My series of reading lists, many thousands of books long, grows faster than I read and is regularly culled. I’m sure that most of them would be helpful, or interesting, or provocative. I won’t read even half of them. That someone else likes a book matters to me. If they’re a flesh and blood person that I know rather than someone hidden in a screen it matters infinitely more because I will get to talk to them about it. Those books I prioritise.
I read more than most—honestly the stats on how much the average person reads make me sad. This YouGov survey has around three quarters of respondents saying they read a book last year, but the median number of books read a year is 4 (the mean is 10, but obviously stretched at the top end by outliers like me). Those stats get worse when you just look at men.
I don’t think I’m a big reader because I know people who read more than me. This is a pretty typical sort of self-deception; we assume we’re average as long as we’re aware of people on either side of us. I read 70-90 books a year. I’m currently reading eight different books, some I’ve been in for months, others will only take a few days. I don’t think I’m a quick reader—because my wife can read something faster than me—this is another example of the same sort of self-deception. I read a lot.
I have what I think is a small personal library, but then I have enough books to call them a library (around 1000). I compare myself to these ridiculous images you sometimes see of American pastors and their vast libraries and assume mine is small. Again, it’s perspective.
Which is all to say, I have some thoughts on reading and do know what I’m talking about. People often ask me for tips on reading more, and I thought I’d share some of the things I frequently say.
Stop finishing bad books.
Free yourself from the false tyranny of having to finish books. If a book is bad, stop reading it. If a book has good information but is badly written, skim it. If you feel like the book is worthy but it isn’t clicking with you, consider putting it down to pick up another day.
If you are finding a book a real slog it’s ok to change your reading strategy—especially if you’re reading for information. I would recommend reading the first and last paragraph of a chapter to see if you want to read that chapter, and reading the introduction and conclusion to see if you want to read a book.
People sometimes ask if reading that way ‘counts.’ You’re the only one keeping score, do what you want. I’d include a book in my list of books I’ve read if I engaged with a good portion of it. I finish most books I start, but you don’t have to. There isn’t enough time in your life to read bad books.
Keep a list of what you read.
If you’re trying to read more then keeping a list of the number can be an encouraging motivator. The number can turn into something to chase taking away your enjoyment of actually reading the book, but keeping a list is helpful.
It’s a pleasurable activity to look back over what you’ve read that year, or in the last few months.