How I read 52 books in a year

My book tracking app alerted me that I read 52 books over the last twelve months. So, *franticly crunching numbers* yes, indeed, that averages to one book per week!

This brings the book average to 226 pages per book.

I follow a couple of blogs of people that read way more than I do. Like these guys, respectively read 116, 105, 74 and 58 books in 2019. I don’t know how they managed to do so, but 52 is definitely a personal best for me and this blogpost is about how I did this.

When I say that I have read a book, I mean: I read it cover to cover. No skimming or skipping, or glossing through. That’s not reading. And no audio books. Nothing against that, but my point is to read a book as the author intended it (of course, this is different when you study a subject and need to pick and choose parts).
Full disclosure, I am currently experimenting reading Moby Dick with the book in hand and the audio book playing along. It’s fun, and a good way to get your teeth into such a classic. But I still need my eyes to follow the words and I don’t think listening to an audiobook while doing other things is the same experience. A book is not a podcast.

Getting serious

I’ve always liked reading but if I had to state a regret it would still be that I wish I had read more. There is always a certain anxiety when I enter a library or bookstore. The average human, or even a frantic reader, will never read more than a few thousand books in their lifetime. So I can never read just what my local library has in stock: even if it takes a lifetime. There are just too.many.books. With this in mind, a minute watching TV is a minute wasted reading.

I realised I find few activities more rewarding than reading. With this realisation in mind I consciously decided that I would take reading more seriously. And of course I still watch a little bit of TV and movies, but just a bit more consciously.

Here are some principles I developed around reading to keep me on track.

Principle 1: Track broadly

For me, this is key. So much so, that last year I wrote my own book tracking app, to exactly fit my needs. In my app I cannot only track what I have read, or am currently reading, but also what I want to read.

I used to use a spreadsheet, whatever works for you, but I was often getting lost in what I was reading (see Principle 2). So having this app definitely helps.

Principle 2: Read widely

This may be the most important principle on multiple levels. It not only means that I want to read many different books or genres but also that I like to read them simultaneously.

Of course I have favorite genres or subjects, but I try to be open-minded about every book (I wouldn’t snuff Danielle Steele). You never know what you might learn about yourself.

Levels

And before I meticulously kept track, this is usually where I got lost. Not every book demands the same energy or attention level and you should be able to switch it up without regret.

Which I do. So at a certain point last year I was reading 11 different books at once: diaries, biographies, novels, management books, historical books. You name it. Because my app allows me to directly see what I started it’s easy to keep track of this and — most importantly — switch it up when I am not feeling a certain book. Instead of dreading picking up a certain book for months or a half read book getting lost on my bookshelf I just move on to a different book, and know I will eventually get to that book. My app tracks it. And I always do! Some books I haven’t touched in months but I pick em up again after some time when I feel like it, and more often than not it’s usually a better experience. I have now had this experience more than once. And it was quite the revelation. The lesson is: different moods ask for different books.

So far I only actively stopped reading two books, with no intention of reading any further ever (this is fine!). So this is rare. Most books I start, I have already done a little bit of research, to know enough that I want to read them.

Another benefit when you switch a lot between books is that I noticed it helps to retain what the books are about. It’s a different experience when you read a book over two months as opposed to two days. Because you have to actively remind yourself of what the book was about again.

Principle 3: Buy loosely

The app allows me to add books to my wish list, and as you can see in the screenshot I bought 90 books last year. Mostly from thrift stores, they are absolute goldmines. And yes, I don’t read e-books. I need to feel paper.

The ‘Books I want‘ list from my app is a guideline for thrift store visits, but mostly I just look all over the place. And I used to be a bit hesitant to buy a book, as it would indicate a future commitment to myself to read it. But since reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan and his thoughts on famous writer Umberto Eco’s personal library (here and here), I have been able to shake this habit a bit. So if a book looks interesting: buy it!

Bookmark stickies.

Tips

So those are the three main principles. Here are some other tips that help to keep your reading on track.

  • I dislike using a highlighter. It ruins books. Even if it’s just paper that got for 50 cents a thrift store.
  • I have used the classic highlighters and last year I moved to a pencil highlighter, a little bit less permanent but still not great. So since a couple of months I use TRANSPARENT bookmark stickies.
    • They are not permanent.
    • I can still read what I highlighted.
    • I can remove them without tearing the paper.
  • It doesn’t matter what type of book it is, I read every book with a stack of sticky bookmarks and annotate what I like or want to remember. (This would definitely be my number one reason to move to eBooks at some point..).
  • To retain things, I usually read the sticky parts again after finishing or when picking up a book if it has been a while.
  • Read everyday. Even it’s just a couple of minutes. Don’t break the chain. Create a habit.
  • Put your phone on mute. I do most of my reading between 8 and 10 pm. If you text or call me between those hours, I probably won’t see or hear it.
  • Write! After all, what good is reading if you don’t write? I tend to blog about every book I read (few exceptions: i.e. when it’s a really small book). This helps with retention and thinking about what you liked or want to remember. And also you create your own little archive. I often look up my own posts, to see what I was thinking.

So there you have it! Now, let’s see what’s on TV.


Also published on Medium.

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