How to read more books

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Do struggle to find enough time for reading? Here are five tips for how to read more books.

After I published last week’s blog post about the books I’ve read so far this year, emails started flooding my inbox. “How do you possibly read so much?” people wondered. “Where on earth do you find the time?” 

While my semi-annual “books” column is always one of my most popular (you can see last five years’ worth if you go to this page and scroll down to the header “Books I’ve read”), this was the first time so many people had expressed interest in the “how” of my reading.

Glibly, I could say that I manage it because my standards of housework are exceedingly low. But I know that won’t help you very much, so let me be more specific. We all have limited time on this earth. Here’s how to fit more reading into your schedule, no matter how busy:

  1. Choose your material carefully. Don’t regard reading as a vegetable that you have to choke down because it’s good for you. Make it cheesecake by focusing on books that you LOVE. If this limits you to Harlequin Romance, so be it. Once the habit is established, you can stretch yourself to other genres but get the habit nailed first. Don’t start with Moby Dick  if whales aren’t your thing. Me? I have a taste for literary fiction and memoir. I’m also interested in neuroscience and productivity. I dislike science fiction and most fantasy and I refuse to believe that makes me a lesser human being. Nor do I think any less of you for liking sci-fi or fantasy. Remember: De gustibus non est disputandum (translated from the Latin that means: in matters of taste there can be no dispute.) If you look forward to your reading you’re going to do it more often. I love books that get me so engaged I feel as though I’m watching a movie or, better, as though I’m a fly on the wall in someone else’s really interesting life. I fear that when I close the covers I’m going to miss something. This is what brings me back to reading.
  2. Give yourself a daily goal. When I get a book I usually check the number of pages and then divide it by seven to see how many pages I need to read per day to finish it in a week. Of course, it’s a “soft” goal — not a court order — and life frequently intervenes. I may have social events or a family emergency (one of my daughters had appendicitis last week so I didn’t get much reading done then). But if too many days pass when I’ve not read anything, then I know I need to make some adjustments to my life. 
  3. Make reading your default position. We all eat several meals a day, brush our teeth and get six to nine hours of sleep. Some of us even manage to work in regular exercise. Put reading in these same categories! Make reading something you do without thinking about it. Always carry a book with you (this is especially easy if you have an electronic reader like a Kindle or Kobo) and whenever you’re unoccupied — waiting in a line or riding public transit, for example — pull it out and start reading. It will amaze you how much you can read during times like these.
  4. Track your reading. I don’t have a terrific memory (and, trust me, it’s become worse as I’ve aged) so I’ve always kept a book journal. In it, I note:
    • the name of the book
    • the author
    • the year the book was first published
    • the first sentence or two (I just transcribe them word for word – this quickly conveys the style of the author)
    • my feelings about the book in a sentence or two
    • the date I finished reading it.  (This list used to be a nuisance when I had to write it out by hand but now that I do it on my computer it takes me only a couple of minutes. It’s also delightfully self-reinforcing — the more I read, the more I want to read.)
  5. Remember that holidays offer an excellent time to “catch up.” Truth be told, I almost never read a book a week. But when I’m on holiday I frequently read five (or more) books a week which is what allows me to put reading aside when I’m too buried in work or too busy with family responsibilities to get enough time for books. I also pay extra attention to the books I take away with me on holiday, ensuring I have a good selection of titles that I’m likely to love.

Reading is the best hobby there is. It’s inexpensive (particularly if you make good use of your local library), it reduces stress, it’s fun and it improves our analytical thinking. Best of all, it helps make us better writers.

If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader, first.

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On a separate topic: Do you meditate? Do you find the practice helps your writing? If so, I’d love to interview you by phone. It will take only 20 minutes. If you’re interested, please respond by replying to this newsletter and letting me know.

How do you find enough time to read? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by June 30/16 will be put in a draw for a copy of Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, by Dani Shapiro. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.