The past three years I’ve averaged reading at least one book a week. In 2014 I’ve read seventy books. In 2015 I hope to push a hundred.
Why read more?
Because you’ll have more money and more sex:
“The rich are voracious readers on how to improve themselves,” says Corley. In fact, 88% of them read for self-improvement for 30 minutes each day, compared to 2% of poor people.1
“If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” — John Waters
Those reasons aside, books are fascinating. They get your mind racing with different ideas and associations. You tap into some of the best brains in the history of the world, getting all the benefits of their best work for next to negligible cost.
But how do you read more?
Maybe you’ve tried to read more but you just can’t manage it. Maybe you think books just aren’t your thing.
I used to think that. Even though I always liked to read, I never read very much. But over the years I’ve developed a few tricks that help me read more and read more effectively.
Here are those tricks.
1. Speed up and slow down
Chris Paul, a basketball player for the Los Angeles Clippers was once asked about his speed. He answered that he didn’t consider himself one of the fastest players in the game. Plenty of other players had more raw speed, he said, but his advantage was his ability to change pace. He did that better than probably anyone in the game, and it was a big reason for his dominance on the court.
I believe that’s the key with reading, too. I’m not what you’d call a speed reader, but I’ve trained myself to speed up and slow down as appropriate. I’ll skim paragraphs, chapters or even whole books if I feel I already have a good grasp of the content or I’m not finding much value in there.
But when I come across something interesting, I’ll slow right down and spend a good chunk of time with it.
As such, this past year I’ve often read a whole book in a single day, but then something like Letters from a Stoic took me months to get through.
So don’t feel like you need to process every word, sentence, paragraph or even chapter of each book you read. Get good at skimming through and quickly discerning what parts are worth your time, and which aren’t.
2. Abandon books
Closely related to the above, don’t be afraid to abandon books that aren’t resonating with you. People often recommend books to me — sometimes even buying them for me — but if I start into one and find not getting much out of it, I’ll quickly ditch it.
Even if I’m kind of enjoying a book sometimes, I’ll still ditch it, because I remind myself that spending time reading average or even good books is time spent not reading great books. And there are plenty of great books out there.
So be selective. Quickly abandon books that aren’t serving you and move on to something better.
3. Read more than one book at a time
Some books are tough to read. You may recognize the value in them, but that doesn’t make them easy to get through. Often they feel like work, and if you spend too much time just reading these kinds of books, you’re not going to enjoy reading very much.
For this very reason, I usually have three or four books on the go at the same time, and they’ll be a good mix. For example, one will be a tough read, one will be entertaining non-fiction (e.g. Freakonomics), one will be a novel, etc.
This way, whenever I get burnt out reading one type of book, I can switch to another, rather than quit reading altogether.
4. Schedule time to read
This is especially important for tougher reads. It’s good to schedule time for them, ideally time when you’re feeling very mentally alert.
For me, that means morning time. I try and reserve at least thirty minutes every morning for reading one of the tougher books on my shelf. I’ll work through it in quiet over breakfast and a cup of tea.
I also try to read for at least a few minutes before bed every night, though I’ll stick mostly to novels at that time as it’s easier on the brain and let’s me wind down before sleep.
5. Always bring a book!
Apart from scheduling time to read, take advantage of all the opportunities you have throughout the day to sneak in a few minutes of reading.
To do this, you always need to have a book with you.
Better yet, always have a Kindle with you, so you can decide on the fly which book you’re in the mood for.
Because I always have a book with me, I don’t mind waiting on people. They can be as late as they like, and I’ll keep myself busy and entertained with my reading.
6. Take notes
I read mostly for knowledge, not entertainment. But reading for knowledge doesn’t really work if you quickly forget the key points from the books you read.
To help retain those key points, I take notes as I read. And I always do this on my phone, typing out sentences and sometimes entire paragraphs that I find interesting. I keep those notes stored on my phone and also email them to myself when I’m done with a book. That way I can refer back to the notes easily wherever and whenever, quickly refreshing my memory about any book I’ve read.
I used to use the highlighting feature on my Kindle instead of taking notes, but this isn’t ideal because a) you’re not typing in your own notes (this is hard to do on most Kindles) and b) the act of typing out the sentences and paragraphs you find interesting makes them more memorable.
(That said, I do intend to experiment with the voice-to-text feature on my phone, and see the effect of speaking my notes aloud instead of typing them out. Because all the typing is a bit time consuming.)
7. Keep track of the books you read
I keep a spreadsheet for tracking the books I read. On each line is the name of the book, the author, the date I began reading, the date I finished reading, and a one-sentence summary. I have a different tab for each year.
What’s the benefit of all this?
For me, the biggest benefit is being able to see my reading pace. My baseline is one book a week, but I get a kick out of staying far ahead of that pace, and I can measure it easily with the spreadsheet.
8. Write reviews
This isn’t something I do regularly, but I recognize the value of it, hence the mention here.
Much like taking notes as you read through a book makes the book more memorable, so does writing a review. You have to think back over what you read and figure out what you liked and what you didn’t, and then craft those thoughts into a few paragraphs that others will find insightful.
You can easily leave reviews on the books you read on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.
(By the way, you can find and friend me on Goodreads here.)
9. Teach what you read
Similar to the above. As they say, the best way to learn is to teach. So whenever you read something you find really interesting, try and relay that story/information to someone else soon after. You can do this via writing, conversation, a podcast, your YouTube channel, whatever.
By doing this, you push yourself to understand the information at a deeper level, or commit a good story to memory.
If you’re an avid reader yourself with some additional tips to share, please do so in the comments below.
To wrap this up, here’s a quick recommended reading list.
My Top Ten Books of 2014 (in alphabetical order)
The only novel on this list, so good I re-read it this past year. Based on true happenings in the life of the author’s uncle, the story is set in Leningrad during the second world war. A quick, funny and thrilling read, that shows two very distinct faces of courage.
A classic book that will change the way you think about the world. Ever wonder, for example, why Europeans built boats and sailed across the oceans and conquered foreign lands? Why didn’t the Incas or the Maori do that? And why did European diseases wipe out the Native Americans but not vice versa? Jared Diamond explains all.
Read this and you’ll never trust another newspaper headline again (and that’s a very good thing). As the friend who loaned me this book said, your first thought after reading something on the Internet shouldn’t be, “Hmm, that’s interesting!” but “How do we know this is true?” Goldacre’s book will greatly improve your bullshit detector.
Another re-read in 2014. Mark Manson’s book is by far the best I’ve ever read on the subject of women and dating for men. If you’re a guy struggling with the opposite sex, you absolutely need to read this. Multiple times.
Marshall Rosenberg’s masterpiece will make you a more effective communicator, both with others and with yourself. The most impressive thing in here is instruction on how to speak up and get your needs met without implying wrongness. You learn to take issue with the offending behavior, not the person display that behavior.
Whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, I highly recommend Susan Cain’s book. It will give you tons of insight into the preferences and motivations of both types of people.
The science of becoming a millionaire, based on decades of research, interviews and studies with seven-figure Americans. This book was a big reality check for me. How most millionaires build and maintain their wealth flies in the face of everything popular culture leads us to believe.
This whole book is fascinating, but in particular there’s a chapter in there titled “Judgement” that had a big impact on how I view the world and interact with others. I don’t think you can come away from this one without feeling inspired and empowered.
Ryan Holiday put together a great summary of the most practical Stoic teachings. This isn’t a message about blind positivity, but a smart framework for not only surviving tough times, but turning them to your advantage.
No fancy shortcuts in here, just pure wisdom from one of the best sports coaches who ever lived, and lessons applicable to all walks of life. Take Wooden’s words to heart and you’ll live a better life.
What was the best book you read in 2014?
Let me know via the comments below.