How to Read A Lot
Every year when I do my year in review, I get the question “how do you read so much?”
This is not a piece on “how to read more” — there are lots of those (this one is good). This is a piece on “how to read a lot” and your milage may vary.
Genuinely love reading.
I love reading more than any other activity. More than working, being with people, being outside, writing, or TV. More than anything. My ideal day is waking up and reading books until I go to sleep.
It always has been. Growing up I was limited to 12 books from the library per week, and it often wasn’t enough. I was allowed a certain number of new books for vacation, and I’d often sneak them out of my parents closet to read them before the trip (sorry, parents)! Then, on the trip, I’d read everyone else’s books. My babysitters thought I hated them because I wanted to sit in a room alone and read all day during the summer.
For me, reading is like breathing. It is how I exist. It is how I process. It is how I recover. When I used a Spire to track my breathing and mood, my calmest moments were all while reading.
More and more I see that this isn’t the case for most people. One year Tom decided he wanted to try to read a book a week. Watching him struggle was the first time I deeply realized that reading doesn’t have the same restorative benefits for everyone. In fact, the time he spent reading took away from other things that did have those benefits: writing code and listening to music.
Every time I read “hacks” for reading more, I get an iffy feeling. For many who read voraciously, there is just as much value in the act of reading as there is in having read. Reading lets you get out of your head and explore something else.
While you can hack your way into reading more, I don’t think it will get you to the place where you can (sustainably) read 50 or 100 or 365 books per year. That pace is rooted in a deep desire to read.
Read what you love (and give up when you don’t).
Unfortunately, I don’t think you can wake up one day and say “as of today, I love reading.”
I do think you can cultivate that love. Lots of us learn to not like reading because in school we’re forced to read in a way that doesn’t work for us. The wrong content, the wrong pacing, the wrong explorations.
If you are trying to cultivate a love of reading, read things that you love. What are your favorite books?
Not the ones you say because they sound smart. The ones you didn’t want to put down. The ones you got lost in. The ones that hit too close to home. The ones that made you cry.
It could be comics. It could be memoirs of your heroes. It could be small town mysteries where a woman who owns a specialty shop dates a law enforcement official and solves a murder. It doesn’t matter. No one needs to know. You might not even know what makes you love a book. I have a shelf of books that I tagged “feeling” to try to find patterns in what I love.
If you don’t know, start something and see. The important thing is to be honest with yourself. If you don’t like it, stop reading it.
Try something else. Even if it’s the book of the year. Even if your best friend said you’d love it. If you want to love reading, you have to let yourself love reading. You will not love reading if you are forcing yourself to complete books you don’t love. Build up the velocity and habit of enjoying reading first.
After you do that, it will be easier to persevere through anything. That book doesn’t need to happen right now, there is more time. The more you read, the less one book is daunting. Sometimes I let my Kindle library build up to 13 pages of unread books (91 books), and sometimes I whittle it back down to 3 (21 books).
I’ve never admitted this before, but I first attempted this book in Elementary School and it went way over my head. I’ve been meaning to revisit it a lot of math classes later but I’m still a little intimidated from that initial reading.
One of my least favorite things about working in technology is our lack of respect for fiction.
Whenever I read “book recommendations” from leaders in our field, it’s a list of books about tech, management, money, strategy, business, etc. It’s as though we collectively believe the point of books is to be full of facts that we can put to use. Reading anything else would be inefficient.
I do not read just for facts. After all, there is a limit to how much nonfiction you can read and internalize. I cannot read five nonfiction books in a row, process all of the information, and decide how to apply it in my life, experiment, and adjust. You may be better than me, but there will still be a limit (mine is about one/week).
I do read to learn. Fiction provides a different type of learning. I’d go as far as to say I learn more from fiction. Fiction has characters. Fiction is the rare place you can “be in someone else’s head.” Fiction can help you develop empathy with a much broader set of people. Fiction can teach you lessons from the past, and predict the future.
Most importantly, fiction has forward momentum. In good fiction, you often want to know what is going to happen next. There is a plot. What will happen to this character?
I sometimes am so absorbed in fiction that I’m happy to ignore the real world. When I was reading Ready Player One, I was on on a scuba diving vacation. Our boat was in an accident and we couldn’t go scuba diving (the entire point of the trip). I was relieved to not need to take a one hour break from my book. I never feel so relieved to continue nonfiction.
If a book is absorbing enough, I will even read while walking to my next activity. I used to do this and people stared at me like I was weird. On the upside, it’s become a lot more acceptable since smartphones came around.
Last, let yourself read how you want to. I prefer to read everything on my Kindle Paperwhite. I like that I don’t have to look at both sides of the page — I can lay on one side and easily see everything. I don’t need lights. Every book looks exactly the same. This is blasphemy for some, but it works for me. I greatly prefer my Kindle to anything else.
If you are going to read a lot, you are probably going to read for at least one, and sometimes up to eight, hours at once. For that sort of activity, I recommend real books or a dedicated reading device (both for the distractions and the light)
I love reading, and hope that others can read out of love instead of obligation. Agree? Hit the ❤ below so more people can see this.
Thanks to Yuval for prompting this piece: