How to read more | Just Reflections - Issue #19
Today’s yet another issue written while on holiday so I’ll try to keep it short so that I can get back figuring out how to go back home after omicron’s grand, disruptive entrance.
I enjoy reading. I enjoy reading stuff about software and technology to make me better at my job; I enjoy reading about history and philosophy and psychology, I enjoy reading self-help books and recently I’ve started reading fiction and I’m loving it.
Because I enjoy reading so much, I find myself recommending books to people a lot. One thing I have come to appreciate is that many people don’t read. In Jordan Peterson’s words, “reading for pleasure has always been a minority occupation. Most people don’t read for pleasure”. Some would love to read more — or at least they say they’d love to read more — but they don’t.
I’ve heard many reasons for why they find reading difficult. No time to read, too busy to read, reading is boring, reading is not as stimulating as other media like television. The moment I see the length of a book, I yawn.
If you’d like to read more, here are some tips to help you make the habit stick.
Change your reading goal
People who are readers like to flex with the number of books they’ve read each year. This can make beginners think that to learn to read more, they need to set themselves a target number of books to read by a certain date. I think this sets people up for failure.
The size of books can be really overwhelming, especially non-fiction books (looking at you Stormlight Archive). If you’re a beginner even relatively short books can be intimidating. So setting a target number of books can easily make the goal feel unreachable.
To avoid this, I think a better goal is to set a target daily reading duration. If you’re trying to build a reading habit, challenge yourself to read for at least 30mins every day.
I first learnt this from Max Joseph’s “How to read more in the golden age of content” YouTube video and it was a game-changer for me. Check it out, they have some interesting explainers.
BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content
In case you’re wondering why 30mins, I don’t know. Maybe 30mins is a magic duration or maybe there’s some science to it. I just took it like that and it worked for me. You can adjust it to a duration that works for you.
Find a book you like, or line up some articles you’ve always wanted to read. Find 30mins in your day you can dedicate to reading and read for the full 30mins every day. That’s it. Never mind if in that time you only finished a page or you read a passage three times because you were failing to comprehend it. The goal is just to spend 30mins each day reading. If you are consistent with this, you’ll find that other things like focus, speed or comprehension will come on their own, eventually.
Of course, if you want to continue reading beyond the target, it’s fine but no less than 30mins.
30mins might sound like a short time, but these add up really fast and if you do it consistently, that comes to 182 hours of reading at the end of the year. For someone who’s only learning to read, I’d say 182 hours is quite impressive. You’ll be surprised by how much you’ll have read by the end of the year.
Schedule your reading
There’s an interesting concept I read from Nir Eyal’s book “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” that I’ve mentioned a few times in the past few weeks. It’s that we should turn our values into time. What this means is that if you value something, then schedule some time for it in your day. If you value reading, schedule some time for it in your calendar. If you just tell yourself that you want to read for 30mins and you don’t decide when exactly you will do this, you will probably always be too busy for it and not do it consistently or at all.
The good news is that reading is an incredibly transportable hobby. If you’re struggling for time, search for gaps in your day where you can squeeze reading in. Read during your lunch breaks while you eat, read at the gym between sets. If it’s really tough, then keep a book in your toilet and read while you poop. If you really value it, find time for it.
You don’t have to finish books you don’t like
Those seasoned readers with their “I read 80 books this year” tweets can also make beginners feel like you always have to read and finish every book you start. You don’t have to.
You are going to love some books and you are going to hate some. You will come across books that start well but quickly grind to a halt for you. When you encounter a book like that, leave it and pick up another one. Don’t feel like you need to finish it despite the pain. Continuing to force yourself when you are bored will introduce friction in your reading routine and make reading boring to you.
Sometimes it’s because you aren’t connecting with the book right now. You might be surprised when you pick it up one day in the future and it’s absolutely enthralling for you. And the message resonates with you much better now than it used to. Books have their own life and as you grow and change, they change with you. This reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s words:
“Books come alive on encountering a reader and change with them. Our impressions of the same book across a lifetime could form our own autobiography; …” ― Virginia Woolf, Genius and Ink: Virginia Woolf on How to Read
“But there is one peculiarity which real works of art possess in common. At each fresh reading one notices some change in them, as if the sap of life ran in their leaves, and with skies and plants they had the power to alter their shape and colour from season to season. To write down one’s impressions of Hamlet as one reads it year after year, would be virtually to record one’s own autobiography, for as we know more of life, so Shakespeare comments upon what we know.” ― Virginia Woolf, Genius and Ink: Virginia Woolf on How to Read
Read what you enjoy
When you start reading, you’ll get many recommendations and this is fine as a start. However, you’ll quickly discover that you don’t care about “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, and “How to win friends and influence people” makes you yawn. Don’t feel obliged to read certain books just because they are popular or they’re well established to be good. If they don’t tickle your fancy, put them away and read what you enjoy. Don’t feel guilty putting away “7 Habits of highly effective people” and picking up Harry Potter.
As the reading habit develops, it will become easier to pick up books that aren’t in your specific area of interest. When that time comes, you can give them another try if you want to.
Try other media
There’s this romanticism associated with reading physical hard copy books. Some people even go as far as saying you’re not really a reader if you don’t read physical books. This can throw off beginners, thinking they need to get copies of physical books if they want to be “real readers”.
If reading physical books is not working for you, maybe you’re a screens person, try ebooks or get yourself a Kindle (or any other e-reader). If that’s still not your jam, try audiobooks. For non-fiction; I prefer physical books or Kindle versions because I can make highlights and make notes and I read them much slower. But for fiction, I prefer audiobooks because they only need my ears and brain so I can listen to them while cooking, washing dishes or taking a walk. This way I don’t have to give undivided time to reading, I can do it in parallel with other tasks. Thus, also taking care of the “I don’t have enough time to read” problem.
So try other media. You might find that the only thing standing between you and reading more was physical books.
Different modes for different books
You don’t have to read all books in the same way. When you’re reading a fiction book, you likely need to read it in sequence from start to end because it’s a narrative. You don’t have to adopt the same mode when reading non-fiction, you can look at the table of contents and start where you’re most interested, after that, you can jump to the end or the start, whatever makes sense for you.
Non-fiction books can also have a lot of repetition sometimes. If you feel you’ve grasped this concept and it’s being repeated or re-explained in different terms, jump to other parts. While there are non-fiction books where concepts build on each other, most times they can still be consumed non-sequentially.
Fall asleep with a book in your hand
Keep a book by your bedside and read it before sleeping. This might mean that for some nights, you’ll fall asleep with the book in your hands. Many people struggle to fall asleep and reading is a good way to use that time while your sleep engine is cranking. You’ll be surprised how much reading you can get in during that time.
The goal here is to read until you sleep. Depending on how tired you are, this could 30mins or it could be 5 mins. If you have no other time in the day, this pre-bedtime reading could be your 30mins per day.
Gamify your reading
There’s lots of research about the benefits of gamification for building habits and reading is no exception. If you can gamify it, you’ll increase the likelihood of the habit sticking.
One great way to gamify your reading is to join Goodreads.com. Goodreads is a kind of reading social media platform where people can share what books they’ve read, what they’re reading now and what they wish to read. You can read other people’s reviews of books and even share your own. And you can connect with people who have similar interests to yours. That way, building your library on good reads adds an extra layer of reward to the reading habit.
Do you have an established reading habit or are you working on building one? Do you have any tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you.
Now, let me get back to trying to find my way back home.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about this week and I wish you ever-increasing curiosity.
Until next week.
Impactful ideas that challenged my thinking.
I have a lot of interests so I'm always learning all kinds of things, some of which really challenge my thinking. In the Just Reflections newsletter, I'll be sharing with you a summary of the ideas that challenged my thinking recently and hopefully they will challenge yours too and we grow together.
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