually require a lengthy time committment, BookTok is more like a good friend telling you about a cool thing they just read that you should go check out. TikTok’s overall algorithmic aesthetic seems designed to grease the skids of word-of-mouth advertising rather than the sit-down-and-consume model YouTube and other places seem to have.

So, what is the BookTok community like? I went to go check it out for myself, and actually signed up for a TikTok account for the first time ever. I’m also a fledgling indie author who’s struggled with the vexing problem of how to market my books, so this subject hit close to home.

Here’s a few cool accounts I found, and some of he things I learned about in my brief BookTok experience:

abbys_library3,” 21-year old woman who works at a publisher, has almost 90,000 followers, and has been posting regularly since just July of last year. She’s posted reviews of all sorts of books, particularly in the romance and thriller genres. One thing I learned checking out her videos is the variety of different titles. It isn’t just all Harry Potter and Twilight fans on Booktok. Some of her videos also feature theme music that matches the genre being discussed. For instance, her video “NEW BOOK ALERT: When You Are Mine” has suspense music overlaid with the review.

charlielovesbooks” is a pretty new channel just started last November by a man based out of NYC. He’s done videos on popular fiction like The Godfather by Mario Puzo, memoirs like The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger, and other non-fiction like Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Barely five months old, charlielovesbooks has over 4,000 followers, and most of the reviews are under two minutes long. His videos, some of which extend beyond just book reviews, have engagement, also. In his last upload, “My biggest pet peeve when reading,” has 148 comments since March 1st.

If you’re looking for an experience that’s more traditionally “Tiktokky,” check out “booktokbenny” who incorporates a lot of music and enthusiasm into his book reviews. He talks a lot about the adult high fantasy series A Court of Thorns and Roses, and has built up a following of 10,500 in just one month.

Overall, my Booktok plunge showed me that sometimes the places that can provide the best marketing opportunities are counter-intuitive. I never would have thought TikTok of all places would be thriving with book lovers. As an avenue for indie authors, it appears a worthwhile one to explore, that unlike much of Twitter and YouTube, hasn’t been swamped out yet with ruthless and spammy opportunists. It’s still the Wild West, in many ways. Just try to keep it real on there.