You probably feel guilty already, and you’ve only read the title of this article. Well, there’s no need for that: we all know we should read more books. And we’ve tried before, reading consistently for a few days or weeks only to see our little reading habit sputter and die. But there’s hope.
It is very possible for the average person to become a serious reader—a person who reads good books and reads them consistently.
- A person who consistently makes a conscious effort to get better at life by soaking up the wisdom of some of the smartest people who have ever taken pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
- A person whose life gets measurably better, month after month, as a result of consuming wisdom, turning it over in her mind, and making it a part of her.
- A person who gets smarter instead of just older.
Want to read more books? Here are 8 ways to make it happen.
1. Read 25 pages per day
Jeff Annello has a great post on the blog Farnham Street about setting a daily reading quota and finding a way to meet it, come hell or high water. He suggests 25 pages a day (the number I use as well) but makes the crucial point that the number 25 isn’t the important part: establishing the reading habit is.
If you haven’t read a book since high school, consider committing to reading just 5 pages a day. Veteran reader? Shoot for 25 or even more. But find a way each day to “get your pages in,” as Jeff puts it, and you’ll start to see your life getting better, bit by bit.
2. Decide to spend freely on books
One of the biggest impediments to reading is the cost. A good nonfiction paperback is around $15, and if you’re careful with money, that can add up. There are at least a couple approaches to take:
One option is to check out books from the library, and this is where I started. If you’ve got a good library close by, you could start there, too.
But to really read a book, you need to be able to mark it up, to have a conversation with the author. That means buying books, and books cost money. If you value frugality, like I do, the cost can be hard to justify. The solution?
Decide to spend freely on books (within reason). If you make a monthly budget, carve out a sizable chunk of change for books. Give yourself permission to spend guilt-free in this area, because you’re really investing in yourself—in your own ability to make better decisions in the future. That’s something worth spending money on.
3. Quit TV (or cut back)
We have to be careful with TV.
Watching your favorite show can be a great way to unwind at the end of the day, and we’re currently experiencing a golden age of television. There’s great work being done in the medium today.
But artistic merits aside, TV—by which I mean cable, satellite, Netflix, Hulu, or any other “story on a screen”—is a huge time sink. Many serious readers have found that by giving it up, they could reclaim the time they needed to read. I’ve gradually given up TV since Breaking Bad ended, and I’m a happier person for it. I certainly have more time, and I also feel less vulnerable to emotional manipulation.
If TV is a major part of your life, consider cutting back a bit and using some of that time to read more books.
4. Make a list of books you want to read
Anticipation contributes to motivation, so I keep a simple Google doc with a list of books I want to read in the future. I’ve been slowly checking books off this list for years, and I love adding new ones, too.
I also keep a list of books I’ve read, and you can see many of them on this website. It feels really good to add a new title to the list and to scroll through the complete list. It also helps me remember if I’ve read a certain book (and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve forgotten one or two).
5. Learn How to Read a Book
I didn’t know I didn’t know how to read.
That sentence is not a typo.
In 1940, Mortimer Adler published a great book called How to Read a Book. I skimmed it years ago, and now I’m nearly finished with a more analytical reading of it. Holy smokes, is this book useful. If your approach to reading resembles the following process, you need to read How to Read a Book:
- Pick up book.
- Read back cover.
- Think “This looks like a good book.”
- Read book from beginning to end.
- Over the next month, forget most of book.
It turns out that reading well is an art and a science, and How to Read a Book will take you to school. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
6. Use “fun” books to establish your reading habit
If you haven’t been into reading lately, take my advice: don’t start with The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or Thinking, Fast and Slow. Yes, these books can be life-changing. But reading them well is difficult, and if you’re trying to build a reading habit while reading a difficult book, you’re doing two challenging things at once. There’s an easier way.
Establish a reading habit by reading something fun, easy, or both (light fiction works well here). Here are a few suggestions from my own reading experience:
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Poke the Box by Seth Godin
- The Adventures of Johnny Bunko by Dan Pink
Once you’ve built your reading muscle, it may be time to tackle a doorstop like War and Peace. But make it easy on yourself and start with something light.
7. Have a book with you at all times
The next time you’re standing in line for something, notice how your hand reaches, unbidden, for your smartphone. When we have discretionary time, even just a few moments, we go for the internet. It’s tough for books to compete. While books provide wisdom and depth, the internet provides sensory stimulation and breadth.
Guess which one is more fun to acquire?
The internet is always available, and it’s vying for every free second you have. If you want to read more books, have a book with you at all times. It can be a physical book, an e-reader, or even an app like iBooks or the Kindle app. It takes work, but you can train yourself to start reading when you’re bored instead of refreshing Twitter.
And there’s another way to use technology to support your reading habit.
8. Embrace audiobooks
If you’ve been reading this article and thinking “Yeah, but I don’t have time for that,” this is the suggestion for you.
Audiobooks are a fantastic way to read more. The better ones are true performances, and by listening to a favorite audiobook regularly, you can absorb the information just as deeply as if you’d read a physical copy. Here are three of my favorites:
To sum up, remember that the more you read, the better you get at reading and the more fun it becomes. Your concentration will improve—you’ll notice yourself more able to hold complex ideas in your mind—and you’ll become a faster reader. But the biggest benefit has nothing to do with reading itself.
The more you read, the more you understand about the world. As your understanding grows, you will begin to make better decisions. And as you make better decisions, your circumstances will improve.
Simply put, reading makes you smarter, and being smarter makes your life better.
Want to read more books? Take an idea from the list above and put it into practice. You will not regret it.