How To Read More Books

 So you want to be a writer, huh? You and everybody else.

2015 is an interesting time to be alive. We live in a world filled with duality. Reading and writing have become easier than ever before, books are being printed at a higher rate than ever before in history. Thanks to Amazon , publishing a book is as easy as uploading a document and clicking a mouse.

Think about that. Let’s pretend we’re in 1995. If you want to read a new book, you’d have to go to a bookstore. You’d actually have to get up, get in the car, drive across town, walk into a bookstore, talk to people, and hopefully find the book you want — in the end, you are at the mercy of the bookstore’s selection. If they happen to have the book you want, great! If they don’t, maybe you could try the public library.

And let’s say you do visit the library. The library is all the way across town. But you’re committed — you really want that book. You drive twenty minutes only to find that the parking lot is full. You have to use the street parking and put a dollar in the meter. Once you get inside you see two bums taking a nap in between the aisles. And then a third taking a shit. The books that aren’t unshelved and in carts have been brilliantly sorted — into two giant sections: un-alphabetized fiction and un-alphabetized nonfiction. Logically, the next thing to do would be to walk outside and jump into oncoming traffic. That’s no way to live your life!

These days, if you want to read a book — any book — you can go to Amazon, look up the title, click click click, and presto! You instantly have access to the book on your phone, on your laptop, and on your e-reader. This is FUCKING AMAZING! All of you have this technology at your fingertips — and many of you are still choosing to spend your time reading articles on Elite Daily or Buzzfeed. Shame on you!

SHAME!!

Nothing is more rewarding than writing. If you are reading this and considering a career in writing, I strongly encourage you to continue on this path. But you’re going to need to know a few things first — beginning with the importance of reading.

You need to read! A lot. If you’re going to become a professional writer, you will also necessarily become a professional reader. And I’m going to help you with some tips on how to read more. With the evolution of technology, there has been an evolution in reading — and it’s important to learn the ropes if you plan to keep up.

I hope these tips help on your journey as a writer and reader!


The Basics:

Before we get any more specific, I need to outline some basic rules. This is the “too long, didn’t read” version of the article:

1. Stop re-reading books.

2. Acquire new books.

3. Read new books ALL THE TIME.

Seems simple enough, right? It’s not. I mean, yes — technically it is simple. But you’re the one reading this article — if it’s so easy, why are you reading about how to improve? That’s what I thought.

If you follow these tips — and read no further (which is ironic, given the topic of this article) — you will still read more. But if you want the full effect, read on. I’m going to break down these simple steps into several sub-steps.


Step 1 — Stop Re-reading Books

The first step toward reading more is very straightforward: stop re-reading books.

The explanation is simple: you will never read new books if you spend your leisure time re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the fiftieth time. Life is too short as it is; you shouldn’t waste your time trying to re-live an experience — use your time, instead, to explore the vast, wonderful world of literature. There are thousands of favorite books waiting to be read. I promise.

One of my favorite books. Please never read it again!

Let’s do some depressing math for a moment. Let’s say you’re twenty years old. We’ll say that you have 60 good years of reading left. If you read one new book every week for the rest of your life, that means you have 3,120 books left until you’re done. After that, you can’t read anymore. What if you never get around to reading Don Quixote? Or The Tale of Genji? What if you forget to read Balzac? What then?!?!

I’m not saying that re-reading a book is a waste of time. But I am saying that when you choose to re-read something you are also choosing not to read something new. If I only have 3,000 books left in my life, I would rather try for 3,000 new all-time favorites than settle for re-reading one favorite thousands of times. Wouldn’t you?


Step 2 — Acquire (New) Books

Once you have stopped re-reading books, it’s time for step #2: acquire new books. (I should specify that when I say “new” books I don’t actually mean new books. I mean any books that you have not read.)

Books can be split up into three mediums:

  1. Physical books
  2. Electronic books
  3. Audio books

Each medium has its pros and cons, but all of them count equally in the end. Reading is reading. As long as you are progressing in a book — any way you can — it counts. One of the key tricks to reading more is understanding which book medium to use for a given situation.

©Getty Images

One final thing: You do not need to get one book at a time. I am giving you permission to surround yourself with dozens of books — you are allowed to have books for months, or even years, without reading them. If you plan on reading them eventually — and you can afford it — go for it! Sometimes the biggest obstacle to reading is not having easy access to books. Don’t let this be your excuse anymore!

Fear of tsundoku isn’t a thing yet — I think. (Although I’m sure that would make for a fascinating ‘phobia’ word. Tsundokuphobia!)

Be proud of your books! Researching good books to read is hard work too — don’t sell yourself short! If you actually plan to read the books, don’t feel guilty — future you will reap the benefits of your hard work down the road!

Physical Books

For physical books — hardcover or paperback — look no further than Amazon. With the widest selection of new and used books on the Internet, no bookstore can compete with Amazon in terms of convenience, savings, and — most importantly — selection. Any book you’re looking for will be on Amazon. And most likely it will be available for under $5. (If it’s not on Amazon you’re some sort of weird reading hipster and I hate you.)

If you have money to spend on books I urge you to check out Amazon’s used books selection — there is a wealth of great literature on sale for pennies.

If you choose to visit an actual bookstore, I recommend the used paperbacks section at Half Price Books. They often have a great selection — and it’s hard to beat two dollars per book.

Contrary to most writers, I actually oppose bookstores and their inflated prices. Expensive books stand in direct opposition to my goal of reading as many books as possible. I only have 3,000 books left, damnit! I don’t have time or money to waste. I don’t want to spend $24 on Infinite Jest at Book People — Austin’s fancy bookstore — if I can get it for $5 on Amazon.

Finally, your local library has a better physical book selection than you think. You should go check it out sometime. Because, you know, free books.

Electronic Books

As we enter the era of smartphones and tablets, I am shocked to learn that some people still don’t know about Kindle. In case you readers still don’t know, Kindle isn’t just a gaudy reading tablet anymore — it’s an application!

Think you can’t afford an e-reader? Look down at your iPhone. There’s your e-reader! Look down at your laptop — there’s your e-reader! Look over at your desktop — another e-reader! You can download Kindle onto just about anything these days. If you want to read more, always have Kindle ready — on your phone, on your laptop, and on your tablet.

Guess what I do when I’m waiting in line at Chipotle? I get on my iPhone Kindle app and start thumbing through a few pages of whatever I’m reading. By the time I make it to the front of the line I’ve read through five pages. You will be amazed at how much reading you get done by reading the odd page here and there. It adds up!

Did I mention that there are a ton of free e-books? Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain. If you have a tablet or smartphone or computer you already have access to thousands of free books. Want to read Anna Karenina or Great Expectations? They’re free on Kindle and iBooks — just find the book and download it onto your e-reader FOR FREE.

Finally, I come to one of my favorite apps out there — Overdrive. This is the app that might save public libraries. For this app, all you need is an e-reader and a library card. Download the app and log in using your library card ID number. Find your library, and presto! You now have access to a wealth of free e-books — you don’t even have to go to the library. The book will show up on your Kindle for two weeks, and then it will be returned automatically — there is no risk for late fees. It’s foolproof.

Overdrive. The app that might save libraries.

The e-book selection at the public libraries is surprisingly good. They update their books regularly, so you can expect to find the newest releases. Sometimes there will be a waitlist for a popular title. If that happens, add your name to the list and Overdrive will e-mail you when the book is ready.

Audio Books

The most underrated medium for “reading” books. I’m not sure why, but a lot of the “serious” readers I know look down on audio books. These people are snobs. There is nothing wrong with audio books. They are an important weapon in any serious reader’s arsenal. Even if audio books aren’t your preferred method of reading, I can assure you that they will aid you in your goal of reading more books. The reason is simple: Audio books allow you to read while your hands are occupied.

Think of how much reading you could get done in the car with audio books. Those 30-minute commutes to the office in the morning? You’ve got 20 pages right there. How about while you’re doing the dishes every night? Boom. Ten more pages knocked out just like that. The list goes on. When you’re vacuuming your apartment; when you’re walking the dog; when you’re showering — I recommend using one of those Bluetooth speakers — all of these occasions are potential reading times!

Amassing audio books can be a little trickier. Audio books are expensive to buy, so you need to be smart if you want to stretch your dollar. I strongly discourage you from buying CDs, cassettes, or any other physical audio book product — they will cost you an arm and a leg. When you think of audio books from now on I want you to think of two companies: Audible and Overdrive.

Audible is an Amazon subsidiary that specializes in audio books. When you sign up for Audible you are immediately gifted one free credit — which you can exchange for a free audio book. Try it out for yourself and see if you like it! If you do, Audible will try to get you to sign up for their subscription services. The way it works is like this: you pay Audible a certain amount every month in exchange for a certain number of credits. For example, you might pay $16/month for 1 credit or $24/month for 2 credits. This may seem like a lot, but it is way less than what you would pay for a CD version — which can often run as high as $40–50 per audio book.

One of the smartest things Amazon has done is introduce Whispersync to the world. With this technology, your audio books on Audible are synced with their corresponding titles on Kindle. Thanks to Whispersync you can transition seamlessly from reading to hearing to reading the same book — without ever losing your place. Whispersync has made the world a better place. However, it’s not even the best thing about Audible.

The best feature of Audible’s membership program — which the company is not very quick to advertise — is their Great Listen Guarantee. Basically, the way it works is: if you are an Audible member and you’re unsatisfied with your audio book — even a year after buying it — you can return it. No questions asked. As an Audible member you are entitled to only the best audio books, according to the company’s policy. If one audio book isn’t up to snuff — return it! Amazon encourages you to — albeit begrudgingly.

Since learning about this feature a couple of months ago, I have been using it a lot — abusing it, really. Any book that I don’t love gets returned now — which means that most of the audio books I buy get returned. This past month I’ve bought and returned four audio books including Paper Towns, which was pretty good but I doubt I’ll re-read it again (re-listen — whatever) so I don’t see the point in not returning it.

I should note that this Great Listen Guarantee policy is still in its beta stage, so the company has a little footnote saying that it reserves the right to limit your refunds — so return at your own caution.

Back to Overdrive. As much as I appreciate them for their e-books, I love them for their audio books. Overdrive is the first place I visit when I’m looking for an audio companion to the book I’m reading. Sometimes the best way to finish a book is to double-team it with audio.

Finally, let me close my audio book rant with an observation. Some stories are actually better as an audio book. Some of my favorite audio books are the epic poems of Homer and Virgil. Those were stories that were passed down — largely — through an oral tradition. These stories were meant to be listened to. Trust me, The Odyssey is, indeed, epic when narrated by Ian McKellan.

©Gage Skidmore

Step 3 — Read New Books All The Time

Once you have successfully amassed a collection of books, you are ready to go. You have all the tools necessary to accomplish your goal of reading more. Congratulations! You’re already halfway there.

Now the fun part begins — you get to actually read everything you bought, borrowed, or stole. Although hopefully not too many of the latter.

When it comes to reading there is no magical recipe for success — you have to do what works for you. I recommend trying out different things until you find what does work. I don’t necessarily recommend my method to anyone, but this is what I do:

I am very easily distracted when I read. I’ll stumble across an interesting detail or name and will stop reading my book to look up that detail on Wikipedia. Then, two hours later, I’ll find myself reading a Wikipedia article about amateur boxing in the Soviet Union. For me, the trick to reading consistently is to combat my distraction with variety. I know that I’m incapable of reading about one topic for very long — so I need to have at least two or three different kinds of books on hand. If I find myself zoning out while reading Don Quixote, I’ll switch over to something entirely different — like Flashman — and I will almost always find a hidden reserve of reading stamina. When I get tired, it’s usually not because I’m sick of reading in general — it’s because I’m sick of reading that book!

You know that feeling when you’re eating too much of one food and you wish you could eat something different? You’re not full — but you’re sick of eating spaghetti, or whatever. Sometimes you mistake that feeling for being full — when in reality you had a reserve of strength to tackle that almond mocha torte for dessert. This is how I feel about reading sometimes. You need to distinguish between reading fatigue and book fatigue — and react accordingly.

If you have reading fatigue, take a break. Watch a movie or an episode of Game of Thrones. Take a nap. Or, God forbid, try writing something — it won’t kill you to have some output to complement all that input! Literary constipation is a real thing — that’s how people turn into asshole literary critics and bitter English professors.

If you have book fatigue, and you’re like me, I recommend reading something else. Try to read three or four different books — each one in a different genre. I like to read one novel by a living writer, one novel by a dead writer, one nonfiction book, and one memoir or biography. Sometimes I’ll read a sports book or a crime thriller or a Young Adult book — it really depends on what I’m feeling that day.

This is your opportunity to craft your own, personalized reading syllabus. Do you want to read about pirates, Mars, horses, and finance? You can — go for it! Just read all the time. The subject matter is secondary; there is always something to learn from reading — even from reading bad books! (Namely, what not to do as a writer.)


Get out there and read! You have the drive, you have the tools, and now you have the knowledge.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” — George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

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