11 Tips to Read More and Read Faster (After Reading 791 Books in 9 Years)
Post from August 17, 2022 (↻ December 28, 2022), filed under Everything Else (feed).
How much do you read? Are you content with your reading? Or do you intend to read more, or like to read faster?
While I don’t usually feel a need to write about my reading, occasionally I do, because reading (non-fiction) is education, and education is everything. For close to a decade, my reading target for each year has been to read 120 books. While that’s a stretch goal that I consistently miss, between July 2, 2013, and today (August 17, 2022), I have read 791 books.
While surely there are people who read more than that, many people read a lot less (the U.S. average in 2016 was 12 books per year *). For anyone interested in reading more, I’m here sharing what I’ve learned about it—11 tips, to read more, and to read faster.
Figure: Data-driven reading.
- Read Ebooks
- Read on Your Phone
- Read Everywhere
- Learn to Speed-Read
- Establish Reading Routines
- Read Several Books at the Same Time
- Don’t Shun Short Books
- Vary Your Reading Speed
- Don’t Mind Flipping Through Books
- Occasionally, Don’t Finish a Book
- Track Your Reading
1. Read Ebooks
Finish your physical books, yes, but move to reading ebooks. You want ebooks because they’re more portable. (99.99% of the time, they’re also cheaper.) Portability is crucial for reading a lot—even if you can carry a book with you at most times, you do carry your phone with you at all times.
10 years ago, I wondered about the many people who preferred physical books over ebooks. I stopped wondering when that never changed, but it certainly is puzzling how the advantages of ebooks aren’t recognized (and the consequences of unnecessarily straining natural resources, either). Yet then, it’s no news that we choose to do things that aren’t in our best interest.
2. Read on Your Phone
Don’t get a Kindle or Nook or whatever other devices there are, but use one of the many ebook apps and read on your phone. Not only is your phone more portable than most ebook readers—as mentioned, you have it on you all the time, too. This increases your opportunities to read to all the time.
I have talked to people who “didn’t like” reading on their phone; if that’s you, give it another go. Your current phone may use better hardware than last time you tried; you may or may not have checked and adjusted your app’s settings, either. For the goal of reading more, give it a good new try.
3. Read Everywhere
Break out of any thinking only to read at certain spots or at certain times. Read at home. Read on the metro. Read on the bus. Read in lines. Read at the doctor’s. Read during lunch breaks. Read during ad breaks. Read. Everywhere.
4. Learn to Speed-Read
Clearly, the faster you can read, the more you can read (in the same time). You get faster anyway, the more you read, but it’s useful to invest some time into learning speed-reading. There are classes for this, there are books for this. At the very least, you’ll know speed-reading exists, and you’ll acquire tools to work with at your own pace.
5. Establish Reading Routines
What’s probably one of the most impactful life hacks, making a desired behavior a habit, works for becoming a more efficient reader, too. Reading everywhere works nicely with this one—every time you’re on the metro, on the bus, in a line, at the doctor’s, on your lunch break, you read. Soon, it will become second nature. Then, you’re close to “leveling up.”
6. Read Several Books at the Same Time
Not literally at the same time: What this means is not to feel obligated to finish a book before you pick up the next. If you’re like my past me, you may feel a little uneasy about this—won’t this rip you out of the story, won’t this distract you, even slow you down? While you can spread yourself too thin, and start too many books, these concerns don’t generally hold. Instead, reading several books has two great advantages:
Sometimes, when you’re bored by a book, you end up stopping to read. If you get to be fine with reading more than one book, instead of stopping to read, you just pick up another book. (This works.) Clearly, this makes you read more. Also clearly, this works a lot better if you read ebooks.
It trains your memory and attention. Everything here is alive and amenable; you build and grow your capabilities as you break out of previously narrow reading habits. When working with several books at once, you’ll get to improve your paying attention to and recalling books.
It may feel odd at first not to finish a book before beginning the next one; but after some time, you’ll get used to it and appreciate the advantages.
7. Don’t Shun Short Books
There’s probably a definition of “book” that comes with a required amount of content. I’d discount such length-based definitions—a book can have 20, 200, or 2,000 pages. If you’re concerned about short books, stop being concerned. Read 😊
I don’t believe a definition of book is needed here; but my impression over time has been that occasionally, people unnecessarily constrain themselves by reading less because they look down on and avoid short pieces. Get to enjoy them.
If you’re a writer, embrace short books as much. What else should I say!
8. Vary Your Reading Speed
If you’re not an experienced reader, you may tend to read everything roughly at the same speed. You may slow down naturally if something is hard to comprehend; but you may not so naturally adjust your speed when reading something trivial. Don’t shy away from dialing it up: Vary your reading speed.
9. Don’t Mind Flipping Through Books
From consciously accelerating your reading speed it’s not far to scanning pages, and flipping through them. Don’t worry about that, either—go for it. (You don’t want to start “cheating”—claiming you read books while all you did was turn digital book pages—, but you do want to be comfortable adopting your reading speed to the material, and playing with speeds, even when you may miss something.)
10. Occasionally, Don’t Finish a Book
No book is entitled to be completed by you. While you want to give authors and their work a chance, if a book is truly terrible or irrelevant, don’t feel obliged to complete it. That, too, is something I felt bad about originally—but what is there really to feel bad about, unless you would do this for weird purposes, like saying you read and understood books that clearly, you didn’t. It should be a rare occurrence; personally, deliberately, I didn’t finish 5 books in the last 10 years.
11. Track Your Reading
Lastly, optionally, consider keeping a record of your books. I’m working with a brief Google form that takes ISBN or ASIN, date, a 1–5 stars grade, and a comment, and whose results are available to me as a spreadsheet. I don’t review this much, I must say; but it’s a reliable record of my readings, and something that allows me to run further analysis, should I want that. Yet, and that’s the point, tracking bolsters your routines, and may also gift you with a little extra motivation.
❧ I love reading, and these 11 approaches have led me to reading and loving reading even more. Tell me whether and how these tips helped you (leave a comment, if still possible, or follow up on this post’s tweet)—I look forward to reading your feedback and learning about additional ideas.
If you’re interested in my favorite books, I recently shared a few titles about efficiency and effectiveness, software development, growth, and reality. A few years ago I started rating and documenting my 4- and 5-star books on Goodreads, too, if that could be useful.
Figure: Where does this leave us with comics? (Have you read Prince Valiant?) (Copyright King Features Syndicate, Inc., distr. Bulls.)
* Is it just me or does this average look too high? It’s like every survey respondent liked the idea they read one book a month. Empirically, this survey doesn’t check out—and yet, sure, anecdotes don’t serve as evidence.
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
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