This year I’ve seen my reading game upped a lot. Last week I finished five books alone, and this week I’m forecasting three. How did I do it? How did I go from someone who read 26 books a year, then 52, then 65? Here are my five dirty tricks on how to read more books.
1. Surround Yourself with Books
This is kind of a no-brainer. I read once in preparation for the Dewey’s Readathon that one of the best ways to read more books was to surround yourself with books. I used to stress out about finding the right thing to read. What would I read next? What if I wasn’t sure what I was in the mood to read? Keeping book piles and book nests around the house eliminates that problem.
Essentially, this means strategically placing more books around you, ideally a mix of short books, books that you are already halfway through or have started, and ones you have a deadline to read (like a library book or a book for review).
This way you eliminate the debate over what to read next. If you get it in your mind to read, you reach your arm out and ideally have a stack of books at the ready. All you need to do is decide between what’s in that pile (or, for me, what’s on top).
2. Read several books at once
I have no problem reading more than one book at a time, and it was only recently that I realized this was a huge achievement unlocked kind of moment for how to read more books. Sometimes I feel daunted by starting a new book, and sometimes I just want to finish something in the next 72 hours so I can add to my Read shelf on Goodreads and crawl up higher towards my reading goal for the year.
So if I already have three or more books going that I’m already 30, 40, 50, or even 60 or 70 percent done, all I have to do is finish those up real fast. By being in the middle of several books at once and reading more than one book at a time, you have what I like to call “low-hanging fruit” (a term I gleaned from Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand Budapest Hotel).
You can easily reach for a book you’re on pause with and plow through it. You could even devote a whole weekend to finishing up books you’re in the middle of and knock off 2 or 3 or 4 books in one weekend. Just rack them up towards your reading challenge.
3. Don’t Abandon Books
Look, I am all for the Did Not Finish (see my article on tips for YA authors on how to avoid the dreaded DNF). And there are definitely times when you run up against a wall with a book and need to call it quits. But here’s the reality of the situation: If you want to read more books, you have to finish more books, even if they are DNFs.
I used to be a serial book abandoner. I would divorce books right and left. But I’m often happiest and come to love the books I almost abandoned, like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which has since become one of my favorite books but that I just about said I’d never finish past page 70. I knocked that sucker out in three days, and it changed my life. Thank god I didn’t abandon that book. And that lesson stuck with me.
If you get 50 pages into a novel and you know it’s a stinker, stick it out and learn something from it. Practice your skills of criticism and write a brutally honest review about the novel’s successes and failures. And for every book I’ve felt like DNF-ing and finished, I felt like I had one more chink in my armor that made me battle ready to read more. It added to my frame of reference.
Simply put, if you want to know how to read more books, read them through to the end. Do not abandon your books.
4. Read Shorter Books
I am recently overcoming my prejudice towards shorter books. After I read The Goldfinch, mentioned above, which was more than 700 pages, I started to think bigger = better. But it’s just not true! Two of my favorite books I read this year were under 200 pages (Jill Lepore’s Joe Gould’s Teeth and Helen Ellis’ American Housewife, which I wrote a free discussion guide for here). Now I look forward to a well-reviewed and recommended short book, and I’m getting into short stories (and writing some of my own) because I’m fascinated by the easily-digestible story.
Not to mention the more short books you read the more you gain momentum. And momentum is one of my favorite words when it comes to reading more and finishing more books. After you close the cover on one shorter book, you can build on that momentum—hey! I finished a book today—and use it to propel you forward. Reading a book and finishing it, adding it to your “Read” list on Goodreads or in your reading diary, is an infectious feeling. And that’s where short books come in.
You can find a list of my favorite short books in my other article on Broke By Books about how to read more by reading shorter books and in my article on Book Riot about reading recommendations for Dewey’s 24-hour readathon. Basically the easiest way to do it is to read verse novels, graphic novels and comics, and shorter books. Here’s another list, this one from Electric Literature, of “17 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read in a Sitting.” And here’s a thoughtful list of adult (non-YA) verse novels from The Guardian. As for comics, you can read my list of the most-anticipated comics and graphic novels here on this blog.
5. Make time to read. Every day.
Now I read for a living, but before that, in my life pre-book blogger and book critic, I squeezed reading time into every available second. I woke up early—sometimes at 5 a.m.—to read. I read on the train. I read at work (thanks, Kindle in-browser reading app!). I read on my lunch breaks, on the way home, at night, while walking, and almost every spare moment of the weekend. So gradually it just became a part of my routine. But I know for my friends and family, scheduling book time, and I don’t mean necessarily penciling it into your schedule, but getting into a reading routine, is the difference between making something an occasional activity into a habit. And from a habit into a reading practice. And from there, into a lifestyle.
So start small and build your way up. You can just start with a goal of 30 or 45 minutes in the morning and 30 or 45 minutes in the afternoon. If you don’t mind reading on the screen (and you obviously don’t if you found this article), I strongly suggest looking into the Kindle Reading App for your browser. Just leave it up during the day and check in whenever you can. You can find it for free here on Amazon’s website. I know Barnes and Noble’s Nook has one, too. Sneak a few minutes reading each day, and you are guaranteed to read more books. Ingrain books into your life, breathe them, surround yourself with them, and you’ll read more. And that starts with making the time to read.