One New Year’s resolution I frequently hear from people is that they want to read more books. Makes sense if you consider reading a key component of personal growth and development.
Ray Edwards recently wrote about his reading goals here at MH&Co. He planned to read fifty-two books in a year. Instead, he read seventy-six! Edwards said he invests in reading because it helps him learn new ideas, upgrade his thinking, and improve his leadership. But seventy-six books! Who’s got time for that?
My fifty-book challenge
I read a lot and have done so since my teens. But even fifty-two books in a year would have seemed like a stretch to me—until a decade ago.
I was an editor at a publishing house and on the phone with one of my authors. I mentioned being on a fiction bender and offhandedly gave the number of novels I’d read during my spree. He 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 keeping record of 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? It seemed impossible given my job, family, and social obligations, not to mention 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 books a year on top of the countless books I browse, scan, or quit.
And here’s how I do it. Whatever your reading goal, these ten rules can probably help you finish more books this year than last.
10 rules to read more books
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 get a surge of pride and excitement and want make it longer. I also get a charge when I survey 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. For books I regularly reread, such as Montaigne’s Essays, I keep all three formats handy so I can read whenever, wherever the mood strikes.
3. Cut back on TV. There’s so much great TV being produced these days. But there are only 8,765.82 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. Kill your social media apps. I have a Kindle but never use it. My iPhone 7 Plus is my preferred digital reader. It’s also my audiobook player. I regularly use the Kindle, Audible, and Scribd apps. To safeguard my screen time for reading when opportunities arise, I have deleted social media apps from my phone. Social media (and news) apps present the same basic problem as TV. I backslide from time to time, but quickly remember the opportunity cost. Facebook is the enemy of real books.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Seek suggestions. Where social media does come in handy for me is reading suggestions. 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. One of the things I love most about our LeaderBox program is the surprise subscribers express when they see the new books each month—sometimes titles they’d never discover on their own.
10. 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.
This one is more than a rule. It’s a motto, 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.
You can read more than you think
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. 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 easy to see how Edwards found his way to completing seventy-six books in a year. Whatever the right number for you, there’s more than enough time this year to reach it.