Whenever I tell people I read an average of one to two books a week, I get the same question: “How are you able to read so much? I just don’t have the time.”
Actually, you do have the time, but the simple answer — saying you just have to decide that reading is more important than other discretionary activities like social media, TV, etc. — is also too simple.
After all, if reading more were as simple as just deciding to read more, we’d all be avid readers. (Just as we’d all be trimmer, fitter, and healthier.)
So let’s dig a little deeper. If you want to read more:
1. Stop reading books you think you’re supposed to read.
When I was in my early 20s I went on a classic-author binge: Melville. Hawthorne. Tolstoy. Proust. (Those were some really hard miles.) Dostoevsky. Steinbeck. Faulkner.
I thought their books were books I was supposed to read. I thought having read the classics would make me … I don’t know, would make me something.
In most cases, all reading those books did was make me bored. (Seriously: Tell me The House of the Seven Gables isn’t really heavy going).
Then I asked a history professor for a few recommendations. “I like history,” I said, “but I can’t get through history books. Can you recommend some that are more reader-friendly?” (Yep. I was quite the intellectual.)
Fortunately he didn’t take offense, recommending books like Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels (one of the most re-readable books ever) and Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. And I remembered why I liked to read.
2. Don’t be afraid to stop reading a book you don’t enjoy.
The professor gave me other great advice. “Remember,” he said, “you’re reading for pleasure. If you pick up a book and don’t like it, put it down. Never feel inadequate if you don’t like what you’re supposed to like. Reading is personal. Yours is the only opinion that matters.”
I needed to hear that. I needed that “permission.” I often feel compelled to finish something I start; if I don’t, I feel like a quitter.
Even though quitting is sometimes the best thing to do.
If a book doesn’t grab you, let it go. If you’re two-thirds of the way through and the author has lost you, let it go. See it as a sunk cost. Don’t waste time finishing a book you don’t enjoy when you could spend that time reading a book you do enjoy.
Plus, reading one good book almost always leads you to another good book. Reading a bad book makes you never want to read again.
3. Put reading time on your schedule.
Sound strange? It’s not. I know a number of people who get up early and read for 30 minutes before they start their day. I know a bunch more who read for 30 minutes before they go to bed.
If something is important enough to want to do, it’s important enough to schedule.
Try it. See reading as a priority. Block out time. Not only will you read more, you’ll feel good about it the fact you’re doing something good for yourself.
4. Take advantage of “edge time.”
If you’re like most people, your biggest downtimes during the workday occur during your commute, when you’re in airports, or when you’re waiting for appointments.
Think of that time as “edge time.” Some people, like Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, schedules calls for his drive to work. He doesn’t schedule calls for his drive home; instead he return calls to people on the West Coast.
You can do the same with reading, especially when unexpected edge time pops up. I used to commute two hours one way and always had a book with me. If I got stuck in traffic, I could read. If I decided to stop to eat, I could read. If I had an appointment and got stuck in the black hole of a reception area, I could read.
Always have a book with you — because you never know when you’ll find some edge time.
5. Read books you can then talk about.
Reading is great, but it can also be a lonely activity. Everything happens in your head, in your imagination, in your emotions. Reading isn’t a shared activity.
Unless you make it one.
Ask a friend for recommendations. Ask a colleague for recommendations. (If you’re struggling to find good books to read, those are great places to start.)
And then circle back. Ask your friend what he or she liked most about the book. Ask your colleague what he or she took away from the book. Make the book the springboard for a broader conversation.
And feel free to engage the author. Trust me: Authors love to hear from readers. Writing is a lonely activity, too. You’ll be surprised by the connections and even relationships you can develop by starting a conversation with the author (Hi, Ryan Holiday!) of a book you enjoy.
The bottom line: Read what you enjoy. Non-fiction, fiction, teen lit, graphic novels–who cares? If you like it, that’s all that matters. I love anything by Lee Child. (Malcolm Gladwell calls him a “guilty pleasure,” but did enjoying what you truly enjoy ever make you feel guilty?) Same with John Grisham. And John Sandford. And Philippa Gregory. And…
Much of the time we need to at least consider what other people think–but not if it stands in the way of living the life we really want to live.
It’s your life. Live it your way.
And read what you want to read.
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