9 Tips to Read More This Coming Year
Simple Strategies to Stretch the Marginal Time We All Have to Read More This Year than Last
More than a decade ago now I was an editor at a publishing house and on the phone with one of my authors. I mentioned tearing through several novels (a lot of Cormac McCarthy and Mario Vargas Llosa, as it happens) and offhandedly gave the number I’d read during my spree.
My author friend was encouraging but unimpressed. Fifty books a year was the norm for him. At my then-current pace, the best I could hope for was a sum in the low thirties.
The next year I started tracking every book I finished. As a writer and editor, I’m in and out of far more books than I actually read cover to cover. I wanted to know how many I had actually completed. After twelve months, I finished thirty-five.
How on earth did my author friend hit fifty books a year? It seemed impossible given my job, family, social obligations, and other claims on my time. But I kept at it, and the number rose the next year. And the next. And the next. Nowadays I typically read fifty to seventy books a year—on top of the countless books I browse, scan, or quit.
I know some people read even more. Regardless, I thought I’d share how I do it, more or less. Whatever your reading goal, these tips can probably help you finish more books this year than last.
1. Keep track. If you’re looking to read more, one of the easiest methods is simply logging what you read. When my list of completed titles is short, I want to read more. When it’s long, I feel excitement and want to make it longer. I also get a charge when I survey my list and recall what I’ve learned or felt in my reading over the past several months. More, please.
2. Switch formats. I love physical books. I also love audiobooks and tolerate ebooks. But I’m happy to switch between all three formats to finish a book, especially paper and audio. I’ll listen while I drive and then find my place in my copy on my nightstand later that evening.
3. Cut back on TV. There’s so much great television being produced these days. But there are only 8,760 hours in a year. Deduct for sleep, work, family, dining, and driving and then ask: Do I really want to binge watch that new series? No judgment if the answer’s yes, but opportunity costs are real. I can’t read and view at the same time.
4. Take books everywhere. I always have a book with me: sometimes one or more physical books and several dozen audio and digital a few taps away on my phone. If I’m waiting, I’m reading. If I’m walking, I’m reading. Every week there are minutes that come to hours of unclaimed time at the margins. I can use it to stare at my shoes—or read three more pages in my book. Shoes are nice, but books are better.
5. Follow your whims. In his book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs expresses his “commitment to one dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim.” This has served me well. I let my tastes, curiosity, and passions steer my eyes. That way I read more of what I love—with the bonus that I also love more of what I read.
6. Vary your genres. Part of following my whims is reading across several genres. Even during times I’ve narrowed my focus, I try to let random titles land on my list. If I’m digesting a lot of history, a zany novel might be called for. If I’ve spent months cornering one subject, I try to find something utterly different to break it up.
7. Read several books at once. I don’t mean simultaneously. That’s impossible (though I do hope they figure it out someday). I mean I have several books going at any given time: two or three histories at various stages, a bio, a business book or two, something spiritual, and usually a novel. With that much variety, I’m always in the mood to read at least one in the stack.
8. Seek suggestions. Social media can gobble up all the free, marginal minutes in the day, but I do love social media for reading suggestions. Same with podcasts. I’m great at finding new books, but I love hearing what my friends, industry colleagues, mentors, and others are reading. There are hundreds of thousands of books published every year. There’s simply no way for an individual to know all the best books on any particular topic.
9. Quit at any time. Over the years I’ve heard several people say they stopped reading for a while because they just couldn’t finish a particular book. It was boring, bad, whatever. That’s like saying you stopped eating because you don’t like meatloaf. Drop it in the trash and try tacos. Or salmon. Or curry. Or something! There are a million books available, at least some of which are better than whatever you can’t finish.
No. 9 is more than a strategy. It’s a way of life: I’ll quit any book at any time. Life’s too short to soldier through an uninteresting book. And there’s no way I’ll let one stop me from reading a dozen more-likable volumes.
So how many books are you planning on reading this year? My guess is you’re capable of more than you think. Consider that the average book is about 65,000 words long, and a typical reader can cover about 300 words a minute. At that rate, you could finish in just over three and half hours—give or take a few trips to the restroom or brewing coffee.
If you read thirty minutes each day, that’s one book every week, give or take. Fifty or so a year. Reclaim a few extra minutes here and there throughout the day and it’s easier to accomplish than you might think. Whatever the right number is for you, there’s more than enough time this year to reach it.
Speaking of suggestions (No. 8 above), I’m using this newsletter to share my reviews of my reading this year. Subscribe and get informal but substantial reviews of pretty much whatever books I finish in 2022. You can get a taste of what’s in store by seeing my top ten from 2021. I’m dropping my first review January 1, 2022: Michael Blastland’s The Hidden Half: How the World Conceals Its Secrets. Sign up to read it.
And feel free to share these tips with anyone you think would benefit.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear any reading tips you have. Please share them below.