How to Read a lot of Books

Often when I suggest a book to friend, they’ll say “Excellent, looks great! Added to my forever-growing ‘to read’ list of books 😞.” I definitely sympathize with this sentiment: there are just so many books and so little time to read them. As I’m currently working my way through lots of books, I thought I’d offer some unsolicited advice on how to read a lot of books.

The first and most important thing is consistency. Find a rhythm for reading that works for you and stick to it as best you can. Plan to read every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Ten minutes of reading every day is a lot more than zero minutes of reading, nevery day.

If you have a commute involving public transit, that’s a great time to fit reading into your day. My commute is pretty short each day, but the time adds up. When I used to work from home I’d set aside cool-down time after work ended but before I started my evening, giving me a kind of reading commute instead.

I consider myself to be a pretty slow reader, so consistency has been the key for me. Slow and steady finishes books.

The second suggestion is to find a good reading environment, the place where you read. I find reading requires a lot of focus, so I try to read in places where I won’t be distracted. That can be almost anywhere for me, but there are things which intrude my concentration.

Phones and computers are a huge distraction. Every notification or badge or buzz destroys my focus and makes reading much, much harder. So, keeping my phone away (or off) is really helpful here. I tend to read paper books for many reasons, but one is they lack any inherent distractions!

Television is my ultimate focus destroyer. I find it nearly impossible to read (or write!) when there’s a tv on anywhere in my home. Interestingly, a crowded subway is a much easier reading environment than a home with a television on. I think it’s because tv is designed to grab your attention at all costs, and it’s very good at this. If you’re trying to read while somebody else is watching tv, try playing some music to drown it out (jazz works well for me) or even better, invite the tv watcher to join you in silent reading!

My final reading suggestion is to stay motivated about reading. This can come in many flavours, but here are the three things I do:

One, I keep a spreadsheet of all books I’ve read, with a little bit of info and a review about each of them. This helps me see my progress in getting through books, and lets me glance back at any notes or thoughts I may have had while reading. You definitely don’t have to do this, especially if it feels like work to you, but I find it’s a useful way to keep me going.

Two, get excited for your next book. Whenever I read a book, I find it motivating to think about the book I’ll read after this one. That gives me something to look forward to and it helps me finish my current book. You don’t have to have a concrete ordered list of all books you’ll ever read, but it helps to plan one ahead, one you can’t wait to get started. If your current book is a slog, this will help (and if it’s too much of a drag, maybe stop reading it?).

Three, go to a bookstore often. Nothing in the world makes me want to read more books than walking around a bookstore. You don’t have to buy a book every time (though often I do…), but I find just being around a bunch of books and book lovers really makes me want to read all the time. Seeing the books, picking some out, walking around different sections, etc. Amazon is great for many reasons, but it’s an entirely different experience than walking around a physical store.

These are my main suggestions on how to read more. It can seem like an uphill battle at times, but the more you read, the easier it gets. As they say, the journey of a thousand books begins with a single page.

Join the Discussion 👂🤔✍️

Soroush Khanlou
One of the big problems I have with reading books is sometimes I start having trouble getting through the book or even caring about it. This leaves me in an unhappy state where I don't want to keep reading the book, but I don't want to start any new books before finishing the commitment I have to the current book. Jason do you (or any readers?) have any tricks for dealing with this problem, or do you just have to force yourself to stop reading the book?
Great strategies! 

I find I use Goodreads as a log of my been-read books, although I find my backlog of clicking "want to read" on anything that looks casually interesting is both enormous and pretty low intent. Your spreadsheet method is a good way to denote progress but with less clutter.

The "next" book strategy often helps me think about how to diversify what I'm reading. I try to vary length, genre, or toss a nonfiction in every once and awhile. If I go for too many of my lofty/"should" reads, it really slows my progress. It's important to mix in and really, prefer, the books you do want to read and get excited about.

To finish a really slow one, I often try to break intervals; this sitting I'll get through 20 pages, or something to that effect. A book that I tire on feels a lot more digestible if I'm taking it in steps and hit my goal.
Chris Dzombak
Soroush, my solution when I start feeling like I've hit a wall is to reconsider how I'm reading (ie. if this is a nonfiction book, can I skim or even skip certain parts?), or to put a marker in it and go read something else (I can always come back later). Past a certain point, forcing yourself to read something you feel you should but that you don't want to discourages you from reading in general. (This applies equally to other activities.)

I also am constantly thinking about (and am alternately motivated by and stressed by) my "next" book. That selection changes based on whatever I happen to be excited about, and so when I finish a book I just go to the next thing on my reading list I'm really excited about.

(My reading list is, of course, in OmniFocus.)
Jason Brennan
The "next" book strategy often helps me think about how to diversify what I'm reading. I try to vary length, genre, or toss a nonfiction in every once and awhile. If I go for too many of my lofty/"should" reads, it really slows my progress. It's important to mix in and really, prefer, the books you do want to read and get excited about.
Kate, this is a great point. I think there’s a lot of pressure that like, if you want to be a “good reader” then there’s all these books you should be reading.

Sometimes these books are just a drag. They’re often still worth reading, but yeah, it’s good to balance between “I want to be well-read according to the standards of my social group” and “I want to enjoy reading!”

I’d also be willing to guess there’s a strong relationship being forced to read something and how much a person enjoys reading it (as in school)!
Andrew McKnight
I recently came to grips with the fact that I can't even begin to scratch the surface of all written word, even just classics. So I decided to instead go as diverse as possible, and try reading books from authors from each country, from different walks of life: man, woman, gay, straight... and that combination almost adds up to 1000 books! Classics can still be read this way, but the breadth of experience and perspective will be much greater. And it helps narrow down my huge "to-read" goodreads shelf, when I'm trying to decide what to read next :)

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