This year started for me with an idea to read much more than in the last year. I’ve already signed up for The Startup Book Club so I knew I’ll be reading at least one book every two weeks. A year has 52 weeks and besides the books from the club it would be good to throw in a little bit extra, don’t you think?
That’s how I came up with figure 30. Reading a book every two weeks seemed like a challenge, albeit a manageable one. On the first meeting of our local book club, a friend of mine mentioned he planned to read fifty books this year.
Wow, that seemed like an ambitious goal. Considering I hit eighteen positions the last year, I thought my sudden jump to almost twice that much would be a struggle.
But I was determined to try and read ferociously! And that’s exactly what I did. Fast forward to May I have already finished my challenge, having hit the thirty books mark after merely twenty weeks. How did I do that? I hope this article will show some of the tools that helped me.
To read books you need to establish some good routines. It was no coincidence that the first book in The Startup Book Club was “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
You don’t need an awful lot of time to read at a similar rate to what I did. Even fifteen minutes each day gives you a solid foundation. In the course of twenty weeks it amounts to thirty-five hours which is almost twice as long as “Thinking Fast and Slow”, the longest book I’ve read this year.
If you can squeeze an occasional hour or two in the weekends that’s even better. And what about the daily commute, or the time you spend in the bathroom? Filling it with audiobooks gives you a few additional minutes each day. All in all, it accumulates like a snowball.
Here’s what Margaret the Word Witch says about routines:
Get family and friends involved. One of my favorite things about reading is talking about it with others, preferable like-minded friends and family members. For those with kids, this is not akin to giving a book-report assignment, but more like showing interest in what your child’s reading and what they like or don’t like. When I read in the evenings with my family, we will often read the lines that have made us laugh out loud. Book clubs are also a way to go.
How do you stay motivated to read all those books? Goodreads can act as motivation in several ways. First of all: your challenge shows you how much is still in front of you. But if you follow others you can see how much did they read. This is a peer pressure used for a good purpose.
And if several of your friends (or people you follow) rate a book very high, you can take a bet that it would be good for you as well.
Emmanuelle ROBIN shared with me this thought:
“We read what we are”: the books I read differ from month to month, according to my needs and curiosity .
If you set to read the books that are useful to you, you have a much higher chance of succeeding. Let’s say you know you’re going to use the knowledge pretty soon because it's related to the project you’re working on. Or maybe you want to enter a new challenge and you start to prepare accordingly.
The more the book is useful, provided it’s also well-written, the higher the chance you’ll finish it pretty quickly. Keep in mind that usefulness does not imply non-fiction books. Entertainment also has its purpose.
The worst thing you can do is to read because you want to “stay current” or “know the classics”. Forcing yourself to read something that brings you neither joy nor useful knowledge is a waste of time. Unless you’re a literary critic, of course, or a professional book reviewer. Which brings us to the next point…
Don't Force Yourself
There are more books that I started than the ones that I have finished. Finished meaning read from cover to cover. Why? Life is too short for bad literature, that’s why.
If reading a book brings you pain, you’re free to drop it and start something else. Reading is not a contest and nobody will give you a “fair play” badge just because you finished something you’ve been struggling with.
I can’t exactly say at which point you should stop and consider the book to forever stay unread. In the examples, I can recall I usually surrendered somewhere around 10% of the book. It was usually either because the language was really bad or the plot was very naive. In both cases, I felt offended and decided to stop.
Sometimes a book may not be bad in itself, but the problem is with your readiness to get its point. I surrendered reading “Thus spake the Zarathustra” around the age of fifteen because the book was simply too much for me. I wasn’t able to comprehend it and forcing myself to finish it, wouldn’t have any positive outcomes. Even worse, I might’ve filed it under “terrible books” label. Instead, I consider it a title I still want to reach for someday.
When people asked why did I join the book club, my answer was always: “because this way I don’t have to decide what to read next.” Believe it or not, but the decision on which book to take is a difficult one.
Starting a new book is a much bigger effort than simply getting something you’re currently reading as well. You can overcome both problems by joining a book club. It’s true that sometimes suggestions may not suit your taste, but that risk is always present.
Choosing a book club that fits well with your hobbies or interests can bring down the chance of you hating a particular book. Besides, you can always stop reading this one position and switch to something else. Nobody will actually force you to read it!
And seems I’m not alone in this approach. Ryan Holiday shares the same sentiment in his article “Crowdsource Your Reading List From People You Admire.”
I had two accountability systems working for me. First of all, was the book club itself. Since I had to discuss the books every two weeks, I made sure I was on schedule with every position.
My second system was the yearly challenge on Goodreads, where I pledged to read those thirty books. Each time when I finished a book, the progress bar moved a bit to the right. Whenever I needed some motivational boost, I could take a look at the challenge and see how many books are still ahead of me to hit the target.
Ease of Access
How to squeeze more reading into your daily schedule? Try to make reading a no-brainer activity! OK, maybe a “no-brainer” doesn’t apply to reading. Then try to make getting a book a no-brainer activity.
How to make access easier?
Well, at any given moment you need to have several started books. Ideally, those books spread across the media. In my case, I have an Audiobook in progress in Audible, and another one in Audioteka. I have an eBook at either Amazon Kindle or Google Play Books (or sometimes both) and I have several titles in paperback form as well.
I rarely move without a paperback in my bag and the eBooks and Audiobooks travel with me at all time. Yes, I have them downloaded with offline access for situations like plane travel.
This way depending on my mood and preference I can read on screen, on paper, or listen to anything I want.
Another tip: keep your selection varied. Some of the books I read are purely for pleasure, some are for learning. One book may be more technical, the other one is more anecdotal. The point is to have a book for any given situation. When I’m tired of self-development I can get some fantasy, when I don’t feel like reading long passages I can focus on comic books and so on.
Another tip from Margaret the Word Witch deals with ease of access:
Take what you’re reading EVERYWHERE. It doesn’t matter if you’re going the e-reader route or (like me) you prefer real books, make sure you take it everywhere. You never know when you’ll want or need to escape for a page or two; and if you use mass transit to commute, it’s the best way to knock off a chapter. Sadly, reading while driving is still not recommended. (For driving, audio books are a great compromise, depending on the author and the reader.)
[…], I have started taking notes on most of the books that I read. […]. I underline all key information while I read a chapter. […]
Writing notes has been a significant positive force for me this year. I usually forget the contents of any book pretty quickly after finishing the book. […]
Now I am able to remember the contents of a book for a longer period (I can still vividly remember many of the lessons from Atomic Habits, the first book that we read five months ago) and even better, when I am in a conversation and I want to get accross a point about something that I have learned from one of my books, I can quickly open my notes, skim them, and then better articulate my point.
There is a reason why we had to write down every bloody thing in school. It just works.
Where to Get Them?
All You Can Eat
You don’t have to buy every single book you want to read. There are subscription services which act like Spotify or Netflix only with books. One popular site is Scribd. Another one I often use is Legimi.
Don’t like subscriptions? No problem. Check out your local library and see if they have a copy of what you want to read. While we’re at it you may try Bookcrossing as well.
If you don’t mind reading ebooks, there’s a great site with daily deals called BookBub. You can enter your favorite writers there and each time their ebooks go on sale you’ll get a notification. I bought some books for $0.99 or $1.99 this way. Much better than the regular price of around $15!
What Others Say
There are also many great articles on the topic here on Medium. One great example is “5 Ways to Sneak More Reading into Your Daily Routine” by Melissa Chu. Barry Davret also offers some useful advice in “How To Get 10X The Value From Every Book You Read”. Finally, there’s Ryan Holiday’s “How To Digest Books Above Your “Level” And Increase Your Intelligence”.
Isn’t This Too Much Reading?
While reading more should, in theory, make us smarter, Maarten van Doorn argues that after we pass a certain threshold, everything above it is a bragging material, not learning. In his article “100 Books a Year? A Bad Idea!” he quotes Andy Matuschak.
Andy wrote an excellent piece titled “Why books don’t work” which analyzes how the medium of books is not particularly suited for learning.
Do you have any more tips on how to read more books? Leave them in the comments.
Do you know any good articles about reading techniques and how to get the most out of reading? Share them as well.
Below are some of my favorite resources on this topic: