“Liber Medicina Animi” (a book is the soul’s medicine)
Do you love reading books? So do I.
I think reading is one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves in today’s world.
But maybe you wish you had more time to spend on your favorite activity. Or perhaps you read plenty but you have a hard time remembering your favorite quotes. Maybe you occasionally look at your bookshelf and just feel stuck.
Let me try addressing those issues below the best I can.
I consider myself an avid reader — over the last 3 years, I’ve read 168 books. But that wasn’t always the case. From my early 20s to my mid-30s, I would read no more than a couple of books per year, mostly the latest Stephen King novels (I’ve been a huge fan since high school).
What made me go from reading a few fiction books a year to reading more than a book per week?
1 — Read books that will help you solve a current problem or tackle issues you care about now.
“Learn both from your teachers and from the books which you read, only those things which you really need and which you really want to know.” — Leo Tolstoi
I bought The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss because I was trying to run an online business remotely. This book was an eye-opener, and I read it exactly when I was supposed to. After finishing it, I started reading business books to help me grow as an entrepreneur.
Reading became a source of valuable information and inspiration for me. When I started working with a remote team, I bought books about remote work. At one point, I started to worry about my health, and so I looked into self-improvement books.
You can find books to help with any problem, no matter how specific or how general. You can also get the encouragement to start doing something new.
Getting started with reading can be intimidating, but once you’ve read a few books — and possibly applied them to your life — it will be much easier to just keep going. In my experience, one book will always lead to another.
2 — Always ask people what they are reading, or encourage them to talk about their favorite book!
“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
One excellent way to find your next favorite book is to ask people you look up to for recommendations. This can also be a good conversation starter — you can learn more about a person this way than if you stick to the usual small talk questions.
The recommendations you receive won’t always match your taste. But don’t hesitate to try out new genres or authors you’ve never heard of. Reading widely can teach you new things about yourself.
3 — Pick up a book whenever you can.
“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install a lovely bookshelf on the wall.” — Roald Dahl
On average, people read at a rate of 300 words per minute (Nelson 2012). But what does that actually mean?
Novels tend to be over 50,000 words long. (If you want to know more, check out the word counts of some great literary classics — how long are your favorites?) You generally need to take some breaks while reading, so you might need around 5–7 hours to finish a book.
If you cut back on your time spent online or quit watching TV, reading even two books a week will be a breeze.
Here’s another tip — always keep a book (or an ebook reader) with you when you leave the house. Also, consider adding the Kindle App to your phone.
“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.” — Robert Louis Stevenson
Life is full of little moments when you’re not doing anything important. Whether you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, or you want to rest after a hard day’s work… just start reading.
4 — Read multiple books simultaneously.
Some books are more challenging, meaning that you need time to process them fully. Some are pure entertainment. It’s great to mix it up, just like you would if you were watching TV (for example, people like to watch the news in the morning and Netflix at night).
I usually keep 3–4 books on rotation. I like to read business or self-help books in the morning to give me motivation. I read philosophy in the afternoon to fuel some profound thoughts. In the evening, I’ll crack open some fiction or a biography. This is part of my evening routine and it helps me set aside the worries of the day.
5 — Start with the classics.
“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” — Henry David Thoreau
If you read one book per week starting today, you will be able to read maybe 2000–3000 books in your lifetime.
But consider the vast number of books written each year. It’s impossible to keep up with every new piece of literature, so you have to prioritize somehow.
I strongly suggest that you skip the latest NY Times hit and focus on the classics first, the books that have stood the test of time. If you do spot a bestseller that intrigues you, add it to your to-read list. Revisit it in a few months (or years) to see if the book still seems to be worth your time.
Speaking of time:
6 — You don’t have to finish every book.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” — Mortimer J. Adler
Remember that it’s okay to put a book away if you don’t like it or if it’s putting you to sleep. There’s no reason to get stuck — your time will be better spent on the next book.
I recommend sticking with it for roughly the first 100 pages. That’s enough time to find out whether the magic is going to happen.
7 — Vary the length of what you’re reading.
I think it’s important and useful to read longer books. Experts say that getting immersed in a good book improves your ability to focus, and many of the world’s best books are very long. After all, stories need time to unfold.
At the same time, don’t discount the power of a good article (or Medium post) on a topic you care about. Short stories can be more life-changing than long novels.
Varying the length of your reading material will keep you feeling fresh and it can help you avoid getting stuck in a reading rut.
8 — Consider saving quotes, or write down your thoughts.
“Knowledge is real knowledge only when it is acquired by the efforts of your intellect, not by memory.” — Henry David Thoreau
This is a tip that will work for some readers and won’t be useful to others. But if you struggle to retain what you’ve read, it might be useful to start keeping quotes, notes, and bookmarks.
Google Keep is a fine app to use for this. You can also use something like Postepic, which lets you photograph a physical book, and then choose a quote you want to share with others.
But don’t ignore the old-fashioned handwriting approach either — it can be useful to write down quotes in a journal. You could also record your thoughts on what you’ve been reading. You might reach great new insights by writing down your impressions.
Note: Don’t do this if it seems daunting or if it disrupts your flow as you read! Perhaps the best option for you is to talk to others about what you’ve read. Or maybe you’re happy to simply keep it to yourself. The important part is to let the book leave some kind of impression on you, whatever form that may take.
9 — Keep plenty of books around.
“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” — Dr. Seuss
The more books you have lying around your home, the more you’ll be tempted to dive in. Always keep one on your nightstand, one next to your couch or favorite armchair, one in the bathroom next to the tub…
Read as much as you possibly can — but never forget to apply what you’ve learned because that is what counts the most. You put in many hours to read books, make sure you get something out of it. Books can be excellent tools, but it’s up to you to decide how you want to use them.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R.R. Martin