When I was 23 I decided it would be a good idea to read 100 books in 100 days. It was a stupid, over the top, obsessive idea; but it’s one that changed my life in an important way. I didn’t just make me well read, it made a confident reader.
Confidence in my reading opened up avenues of learning that were previously unavailable to me. I would look at a book of any topic, and know that I could read it in at least a day. I could ravenously consume non-fiction and fiction alike. My conversations improved, my ideas grew and changed, and I often got complimented on being ‘interesting.’ All because I read a bunch of old philosophy books like a dork. It didn’t change who I was, but it certainly enhanced what was already there.
Mark Twain or somebody else equally smarter than me once said:
‘The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’
Diverse reading for the mind is like steroids for bodybuilders – minus the dick problems. If you don’t it you’ll simply never know how far the rabbit hole goes. It challenges our ideas, feeds our imaginations, offers us new perspectives on our morality and judgments, and ultimately informs our personality and sense of identity. Beyond our genes and our social relationships – books are chances to interact with the ideas of other people’s minds, people who may have died hundreds of years ago.
The problem is that – reading is hard. We can’t find the time, we get bored, and we leave books unfinished. The whole process sucks. So what are we to do?
In increasing my reading quantity a buttload, I’ve found that the main obstacle we face is the way we conceptualize the problem. Like anything else, success lies in the goal. I argue that people over identify books with their own intelligence, which gives them a fear of reading. That’s the first hurdle. Second, I argue that people set themselves the wrong goals when it comes to reading, and that simple mathematics can illuminate how staggeringly easy it is to read a lot. Then after all that there’s my super-duper secret for reading fast, just because I’m a terrific
MONUMENTS TO OUR STUPIDITY
Reading books can often present a daunting task. From a young age we learn to associate the image of a book with intelligence, which is in turn linked to our self-esteem. We don’t read as much as we want, because we hate the sight of the books we never finished. They’re lingering monuments to our own perceived stupidity.
Over time, we learn to become afraid of books. More specifically, of unfinished books. Because we equate books to our own intelligence and self-worth, unfinished novels end up being lingering reminders of our own short comings.
But this needn’t be the case.
The truth is that a book doesn’t need to be finished. Some books aren’t worth reading the entire thing and some just blow ass. There’s no shame in leaving a book unfinished, so long as you do it consciously. The problem arises when we leave them unfinished, and never get around to it, because of mental slip ups and poor routines. Y’know the stuff that leaves us saying ‘I’ll get round to it’ and other things we hate saying but seem to fall out automatically. It’s a shitty situation, but not unsolvable. I believe it comes down to one simple principle…
THE ENGINES OF READING
When it comes to reading in high volume, consistency is everything. Reading speed and all those other gimmicks are just icing on the cake. You can read a page as fast as you like but if you only read 1 per week then you’re a long way from finishing a single book.
Consistency is the focus. When we set ourselves the goal of reading a book we usually say ‘I’m going to read this book.’ We tie our sense of achievement to the completed act of reading, and we give ourselves no time frame or quantifiable measure of success. In other words we set ourselves a bullshit goal.
When I read 100 books in 100 days, one of the first things I learned was that goal setting was key. Books are psychologically daunting; they have a sense of inherent challenge, of marathon to them that is only worsened by the length and the size of the text. Focusing on the end point is just making something that’s already hard, harder. Don’t do that. Focus on the process of reading itself.
It takes most people around 15 minutes to read 12.5 pages. Done 4 times a day that’s 50 pages per day. Done 7 days per week that’s 350 pages per week.
That’s roughly 50 books, on average. per year.
Imagine those suckers stacked on top of one another like a giant leaning tower of literary Pisa. In a few years you could have one of those sweet library’s with a ladder.
And all you have to do is take 4 short 15 minute reading breaks.
The reason I structure it as short intervals is that 15 minutes is an easy amount of time to dedicate. 12.5 pages is an incredibly easy amount to read. This psychological easiness is what counts. This easiness is what makes the consistency effortless, and that’ll lead to you reading 50 to 100 books in a year.
From a simple change of perspective on your goal, you’ve suddenly become an avid reader. And then, you can start to read faster.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
When it comes to reading speed there are countless methods out there, and honestly, most of them are a chore (or too good be true BS). As I said earlier reading speed is overrated, it’s consistency that wins the day. However my reading speed has increased over time, and these are the rules I’ve learned:
Rule One: Read fiction at a normal pace.
Rule Two: Read non-fiction as erratic as you can.
Fiction should be absorbed and enjoyed. You’re there for the experience. Non-fiction however, you should read like a crack addict. Non-fiction is often laborious, repetitive and doesn’t have that much to say. You should skim read through paragraphs, keeping an eye out for ideas of interest or key words, for which you should slow down. When you get a sense the book is repeating itself, or has gotten its message across already – put it down and move on. The same could be also said for boredom. My rule for books that bore me is simple. I put them down. It’s not complicated or flashy, it’s decisive. When you’re consistently reading 2 or 3 books per week, 1 unfinished book isn’t going to knock your confidence.
The key the reading speed is that it comes naturally as a by-product of consistent reading experience. The more you read, the more confident you get at absorbing the ideas put across by prose, and the more you push the rate at which your eye scans the page.
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Ultimately reading a lot comes down to our relationship with reading itself. At first it’s going to suck and we’ll feel we can’t do it, but eventually through consistency of effort our relationship is going to change, our successes increase, and ability to take failure strengthen. As a result of this process we’re going to receive exposure to new ideas, relationships and paths of living.
That’s not just the formula for reading, that’s the formula for life itself.