Recently I finished my 50th book of 2021. The book was a biography of Karl Marx named Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones. If I continue like this, I will have read 150 books by the end of 2021, which means I’ll have read 49 books more than last year. Every year my book count seems to increase and not just by one or two books but by quite a lot (obviously, there is a cap as I am not able to read 365 books a year). I wanted to share some tips on how to read more.
First off, I have to say that I am a university student which means that I read books for school, and I include them in my reading list, however this isn’t that much, taking up about 5 books per semester. I have a lot of free time between classes and studying which I use to read more and since the books really interest me, I don’t have a problem reading a lot. Reading is a skill that needs to be learned and it’s still something I’m learning as well. I still forget some of the things I read or can’t seem to focus on a particular book. But that’s all part of the journey.
Remember to read the books you find meaningful to read. If you don’t need to read books for a class or something else, don’t read books you don’t find meaningful. If you’re 100 pages in the book and you’re not feeling it, just drop it and go to the next one. Life is too short to read books that are boring. Read those that are interesting. Note that there is a difference between enjoying a book and reading a book you find meaningful. Some books that you’ll read won’t be enjoyable, but extremely meaningful. The reading itself might not be enjoyable but the fruits you pick from your labor might be meaningful. For example, Capital by Karl Marx is a boring as hell book, which I read last year. I did not enjoy reading this book at all. But it was very meaningful to read because now I have a deeper understanding into the arguments Marx makes. Arguments I’m trying to refute, which I can only do by reading the book.
Obviously, I’m not saying you shouldn’t read books because you just want to enjoy them. Reading enjoyable books can be very meaningful. Enjoyment and meaningfulness go hand in hand. For some books the enjoyment comes after reading the book, instead of during. The ideal is, of course, to have that enjoyment before, during and after and one should always be on the look-out for that. If you read books that you find meaningful and resonate with you on a personal level, then you’ll read more, because it will tire you less and even give you energy when reading becomes difficult.
This brings me to something else, which I might write something about later: you don’t have to read the classics. If you don’t want to read the classics, you don’t have to. Most of the time, it’s just about bragging rights anyways. Who cares that you have read the Odysseus of Homer five times? Don’t let people lecture you what to read. Read what is meaningful to you. Just note: the classics are classics for a reason, so you might actually enjoy reading them and are definitely worth the try. Be open for any book.
The second tip is to learn how to speed read. However, don’t use this for every book. I mostly speed-read novels or fiction books, because then you can have a clear image in your head. I don’t do this with most non-fiction books and definitely not with philosophy books. Personally, I feel that speed-reading is perfect for light-hearted books where the story is very important, like fantasy novels like A Song of Ice and Fire or Lord of the Rings. I also use it for history books which have a clear line, like a biography for example. When reading a biography or fantasy novel, I don’t deem it important to know every name of every person. For me, it’s about the journey you’re going through, which you can perfectly capture while speed-reading.
Speed-reading philosophy or political books is something I wouldn’t recommend. I have tried this and at least for me it doesn’t work. In particular because, in philosophical and political books, there is a chain of reasoning one follows throughout the work, which are sometimes hard to conceptualize in your head. In my experience, going slower rather than faster helps me understand the work better.
This brings me to my third tip: don’t care about how many books you’ve read. It’s not so much the number of books that you read, it’s about that you understand the books you read. This might seem contradictory when I’m trying to give tips on how to read more books but wanting to read a certain number of books is rather counterproductive. Say you want to read 52 books this year. That’s one book a week. If you track it like this, you’ll feel bad if you haven’t read a book this week. Things happen in life and sometimes that means that we won’t be able to read a book. Now the stress increases because now you have to read two books the next week, but you’re still struggling with another book, and before you know it, the dragon becomes a bit too large and intimidating and you quit. If you just focus on reading every day, you don’t really have that problem.
Which is tip number four: read every day. Read consistently every day. But don’t make it yourself too difficult. The goal is to make reading a habit, not to read as much as you can. Which is something else you shouldn’t do: don’t set page goals. Just like not caring about how many books you’ve read, not caring about how many pages you’ll read, paradoxically helps you to read more. Make the goal that you should read every day. That means picking up the book, open it and read as much as you want or feel like that day. If it is only a sentence or a paragraph, that’s okay. The goal is to incorporate reading into your being by making it a habit. The hardest part is actually taking the book and opening it. When you do that, you’re all set. If you’re interested in creating habits, a great book on how to create habits is James Clear’s book Atomic Habits.
My final tip (for now) is to read multiple books at the same time. Above, I talked about how books might be difficult but still be meaningful. But if the reading is very hard, it can be very hard to have the motivation to continue the book, definitely if it’s a giant esoteric book. Just like you can’t be serious all the time, you have to be a bit light-hearted sometimes. With reading it’s the same. Read different books, preferably in another medium. I sometimes read 4 books at the same time. I read one physical copy of something difficult, like philosophy or something non-fiction. I read a physical novel. I read an eBook, mostly easy to read non-fiction. And sometimes I listen to an audio novel as well. So that’s 4 books. Sometimes you’ll be reading a book for 3 months or longer and struggling every day reading that book. It took me 4 months to read the Essays by Michel de Montaigne and it would have taken even longer if I hadn’t read other books in the meantime. Sometimes, we want to just finish a book, or don’t feel like reading the current book we’re reading. Just like we might not want to watch The Office tonight, but a The Queen’s Gambit. Why not both?
Now some people might object that they can only read one book at a time because otherwise they mix their books up. I think this is rather a case of inattentive reading instead of not being able to do this. We do it all the time. We have to read multiple books for school, watch multiple lectures a day. We read the newspaper and then talk about something with our friends. We sometimes mix things up, but this happens in a minority of cases. We can read more than one book at a time; we just have to be serious about it.
These were some of the tips I thought I could give for those who want to read more books. At least, those are the things that helped me with reading more books. Note that this takes time. A lot of time. But it will always be easier and easier as time goes on, and that’s the real goal. Three years ago, I read 6 books in a year, and I thought that was quite a lot and it would be really hard to beat. The year after, I read 38 books thinking I had reached the peak. Last year, I read 101 books with some time to spare. Now it seems I’ll be able to do even more. Habits work with an exponential growth. The only thing you have to do is persevere. Now go read that book you’ve always wanted to read, and I’m glad you read this.