Make reading a habit

When I was a teenager, I would devour books when me and my family went on a vacation somewhere. Unfortunately, that concluded the amount of books I read in a year because there were cooler things to do. What kid wants to read a book when there’s video games to play or Pokémon to catch, right?

For years I’ve been telling myself to pick up reading again because I know I like doing it. Somehow that never happened. Until today.

Reading a book a week

I started searching the internet for tips, book recommendations and other people’s experiences when I came across the “read a book a week” challenge. There’s a lot to be found on the internet about the challenge and it looks like a lot of smart people are doing it, which inspired me to aim for exactly that goal.

Setting a deadline and keeping my plate full has always made me more productive and helps me keep focus. The goal of reading a (non-fiction) book a week is very ambitious but sometimes you need to aim for something bigger than the thing you actually want to achieve.

I also hope that by committing myself to writing a story on each book that I’ve read, much like a commonplace book, it will motivate me to pay more attention while reading, resulting in a better understanding of what the book is essentially about.

My background

Growing up in a family where nobody had strong reading habits or where reading wasn’t actively encouraged, it feels like I missed out on a lot of things.

Especially given the fact that I had a very theoretical education with focus on economics and languages in high school (ASO for fellow Belgian people), it feels like our education system could’ve done a much better job at encouraging people to read books.

Because of the language courses I was taking at the time, we were asked to pick a book a year from a list of authors and write a report about it. That could’ve been a good thing, but these would all be in the fiction category so I personally never saw the point in actually reading those books as they didn’t educate us in any way.

As the deadline for the report would come closer, most of us still hadn’t read the book we picked and opted to look up a summary of the book online, rework it and hand it in. So far for teaching us the value of books.

This is my personal experience with our education system of course, so this might not be the case for everybody but at least from my perspective, we’re not being taught to make books a part of our culture growing up.

Working for an American company in IT today with a ton of people having different backgrounds, it seems like reading books can be a bigger part of your culture after all. When engaging in conversations with co-workers, they will sometimes talk to you about something and recommend the book they’ve got it from. Not something I get to experience often back home (no offence).

I’m not that familiar with the education system in the US, or in other countries, but one of the biggest cultural differences I’ve experienced is that the people around me constantly want to self improve, by reading books for example.

Is this caused by differences in education? It could be specific to IT or maybe it’s a stereotype for Silicon Valley. I’m guessing it’s a combination of all these things and it has made me want to be like that too.

What I hope to get out of it

Becoming a parent just last year has made me think more about how I spend my time and what kind of parent I want to be to my baby girl when she grows up.

With today’s technologies, it has become all too easy to waste your time checking Facebook, watching YouTube videos, playing games on your smartphone or binge watching another TV show on Netflix. While all that can be relaxing, that’s about all you get out of it.

Since I usually spend my days working on a computer and being remote from Belgium at the same time, I like doing offline things in my spare time. So far that has involved hiking, running, cycling and sailing.

Reading books will add a non-physical activity to my list of things to do in my spare time. It will help me relax, and hopefully at the same time, make me a better and smarter person.
Instead of browsing the web reading useless news articles, I can learn how to be more efficient and productive. Instead of watching a TV show, I can work on my leadership skills. Instead of checking Facebook at regular intervals, I can learn day trading basics. You get the idea.

My tactics

For now, I’ll be doing all that reading on my Kobo eReader for two main reasons:

  • I already have it so it’s easy to search the integrated online bookstore, purchase a book and start reading immediately.
  • I’m confident it’ll help me finish some of the first books because some might look scary if they contain a large amount of pages.

Small bonus is that most ebooks seem to be cheaper than the paper versions although it’s not actually an argument for me deciding what book to buy.

A possible drawback that I’ve experienced already is that it’s more complicated to browse a book before actually reading it. Trying to find advice on “how to read a book a week”, a lot of people recommend the following steps:

  • Read about the author: who wrote the book, what’s the author’s perspective and background?
  • Read the title, subtitle, front flap and table of contents. What are the outlines of the book, try and get the main idea behind it.
  • Read the introduction and the conclusion. Find out where the author is going, how to get there and what to get out of it.
  • Read or skim each chapter. Read the first few paragraphs or pages until you figure out how it fits into the argument of the book.
  • End with the table of contents. Try and summarize the book in your head while looking at the table of contents. Think about the flow of the book, the arguments, the stories and so on.

Source

I’m going to try and follow the above advice in combination with the 20 pages per day rule which a lot of people seem to like. This amount of pages isn’t daunting, should take less than 30 minutes a day and will get me to 30–40 books a year.

The Reading List

Now comes the hard part, how do I find 52 books to add to my Reading List? I would love other people’s input on this so if you’ve read a book you think is worth recommending, please leave a comment below so I can check it out and hopefully add it to the list.

So far I’ve been able to find about 20 titles that seem worth reading on subjects like Business & Finance, Self Improvement, Product Management and Marketing. I’m pretty much open to any topic.

I don’t plan on reading for the sake of reading though so whenever I don’t like the book, I’m going to put it aside and pick another one instead, after I’ve given it a fair shot of course.

This is the list I’ve built so far:

  • The 4-Hour Work Week — Timothy Ferriss
  • The Code of the Extraordinary Mind — Vishen Lakhiani
  • Good to Great — Jim Collins
  • The 80/20 Principle — Richard Koch
  • Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion — Robert B. Cialdini, PhD
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen R. Covey
  • Elon Musk — Ashlee Vance
  • The Black Swan — Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Emotional Intelligence — Daniel Goleman
  • The Halo Effect — Phil Rosenzweig
  • The Power of Habit — Charles Duhigg
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad — Robert T. Kiyosaki
  • Starting Your Business — Brian O’Kane
  • Getting Things Done — David Allen
  • Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited — Steve Krug
  • The Design of Everyday Things — Don Norman
  • Managing Humans — Michael Lopp
  • The Lean Startup — Eric Ries
  • Day Trading For Dummies — Ann C. Logue
  • How to Make Money in Stocks — William O’Neil
  • Trade Your Way to Financial Freedom — Van Tharp
  • The Intelligent Investor — Benjamin Graham
  • The Little Book That Still Beats the Market — Joel Greenblatt

I’m currently reading the “The 4-Hour Work Week” because I thought it would be an easy one to start off with. The idea is to try and spend a maximum of 7 days per book, and write some sort of summary about what I’ve gotten out of the book. If I’m going to do this, I might as well share my thoughts and hope someone else gets something out of it too.

Looking forward to your book suggestions and wish me luck!

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