HOW are people managing reading on the early levels?

The recommendation for waiting for level 10 for grammar is predicated on the premise that you’ll be able to recognize many of the kanji and vocabulary used in grammar-teaching materials. However, you can learn grammar before level 10, and just learn the vocabulary along the way.

For reading, the Absolute Beginner Book Club here is a great way to supplement grammar learning, because you can ask questions along the way. It’s recommended that you already know a small amount of grammar (often categorized as “N5”, and consisting of the amount of material covered by the first Genki textbook) before reading along with the club.

You can start reading before that, but it’s going to be an absolute nightmare trying to follow along until you get the basics down. However, it’s going to be difficult regardless, because you need to read to build up recognition of grammar. In that sense, it’s never too soon to begin reading, so long as you’re learning grammar along the way.

Also, vocabulary. The fewer vocabulary words you know, the more you’ll need to look up. The book clubs tend to have vocabulary lists that get populated along the way to help out with this. Once you get the basics of the most common grammar down, looking up vocabulary will be the biggest chore. And it’s one that never fully goes away. It only shrinks over time.

My first attempts at reading on my own long ago were very demoralizing (and I ended up giving up repeatedly). I wish WaniKani community book clubs existed back then!