How to read a lot of books
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Last year I read 90 books. That’s the most I’ve ever read in a single year. I set a goal of 52 books every year, but for the past few years, I’ve read at least 80 books. I’m often asked how it’s possible to read that many books each year, so I’ve outlined some of the things I do to help get me there.
A little background info…
I remember being an avid reader as a kid, but it sort of fizzled as I got into middle school and books started to become required readings. I didn’t enjoy most of the books that were assigned so I insisted on not reading at all. I took that mindset into college and didn’t read unless it was assigned for class.
I started reading casually again in 2012 because I was starting to get burned out from graduate school. I thought some good fiction would help break up the monotony of school. I found Goodreads and set a reading challenge of 12 books for the year. I convinced myself I was busy, but that 1 book per month would be attainable. I finished the year with 19. I was pumped. Each year the goal increased until I finally started setting a goal of 52 books each year.
The following are some of my thoughts on how you can also start reading more each year if you really want to. I’ve tried to match them with an economic principle when I could since everything is about economics!
Step #1: Framing Your Choices
The first response I often hear from people who learn about how much I read is that they want to read more, but don’t have the time to read that much. I don’t believe that. I think people are lying to themselves and that they just don’t prioritize reading above other things they want to do. We live in a world of unlimited wants, but our time is scarce. That means we have to make decisions about how we spend our time.
At a minimum, I spend 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening reading every day. I’m not a fast reader by any means, but I can usually read about 20-25 pages in each of those time blocks. That means I finish about 40 pages every day. Multiply that by 7 days and I read 280–350 pages each week. That’s about 1 book per week.
Still don’t believe me? President Obama shared hundreds of books while he was in office and continues to release reading lists. Bill Gates has released a reading list every year since 2012 with a dozen different books he enjoyed that year. I do not believe there are very many people who are busier than a sitting US president and a global business leader.
If you still don’t think you have time, hopefully, some of these ideas will help you find time in your day to squeeze in some pages.
Step #2: Variety Helps
I am of the mindset that audiobooks count as books. I stopped doing audiobooks a couple of years ago, but I don’t discount anyone else’s reading list if they did audiobooks. I know that’s a controversial take for some, but I don’t really care. The biggest change for me over the past year has been more ebooks, which I used to really hate. That wasn’t necessarily because of the delivery method, but rather that I didn’t want to spend more time looking at a screen.
Having multiple formats of a book (audio, digital, paper) means that you can squeeze in reading time all day long. Do you walk the dogs in the morning? Download an audiobook from your local library to your phone! Need to go sit at the DMV and get your license updated? Read a digital book on your phone while you wait. I keep physical books around the house in different places so that the stories I read will be tied to a different location.
Step #4: Diminishing Returns are Real!
Step #3: Incentives Matter!
I set a Goodreads challenge every single year. It’s not much of a true commitment device, but it does serve as a good reminder that others will know if I don’t make it. I check in my progress regularly and the little progress bar motivates me to keep going.
When I have longer time blocks that I can read, I use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused. I break my time into 30 minutes chunks and read for 25 minutes. My phone is muted and I’m focused those 25 minutes. Once the time is up, I reward myself with a 5-minute break. Then I repeat the process for as long as I can.
Principle #2: Marginal Analysis
While my goal for the past year has been “how many” books I want to read, I approach each week on “which book do I read next.” Marginal analysis means focusing on the costs & benefits of that next activity. I have a large stack of books that I would like to read, and I will often read the first chapter just to determine if that book is the next one to read (more on that below).
Principle #3: Opportunity Cost
Just because you read the first chapter doesn’t mean you need to read the whole book! I’ll often read the first chapter to gauge whether I think it’s worth continuing. If I’m not hooked in that first chapter then the book goes to the bottom of the stack and I’ll read the first chapter of another book.
You only have so much time in a given year (525,600 minutes) and reading an entire book just because you started the first chapter is a poor decision if you’re not enjoying the book. It’s okay to quit books you don’t like or that doesn’t captivate you, even if they have a good rating online!
Principle #4: Diminishing Returns
The most important principle that helps keep me going is recognizing that reading is subject to diminishing returns. I’m REALLY good at starting books, but I get tired in the middle of the story slows down a bit. I’m usually better at the end of books because the story tends to pick up as well. I have never sat and read an entire book the whole way through.
I am often actively reading at least 2–3 books in any given week. I may read a bit of one book in the morning and a bit of a different book at night. Depending on where I’m drinking my morning coffee, the morning book isn’t the same book each morning. This helps me stay “fresh” in each book so that I’m not getting tired. If the book is good, it makes me want to come back to it that much quicker.