8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year

From the Harvard Business Review:

How much do you read?

For most of my adult life I read maybe five books a year — if I was lucky. I’d read a couple on vacation and I’d always have a few slow burners hanging around the bedside table for months.

And then last year I surprised myself by reading 50 books. This year I’m on pace for 100. I’ve never felt more creatively alive in all areas of my life. I feel more interesting, I feel like a better father, and my writing output has dramatically increased. Amplifying my reading rate has been the domino that’s tipped over a slew of others.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t do it sooner.

Why did I wait 20 years?

Well, our world today is designed for shallow skimming rather than deep diving, so it took me some time to identify the specific changes that skyrocketed my reading rate. None of them had to do with how fast I read. I’m actually a pretty slow reader.

. . . .

Centralize reading in your home. Back in 1998, psychologist Roy Baumeister and his colleagues performed their famous “chocolate chip cookie and radish” experiment. They split test subjects into three groups and asked them not to eat anything for three hours before the experiment. Group 1 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, and were told they could eat only the radishes. Group 2 was given chocolate chip cookies and radishes, and were told they could eat anything they liked. Group 3 was given no food at all. Afterward, the researchers had all three groups attempt to solve an impossible puzzle, to see how long they would last. It’s not surprising that group 1, those who had spent all their willpower staying away from the cookies, caved the soonest.

What does this have to do with reading? I think of having a TV in your main living area as a plate of chocolate chip cookies. So many delicious TV shows tempt us, reducing our willpower to tackle the books.

Roald Dahl’s poem “Television” says it all: “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.”

Last year my wife and I moved our sole TV into our dark, unfinished basement and got a bookshelf installed on the wall beside our front door. Now we see it, walk by it, and touch it dozens of times a day. And the TV sits dormant unless the Toronto Blue Jays are in the playoffs or Netflix drops a new season of House of Cards.

. . . .

Change your mindset about quitting. It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.” An article that can help enable this mindset is “The Tail End,” by Tim Urban, which paints a striking picture of how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. Once you fully digest that number, you’ll want to hack the vines away to reveal the oases ahead.

I quit three or four books for every book I read to the end. I do the “first five pages test” before I buy any book (checking for tone, pace, and language) and then let myself off the hook if I need to stop halfway through.

Take a “news fast” and channel your reading dollars. I subscribed to the New York Times and five magazines for years. I rotated subscriptions to keep them fresh, and always loved getting a crisp new issue in the mail. After returning from a long vacation where I finally had some time to lose myself in books, I started realizing that this shorter, choppier nature of reading was preventing me from going deeper. So I canceled all my subscriptions.

Besides freeing up mindshare, what does canceling all news inputs do? For me, it saved more than $500 per year. That can pay for about 50 books per year. What would I rather have 10 or 20 years later — a prized book collection which I’ve read and learned from over the years…or a pile of old newspapers? And let’s not forget your local library. If you download Library Extension for your browser, you can see what books and e-books are available for free right around the corner.

. . . .

Read physical books. You may be wondering why I don’t just read e-books on a mobile device, saving myself all the time and effort required to bring books in and out of the house. In an era when our movie, film, and photography collections are all going digital, there is something grounding about having an organically growing collection of books in the home. If you want to get deep, perhaps it’s a nice physical representation of the evolution and changes in your mind while you’re reading. (Maybe this is why my wife refuses to allow my Far Side collections on her shelf.) And since many of us look at screens all day, it can be a welcome change of pace to hold an actual book in your hands.

Link to the rest at Harvard Business Review

15 thoughts on “8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year”

  1. So TV is chocolate chip cookies and books are radishes? Mmm okay. I guess that explains why I read more than I watch TV even though my TV is sitting right there in my living room? Or why I have hundreds of books but no cable TV or any desire to sign up for it? (I do have Netflix and plenty of other digital/disc options.)

    I wish people would stop perpetuating this “Books are good for you so you need to force yourself to do it even if there are more enjoyable options” menatlity. And they wonder why it’s hard to get kids to read.

    • yes

      the only one that makes sense to me is change your mindset about quitting.

      i really used to hate not to get to the end. i have become better about that, tho.

    • Well, it’s hard to get kids to read when you give them books that are hard to follow because the characters and stories are hard to relate to.

      Give them fun and amusing stuff to read and they’ll read.
      Did they learn nothing from Pottermania? Or R.L. Stein? Roald Dahl?
      (Rhetorical question. We all know they haven’t and won’t. Because if they had to suffer the classics at age 8 then by golly so must every generation.)

  2. I can’t imagine having to manipulate myself into reading like that. He must be reading the books everybody must be seen reading to be cool instead of just reading books that interest him.

  3. I dunno about paper books helping to read more. I started reading my 10th book of 2017 today, and most of those books were read on my phone while standing in line or on the treadmill and other places it would be inconvenient to bring a physical book.

  4. I began keeping a reading list during my last year in college, spring 2008. Since then I’ve read 415 books with a total page count of 60,614 pages. I didn’t start tracking pages read until 2011.

    It’s an easy thing to do that might motivate you to read more.

    • Or scare you off if your social life is suffering.

      (Some things you’re better off not knowing.) 😉

  5. We got rid of our TV because I got sick of having this black thing in the corner of the room that did nothing but be something I had to keep dusting.

    My husband and I don’t have time to watch TV – there are too many books to be read.

    But then, we were both introduced to reading young. I got Biggles and Nevil Shute. He got Boccaccio’s Decameron. Illustrated. So, fun all round.

    Print books as a way to read more? Well, I suppose, if you only like to read while sitting in your special reading chair. You want to read while walking, eating, standing in queues, in the bath, in bed… you want a book reader. Not to speak of the disastrous situation when you finish a book halfway through the day and are reduced to reading old bus tickets.

    He’s right on the abandoning books thing, though. I figured that out when I signed up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge the first time – I generally read between 75 and 100 new books per year, and, with average life expectancy, that adds up to shockingly few books for the rest of my life. No time to waste…

    • ‘Not to speak of the disastrous situation when you finish a book halfway through the day and are reduced to reading old bus tickets.’

      lmao – my go to in emmergencies is the toilet roll wrapper.

      Seriously though…I’ve never understood why anyone would have to force themselves to read. As more than one commenter has noted, give kids [and adults] something interesting to read, and they will never look back. My Offspring started with Goosebumps and is now a 29 year old voracious reader. It’s not rocket science. 🙁

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