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How to Read More Books

I read at least 52 books each year and I always post their titles on my website. (I'm gearing up for my Winter 2018 report very soon.)

While my semi-annual “books” column is always one of my most popular, it guarantees me at least a half-dozen emails asking me how I manage to read so much.

Glibly, I could say that I manage it because my standards of housework are exceedingly low. But I know that won’t help you very much, so let me be more specific. We all have limited time on this earth. Here’s how to fit more reading into your schedule, no matter how busy:

1. Choose your material carefully. Don’t regard reading as a vegetable that you have to choke down because it’s good for you. Make it cheesecake by focusing on books that you love. If this limits you to Harlequin Romance, so be it. Once the habit is established, you can stretch yourself to other genres, but get the habit nailed first. Don’t start with Moby Dick if whales aren’t your thing. Me? I have a taste for literary fiction and memoir. I’m also interested in neuroscience and productivity. I dislike science fiction and most fantasy and I refuse to believe that makes me a lesser human being. Nor do I think any less of you for liking sci-fi or fantasy. Remember: De gustibus non est disputandum. Translated from the Latin that means: in matters of taste there can be no dispute. If you look forward to your reading you’re going to do it more often. I love books that get me so engaged I feel as though I’m watching a movie or, better, as though I’m a fly on the wall in someone else’s really interesting life. I fear that when I close the covers I’m going to miss something. This is what brings me back to reading.

2. Give yourself a daily goal. When I get a book I usually check the number of pages and then divide it by seven to see how many pages I need to read per day to finish it in a week. Of course, it’s a “soft” goal — not a court order — and life frequently intervenes. I may have social events or a family emergency. (When one of my daughters had appendicitis while she was in Australia, I didn’t get much reading done then.) But if too many days pass when I’ve not read anything, then I know I need to make some adjustments to my life.

3. Make reading your default position. We all eat several meals a day, brush our teeth and get six to nine hours of sleep. Some of us even manage to work in regular exercise. Put reading in these same categories! Make reading something you do without thinking about it. Always carry a book with you (this is especially easy if you have an electronic reader like a Kindle or Kobo) and whenever you’re unoccupied — waiting in a line or riding public transit, for example — pull it out and start reading. It will amaze you how much you can read during times like these.

4. Track your reading. I don’t have a terrific memory (and, trust me, it’s become worse as I’ve aged) so I’ve always kept a book journal. In it, I note:

  • the name of the book
  • the author
  • the year the book was first published
  • the first sentence or two (I just transcribe them word for word – this quickly conveys the style of the author)
  • my feelings about the book in a sentence or two
  • the date I finished reading it.

This list used to be a nuisance when I had to write it out by hand, but now that I do it on my computer it takes me only a couple of minutes. It’s also delightfully self-reinforcing — the more I read, the more I want to read.

5. Remember that holidays offer an excellent time to “catch up.” Truth be told, I almost never read a book a week. But when I’m on holiday I frequently read five (or more) books a week, which is what allows me to put reading aside when I’m too buried in work or too busy with family responsibilities to get enough time for books. I also pay extra attention to the books I take away with me on holiday, ensuring I have a good selection of titles that I’m likely to love.

Reading is the best hobby there is. It’s inexpensive (particularly if you make good use of your local library), it reduces stress, it’s fun and it improves our analytical thinking. Best of all, it helps make us better writers.

If you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader, first.
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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.