What I learned reading 50+ books a year
I can’t remember where I heard this story but I heard it recently — the person wrote about a time that they were at the movie theatre and they saw someone waiting in line. This man was holding a book and reading as he was waiting in line to buy a ticket. He momentarily put down his book and then continued reading again as he wandered into the theatre, found the right seat and then plopped himself down, again, still reading. As the lights turned down, the man put down his book and watched the movie but as soon as the movie was done and the lights were back on, the man took out his book and continued reading. As the person was walking out of the theatre, they noticed who the man was: it was Warren Buffett.
There’s something about this story that really inspires me to read (yes, even more so than I do now). I can’t even remember when I got into the habit of reading — I read while I was young but I’m certain that I read just as much now as when I was younger. I even remember the books that I got into when I was younger: horror books, greek mythology (not sure why), Encyclopedia Brown, Hardy Boys, Choose Your Own Adventure books and generally lots of fiction.
As I became busy with work and life in general, I found myself dropping off a bit in terms of reading. I didn’t read as much, I didn’t read for fun and most of my free time was spent watching videos (and perhaps this is due to the growth in smartphones and tablets and on-demand entertainment). Finally, I remember reading somewhere that there was a correlation (not a causation) that successful people read more. I thought to myself “Hey, I’d like to be successful” so I decided once and for all that I would try to read as much as I can. I even remember the first year that I took it upon myself to read 50 books — I thought — this isn’t difficult at all as long as I spend a bit of time every day and ever since, I try to spend just a little bit of time reading something or other even if it’s not a book.
Here’s what I learned reading 50+ books a year — I hope you’ll take away some of these learnings for your life too:
Spending a little bit of time reading will go a long ways if added up over time
When I was taking a biology class, my biology professor often said that we have small pockets of time everywhere in our day that we end up wasting because we are either not prepared or not in the mindset of making that time useful. She told us to take a small notebook and for a few days, note down every 10 minutes, exactly what you are doing whether waiting at the bus stop, eating food, showering, etc. If the students did the exercise, she would say, they would realize that there are small pockets of time everywhere that can add up to a lot of study time or home work time. Of course, sometimes you are so busy with work that you spend a 5 minute break at work doing work anyway but at least you’re making that time useful :)
And spending 5 minutes every day reading a few pages does not sound like a lot but over the course of a year, a few pages turns into 1,500 pages which can be a few books in just 5 minutes a day.
You cannot just read, you have to take action
The most important takeaway for me is that you can read all the great books that you want but if you never do anything with that knowledge, it’s just potential knowledge (as Jim Kwik says). You have to apply that knowledge. Read a book on fitness and diets? Put it into practice, even if you can’t continue or maintain it for a long time, at least do it so that the knowledge and the action is imprinted in your brain.
It is okay to be antisocial sometimes
I know it’s weird to say but books can make you antisocial (look at Warren! He might be reading even if he was with someone). Sometimes you do have to put that book away but other times, I say go ahead and read that book while others are around. Maybe you’ll get into a conversation about the book. Maybe they’ll think you’re rude and ignore you (which gives you more time to read). Maybe they’ll think that you are weird and not invite you out next time (and again, that will give you more time to read). Pick your battles carefully!
Reading helps develop discipline
I’m going to be honest, reading long books is tough. I try really hard to get into books that others have recommended but sometimes my attention is just not there or it is a slog to get through the book. Some books, I force myself through and other books have been sitting on my shelf with a bookmark in the middle, sitting unread for months now. Whenever you pick up a book and read it, there is a constant battle between the book and any other form of immediate and what could be more gratifying entertainment — video games, Netflix, stealing your partner’s pea snacks. When you sit down to read, you are developing the discipline to avoid all those things. It’s also one of the reasons why I like board games too — you cannot help but be enthralled by something that is not digital.
Reading reminds you of the long time scale of things
Writing a book takes a long time — heck, by the time you finish writing the book, publishing it, marketing it, selling it and getting it out to readers, the book may not even be relevant (or at least that’s what some authors face). The challenge is then in writing a book that timely and that is not radically antiquated by the time it is released to the public. When you pick up the book and read through it, it is something that the author has worked on for years and as you read (or not read) the book in a few minutes, many, many hours have been put into the words that you have just read. Remember that and remember that all good things take time whether it is reading, writing a book, getting a business off the ground, relationships or other worthy causes.
Life is too short to slog through a book
Remember how I mentioned before that I’ll sometimes force my way through a book? I try not to go too into the book — if it hasn’t grabbed me say in one or two chapters, I drop the book for a while and read something else. It’s not that I don’t want to finish that particular book but there are certainly some books and some authors that are easier to read, or more relevant to your life right now than others and I think it is completely okay to pick up books later because your interests have changed.
I re-read a lot
A game that I like to play whenever I go to the library, bookstore or a used bookstore is to see how many books that are there that I have already read. Weird game I know and maybe a way of boosting my own ego but it goes to show that on some topics, there are books that are staples, where new books do not appear every month or year and that the classics hold true time after time. I like to re-read a lot of books by Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, Seth Godin and Robert Greene — maybe it’s just that their material stands the test of time.
When books are on your mind, you have a different perception of the world
I listen to podcasts and one of my favourite podcasts is one by Neil Pasricha called Three Books. In one episode, he talked to an author who wrote that one of his favourite authors was P.G. Wodehouse. I don’t remember too much about P.G. Wodehouse but I know that he was a very funny writer and had very intricate plots that somehow brilliantly weaved together in each of his novels. A few weeks later, what do I find at the used book sale? A huge collection of P.G. Wodehouse books.
This isn’t the first time that this has happened. When one of my co-workers left the company, I wanted to get him a going away gift and since he was into working out, I knew that a perfect gift would be Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography. Lo and behold, at the used book sale a week later, I saw a copy that I instantly grabbed.
What is top of mind for you starts to appear in the world. I never read The Secret when it was popular but I think this is the premise of that book (spoiler alert).
If you do not have time to read, you do not have time to write
I think Stephen King says this and while I don’t immediately agree, I think it makes sense that if you don’t have time to read other authors and find out what you like and don’t like about their writing, you probably do not have the time to perfect the craft of writing yourself. I think the process of going back and forth between reading and writing means that you synthesize ideas in different ways, then you go back to see what other ideas are out there, synthesize some more by writing about it (or at least that’s my process).
Okay, you are not quite sold on reading 50+ books a year but you do want to read more. What do you do? Here’s my quick and dirty advice:
- Don’t expect to read a book a week right off the bat — it’s going to stress you out and you’re not going to enjoy it, start off small (super small) — one page a day (and that’s it, no more, no less).
- Read books whose topics you enjoy (this one’s a no brainer — you’re going to read more when you are excited about learning a particular topic)
- Find the pockets of time and make it easy to read (turn airplane mode on your phone, make it difficult for you to pick up your phone to check social media or to play video games)
- Take action! Don’t just read and not do anything with the knowledge, do something with it — you’re going to imprint it into your mind, become an expert and start to find out what authors think about the same subject (and what the merits of their argument are)
- Place books everywhere in your life — put them next to your bed, put them on your dining table, on your sofa, keep an extra book in the car — again, make it easy to pick up a book to read when you are waiting for food, waiting to use the bathroom, waiting for someone in the car, etc.