In 2017, over a period of 12 months, I read approximately 20 books. This represents a standard average for me for most of my adult life of about two books per month. In the first four months of 2018, I read 57 books, which is more than twice as many as last year in a third of the time. (Take that, people who say I suck at math!)
So what changed?
Did I quit my day job?
NO. I still pound away on my keyboard all day writing and editing medical material while talking into my Madonna concert circa 1995 headset.
Did my kid go off to college?
NO. She may be 12 going on 30, but at least I have 5ish more years until I have to deal with dorms and hot plates.
Did I cut back on my writing?
NO. In the last few months I’ve finished/polished 3 new book drafts, which are currently with publishers or pitching/querying and I’m working on a fourth. Somehow not only am I reading more, I’m writing more too…an interesting phenomenon.
I’m not saying I balance all the busyness of my life well. (I don’t.) I’m prone to random freak outs when I come downstairs to find the sink filled with dishes. I oftentimes ignore my family when I’m writing or reading to the point where it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for me to say “Uh huh, just let me finish this chapter” in response to a family member coming up to me and screaming, “Help! I just chopped off my finger while cooking and I need to go to the hospital!”
The moral here is I am a busy gal. So if I can find a way to read more books, I think other people can too.
How I read more books
At first, I wasn’t sure what changed from 2017 to 2018. I just started plowing through books faster than ever before. Was it my eagerness? Was it the books? Did a tiny alien invade my brain and make me read three times faster? I decided to take a look back at the last four months and try to figure it out.
What I found is there was no single magic answer, but rather it was a combination of factors that lead to this spike in my reading.
What I found is there was no single magic answer, but rather it was a combination of factors that lead to this spike in my reading. Based on my assessment, here is my advice on how you may be able to read more books.
(Disclaimer: Implementing these suggestions in your life may result in reading more books or turning into a 40-year-old crazy writer who doesn’t notice bloody cooking-related accidents. Hard to say which one. Also, if you’re a parent with a young child, this list won’t help you find time to read more. Nothing will. Just lock your books away for the next few years and come back to them when your kid can at least feed and poop on its own without needing assistance.)
9 Ways YOU can read more books (if you want to)
1. Read a variety of genres
Not everything you read needs to be a novel. Read a book of poetry or a compilation of short stories. Oftentimes these don’t take as long to read but are just as satisfying or even better than some long, boring book like Madame Bovary.
Also, if you’re an adult, try reading children’s books or YA novels. I know many people think there is a stigma around this. Many people think, “I’m an adult, I can’t read a children’s book.” Well, I’d argue adults do lots of things meant for children. (Um, adult coloring book trend, anyone?) Why not read children’s books? They are just as amazing as books for adults and are filled with far less dumb, unnecessary filler.
2. Read what you like
This was key for me. One of the reasons I read so much this year was because I didn’t waste time trying to push through a book because I’d started it and felt I should finish it. I read books I liked while also trying to open myself up to different types of books I’d never tried before. It seems like those things should be counterintuitive. They aren’t.
3. Try different mediums
Books and stories can be found in a lot of different places podcasts, graphic novels and, my favorite, audiobooks.
I’d been reluctant to listen to an audiobook and my first attempt on a car trip didn’t go well. (Note: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy may not be the best book to choose as a first-time audiobook listener.) However, I tried again with a different book, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please! read by Poehler, thinking that it would be like listening to her tell stories. And it was. Although I didn’t read the hard copy book, I can tell you listening to it had to be better than reading it.
The great thing about audiobooks is that you can listen to them anytime, for example:
- While doing the dishes
- While at the gym (if you’re a person who likes to torture yourself)
- While doing a really brainless task at work
- While folding the laundry or cleaning the house
- While driving
- While painting a room
- While putting up plastic sheeting to protect your deck from the winter elements and spring pollen, simultaneously turning it into a creepy-looking room that resembles something out of the show Dexter. (Yes this is really specific and maybe something we tried at my house, but it’s these kinds of tasks you may not realize can overlap with books!)
Essentially, in times when you might slap on some headphone and listen to music, maybe turn on an audiobook.
4. Put down the damn phone and get off Facebook (sorry for the cursing)
Facebook, Twitter, Texting, Snapchat, Instagram, games on your phone, these things are all massive time-sucks. Next time you get on Facebook or pull out your phone, turn on a timer and see how long you’re actually on social media. I guarantee it’s longer than you think.
This is not to say that social media doesn’t have a great place in this world. But just like you shouldn’t spend 5 hours a night watching TV, if you’re spending hours and hours a day on social media, it’s going to be really hard to read all those books.
I figured this out by accident when I realized spending so much time on social media was making me angry at the world. So I decided to cut back. This left a lot more time for books.
5. Get rid of TV
I know this sounds extreme. In my house, we didn’t exactly get rid of our TV, but we unhooked from cable. So now we subsist on a TV diet of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
Before we cut the cable cord, I used to sit down on my couch, turn on the TV just to turn it on and watch a rerun or some other random show I didn’t need to be watching, usually on HGTV. Since I don’t have that “flip through the channels” capability anymore, my TV watching is very select (i.e., more quality, less shiplap.)
Again, this has left more time for reading.
6. Fit reading in during any free time
Have time while on the train work? Waiting at the doctor’s office? Waiting for your husband to figure out how to access a movie because you cut the cable cord and suddenly movie watching is very complicated?
You don’t need hours and hours to read. Read for 15 minutes here and there when you have time instead of picking up your phone and seeing how much more you can get outraged by what the President has said on Twitter today and how you can’t believe anyone still defends him. Trust me, you’ll be happier if you picked up a book instead.
7. Create a better work/life balance (aka, learn to delegate)
I know how hard this can be. I’ve had a work/life imbalance since I started working. I enjoy work, which is part of the reason for this imbalance. There’s also part of me, as my husband so aptly pointed out once, that likes the martyrdom of being that person who works until they practically fall down. I like people to rely on me. These are all petty things that stroke my ego. I know that too. And so I’ve tried to change.
In doing so, I’ve learned to delegate better at work, speak up when I need help instead of shouldering everything so I can achieve that martyrdom. In the last few months, I have been able to limit the nights I work until midnight significantly and that’s left me with free time.
Note: I hate free time. I am not good at sitting around doing nothing. Lucky for me reading is one of my favorite pastimes and so I’ve been able to fill that extra time with books (and spending more quality time with my family instead of ignoring them while they’re bleeding out in the kitchen).
8. Tone down the Type A
I have a personality that would probably be categorized as Type A, most of the time. It’s not so black and white. But there’s an ongoing joke in my house that you shouldn’t leave anything you care about on the kitchen counter for more than a day or it will get thrown away. I hate clutter and dirty dishes and mess. I hate procrastination and laziness.
But sometimes, if you want to read, you have to learn to let those things go. It’s not the end of the world if the laundry doesn’t get folded on Sunday (laundry day in my house). Maybe not everyone has this problem and you’re perfectly happy leaving that bed unmade. But if not, give it a try. The world won’t end and you might get to read more. (This is not to say you should become a complete slob, just maybe dial it back if you’re super Type A.)
9. Don’t be down on speed reading
Even when reading some of my most favorite books, sometimes I’ll speed read. I can’t help it. I skip ahead a little. You know what? So what? Who says you have to read every single sentence. There are some books where I like to sink into the sentences, dissecting them and enjoying them for their beauty and poetry, like art in a museum. There are others where those sentences aren’t that special, but the action gets me hyped up and I want to speed along with it. There’s nothing wrong with this. Are you still enjoying the book? Are you getting something out of it? That’s all that matters.
The secret to reading more books
What’s the secret to reading more books? There isn’t one. What worked for me, may not work for you. But perhaps some of these tactics might if you try. What you do need to know is that if you want to read more, you may have to give up something else. You don’t get something for nothing, as they say. But you if you give up or cut back on one thing, you might get so much more in return.