Reading books is an essential part of my life, and in my opinion, it should be an essential part of everyone’s life. Books made me the person I am today; they’re the reason I have the career I do, the hobbies I love and the philosophies I developed. People usually want to know how to read more books, particularly in January, so the very idea that someone who is an avid bookworm is striving to read less this year may sound not only contradictory but damaging.
When New year rolls around, everyone decides they want to read more books this year. It’s usually because their last year’s resolution to read more books failed and dropped off somewhere after April, but they believe January is always a good time to get back on track. Most people stopped reading books last year because life got too busy: tax season was stressful; they moved house; changed jobs; left university or had another baby.
They lament that they didn’t read enough last year because they just didn’t have the time to — yet they had the time to finish all those television series they were watching, see all those films at the cinema, watch the complete seven-part Shane Dawson documentary series and scroll through social media three hours a day. People have a lot of time for drama, social media consumption, shopping and hanging out with people they don’t like, but not much time for reading.
Not that any of these things are inferior to reading but when people set out intending to read more at the beginning of the year, it’s interesting how many prioritise their time elsewhere on non-resolution activities such as social media and watching Netflix rather than using that time on their endeavour to read more.
No one starts the new year with the resolution to watch more YouTube and get into more Twitter fights, but they do it anyway and neglect their pursuit of reading in favour of things which they had no drive to pursue on December 31st and this is because people lack the ‘why’.
People want to read more books mainly for the purpose of reading more books.
They want to be seen as a reader like Hermione Granger or Belle from ‘Beauty and the Beast’, or they want to break their dependency on social media and find entertainment elsewhere.
However, most people challenge themselves to read more books purely because they want to say that they read more books at the end of the year.
When embarking upon any resolution, you need to evoke a valuable and meaningful ‘why’ behind your decision to pursue this goal in life. The superficial desire to read more books for the sake of reading more books will not motivate you through the year, and even if it does, you’re unlikely going to take away the value you could have done had your motivation for reading been more significant.
Nothing will ever change in your life unless your desire to change outweighs your desire to stay the same, so unless you have that ‘why’ driving your desire to read more books, you will not read more books.
I’m someone who reads on average 60 books a year — some years I read more, others I read less, but my average over the past seven years has been 60 which isn’t much. The majority of people I know read over a hundred books a year; I’m one of the small readers in my circle of influence. But I don’t read 60 books a year just to say I read 60 books a year, I read sixty books a year because I want to learn more. I want to expose myself to good and bad writing in order to influence my own studies and writing career; I want to learn about people and experiences I will never have direct access to. I read to delve into the imagination of writers far greater than I will ever be and I read to learn about histories and minds centuries old.
I read sixty books a year because I’m obsessively curious, but my reading performance isn’t at the level I want it to be.
So why would someone who reads on average sixty books a year want to read fewer books this year? Well, because over the past five years, my reason for reading became blurred with an incongruent compulsion.
The best year of reading I ever had was in 2012 when I read over 80 books and I documented this goal on Goodreads. However, over the years I found that the goal became my priority over the sheer exploration of books and my reading has decreased every year ever since.
As my investment in reading communities such as bookshops and Goodreads increased, I started becoming more fixated on numbers and feeling shame about my reading. I stopped enjoying the process of reading and began believing that I wasn’t an intelligent enough or analytical enough to be worthy of classifying myself as a reader. I also lost my writing voice; I felt everything I produced for myself was bland, vapid and repetitive, and reading well-written books and articles became shame-evoking, so I began withdrawing as a reader altogether.
On top of that, I maintained my nine-year-long puritanical reading philosophy in which I believed every book deserved to be read from beginning to end, regardless of how much I was enjoying it, especially if I paid for the book. Giving up on books was never an option in my earlier years because I didn’t believe a review or opinion about a book could be valid without having read the book in its entirety.
So, in the name of growth, I decided to use 2020 as my opportunity to completely overthrow my standard reading habits and challenge myself to read fewer books hoping I will read more effectively and, potentially, more books. Let me explain.
This year, I set my reading goal to just thirty books, the lowest goal I’ve ever set myself and the reason for this is that I wanted to prioritise two things:
- the reading list I set myself of just twenty books and
- the changes I’m implementing to my reading habits.
The Fast Reading Rule
I am changing two things about the way I read books. The first change I’m making to my reading is my reading speed. I’ve made multiple videos on being a slow reader over the past few years, but I want to learn how to be a faster and more efficient reader and this is the year I’m prioritising learning this skill. I cannot afford to be someone who takes over 60 minutes to read ten pages at a time, which is why I’m adopting the Jim Kwik method of reading faster to be more effective.
In a podcast, Jim Kwik argued that the key to reading more effectively is reading faster because speed increases concentration and focus, but he makes it a point to stress that fast reading is not the same as skim reading. To demonstrate his point, Jim uses the analogy of driving a car.
A Nascar driver has two prerogatives in a race: winning and staying alive. Driving at over 200 mph requires extreme focus. A Nascar driver cannot risk the race and their life to check twitter, being distracted by the crowds, admiring the scenery or ruminating over their personal problems.
However, a driver who is tootling along at 10mph can risk getting distracted. They can easily take in the scenery around them, eat and drink behind the wheel, write a text or a status update or do their makeup in the rearview mirror. A driver going dangerously fast cannot afford to engage in the same casual liberties as someone going extremely slowly because the speed determines their level of focus. Jim argues that the same approach extends to reading: the faster you go, the more focused you’ll become because your speed determines your degree of concentration.
So, depending upon my success with this technique, it may mean I read more books this year than I was expecting to but I believe that this technique will take a while to come into effect due to the essential nature and principles of practice, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.
100-Page Cut-Off Point Rule
The second rule I’m implementing into my reading routine is the 100-page cut off point. If a book fails to interest me or capture my emotional investment within the first hundred pages, I’m giving up on it. I will not waste any more of my precious, short life reading books I don’t enjoy just to retain the authenticity of my Goodreads reading data. I’ll document the data myself if I really want to know how many pages I read this year but honestly, that data means nothing in the grand scheme of things. I could read seven thousand pages this year, but if I took nothing meaningful away from that content, they were pointless pages. I’d rather read ten pages which changed my life than seven thousand which did nothing but bump up my personal record data.
I need not prove my worth as a reader anymore by employing metrics: all I need to do is read quality works which expand my vocabulary, improve my writing techniques and kick-start my imagination. The proof isn’t in the data it’s in my work and performance as a writer and speaker.
I don’t want to read terrible books just to reach an analytical quota anymore; I just want to read and enjoy growing from what I read.