Why You Should Read 50 Books Each Year — and How to do it


Last year I read 50 books. Some were fiction and some nonfiction; they ranged from 100 pages (Growth Hacker Marketing) to over 1500 pages (Les Miserables). It’s difficult to estimate the time it took but let’s say somewhere between 750 and 1000 hours. That’s roughly 1.5 hours every day for a whole year (usually more on weekends and holidays). I do read quickly, but factor in that I take pages and pages of notes per book.

Yes, reading so much in my spare time means saying no to other things:

I went out on fewer blind dates. I watched a lot less TV. After-work drinks became less frequent. I even had to be more frugal with my monthly fun allowance {50 books, even used ones, will cost a few hundred bucks}. But it was worth every every dollar, every hour, and every “No” from my perspective. Here’s why:

1. BOOKS MAKE YOU INVEST IN YOURSELF.

No matter what you want to do with your life, millions of people have probably blazed a trail similar to the one you want to forge. Use their maps. They’re happy to share their set-backs, struggles, warnings, and shortcuts with you for a few dollars. Leverage others’ work. Leverage history. It’s all there for you.

Speed up your mastery of any subject you’re passionate for — even if that subject is “How to Become a Master of Any Subject”. Of course it costs you time up front, but it repays you tomorrow and the next day, and the next day…

Compared to all the eye-candy we consume on a daily basis {Social Media, Ads, email, funny videos, and celebrity tweets} we could all use more eye-protein in our diets. We’re hungrier than we realize for ideas.

2. BOOKS FUEL YOUR OWN HERO JOURNEY.

Aristotle said that history is important because it tells what has happened, but that art is more important because it projects what “might” happen and “ought to” happen. A good book will suck you in to the universe on its pages, but its ideas will be with you after you set it down. You’ll have the inspiration to decipher and remake the world into a better one.

In this way, “Art,” Ayn Rand wrote, “is the technology of the soul.” It’s a requirement for our mental health like water is for our physical survival. Whether ancient cave paintings or The New York Times Bestseller list, art connects us to the universe by presenting us with a diverse perspectives on life’s big questions.

You might learn to appreciate the value of friendship from Harry, Ron, and Hermoine as they stand together against evil. Or you might receive “the courage to a face a life time” from an architect who refuses to compromise his independence in a conformity-worshiping world.

3. YOU’LL NEVER BE THE SAME PERSON AGAIN.

Reading 50 books is like having 50 unique adventures — with 50 unique people. You’ll change. You’ll discover new ideas, fan the flames of your passions, and develop emotional bonds with authors and characters who affect you.

Certain passages will stick with you for days — or decades. Slowly but surely you’ll develop a sort of creative lineage, where you’ll gravitate around certain ideas, writers, thinkers, doers. Speaking for myself, I've made some incredible friends: an introspective Emperor of Rome, an idealistic Madison Avenue marketer who turned $6,000 into 50 million+, a disheartened young man wondering whether life is worth living, and a Start Up wizard who applies the scientific method to business-building.

Only if you push yourself into the deeper and deeper end, only if you chart the uncharted will you expand your own thinking and open yourself to new experiences.

HERE’S HOW TO READ 50 BOOKS THIS YEAR

1. LIST YOUR INTERESTS

Before you start surfing Amazon or drop into a nearby Barnes & Noble, I’d recommend making a “Things I Like List”. The lists can be as short or as detailed as you want.

If you’re having a tough time, (I’m serious there’s a lot of people I’ve talked with that struggle here) then think about the music you like, favorite movies, stores you frequent, food and recipes that you love. What excited you when you first tried it? What have you always wanted to “get into” or start back up again? How do you spend your spare time consistently?

Maybe it’s launching a side-business for extra cash. Maybe it’s learning an instrument, or cooking a five-course meal for your girlfriend. Maybe it’s trying to master social media or becoming more self-disciplined and productive.

The point is to chart where you've gravitated towards, not just your career interests {although that’s important} but hobbies too.

2. FIND YOUR BOOKS — OR HAVE OTHERS HELP.

With your “Things I Like” List, you should have some idea of what gets your juices flowing. In fact a good test to see if your list is accurately reflecting your passions is whether you have the drive to actually spend 20 minutes research your first few book choices.

Amazon is my go-to bookstore. It’s got millions of books, most of which you can get extremely discounted, or even used copies for pennies. It also has a pretty helpful “Recommendations” algorithm. If you’re looking to shake things up, I also recommend books monthly on self-improvement, marketing, and old-but-good fiction. Friends and colleagues may help too, but I usually prefer to discover the books I want to read firsthand.

It depends on your interests but I also prefer to read two books at once: one fiction and one nonfiction. Fiction helps me focus on my creative writing or relax before bed. Nonfiction books are similar, but typically they’re more tactical and I’m taking lots of notes to review later.

3. BUY YOUR BOOKS — DON’T WINDOW SHOP.

It’s easy to make lists of To-Read books but that’s not going to help you. Make your top 3 choices and commit to them — buy them. Don’t save it to a wishlist or say you’ll get it when it’s in paperback —buy it while your motivation is still kindled.

It doesn't matter if it’s an e-book, hardcover, or a trade paperback, just get your hands on it and get working. Personally, I do prefer physical books over e-books, unless it’s hyperlink-heavy and referencing online resources.

Physical books don’t have apps, and text messaging, and music, and other distractions to them. They also can be loaned to friends and written in more easily and diversely than e-book’s simple highlighting feature. You can add in your own marginalia, circle, color-code, post-it, tear out, etc.

But most importantly, buying a physical book solidifies the investment nature of reading. If I buy an $8 copy of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, I’m more motivated to get a return on it by reading it, than downloading a freed Gutenberg press .txt file.

4. FORM A READING HABIT. THE HABIT BECOMES A PASSION.

Commit to 30 minutes of reading for two weeks. Do this my adding the task to your daily checklist, or making a daily checklist and adding it to it.

Reward yourself every time you do read for 30 minutes. For me, a fair reward would be to watch 30 minutes of TV, or go on Facebook for 20 minutes, or have dessert after dinner. The point is to give yourself an amount of rest after you complete this task. Reading is work. After you work you should earn some play time.

I don’t recommend punishments because the point isn't to avoid not doing it. It’s to spark a positive desire to read.

Bring a book with you everywhere. Always have the option to do a few minutes of your 30 minutes. Whether it’s waiting for the bus, going on lunch break, or killing time at the mechanics, be jealous of your time. Don’t give it to mindless wandering on social media. You can never get those minutes back and they really do add up.

Once you've completed two weeks of reading 30 minutes (minimum) per day, you've probably discovered that you’re enjoying the process and it’s easier to do than before. In fact, it’s a good sign that what you’re reading is a genuine interest of yours. This is the end game; because reading isn’t a chore to labor through. It’s a path towards your goals.

5. REAP THE BENEFITS

As I mentioned early, I’m a voracious note-taking. I’ve taken hundreds of pages of notes these past few years. Quotes, anecdotes, lessons, other books I want to look into, questions, new ideas: I capture all of these in a Commonplace Book {An ever-expanding Google Doc}. Ryan Holiday, has a great article on how to keep one for yourself.

I even jot down names and words I like the sound of {for fiction purposes}. Craft your Commonplace Book to your needs. It’s amazing how focused it can make you. Looking back over it a few months from now, you’ll recall the experiences and begin to spiral around certain ideas. You’ll bring that focus with you to new books. It’s a very organic — and rewarding process.

Perhaps you’ll focus on productivity secrets, or motivational techniques, or the subtleties of homemade Tiramisu, or the personalities of successful entrepreneurs.

And that’s the point: Your Commonplace Book is a tool for you.

Happy Reading — let me know where you end up 5, 50, 500 books from now.


I love to read and share what I've read. If you’re interested you can read along with me here: www.JonGlat.com

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