What's the real secret to reading a lot of books?

It’s nice to see an article on Lifehacker about reading. But the article’s author, Dan Shipper, struck me as a person who is massively over-thinking it. His strategy for ‘reading a lot of great books’ involved no fewer than three pieces of software, and almost as much time spent on book-keeping as on the reading itself.

Shipper identifies the ‘obstacles’ of reading as follows:reading

• Keeping track of the books you want to read
• Refining the list down to ones you’re going to read in the near feature
• Actually reading them
 Retaining the important parts

He then proceeds to list a variety of software tools he uses at each step of the process to help him overcome these challenges.

But how hard is this stuff, really? Here’s my approach to the same ‘obstacles’:

1. Keeping Track
If I want to read it, I add it to my Amazon wishlist. Periodically, I’ll plug these titles into the search engine at my library and reserve the books if they’re available. If they’re not, they can stay on my wishlist for now.

2. Refining the List
If I plan to read it soon, I load it onto my Kobo. That’s it!

I do have a few longer anthologies and reference works that are currently languishing in my Calibre library. But I have gotten a lot better about only downloading books I actually plan to read (as opposed to just collecting freebies because they’re there). So for the most part,  all my soon-to-read books just stay on my Kobo until I get to them.

The one exception to this is poetry or books with daily essays or programs in them. I’m a sucker for these sorts of things. I have one with a spiritual essay for every day of the year, another with a mini yoga plan for every day of the month, and a few large poetry collections. These I keep on my iDevices for reading on the bus or during breaks at work.

3. Reading
This part should be obvious. I do all my pleasure reading electronically (I still use paper for cookbooks). If I want to read, I pick up my device of choice and away I go.

As I said, I do keep a few types of books on my iThings for reading in small chunks here and there. I’ll also curl up on the couch or in bed with my Kobo if I want to do some serious reading. But it’s really no more complex than ‘pick up device and read.’

4. Retaining What I Read
I have never had a problem retaining what I read from fiction. For non-fiction, I use my device’s highlight feature and then copy it into Evernote later. Contrary to Shipper, who has a ‘couple of techniques’ involving a special paper chart which he copies into the computer later…

I’m a firm believer in “do what works for you,” and I’m glad Shipper is enjoying his books. It just sounds like his lists and programs are making an awful lot of unnecessary work for him. I’ve found it much easier to let go of the freebie collecting habit and only download books I actually intend to read. Then I can just load them onto my device of choice, and read away.

6 Comments on What's the real secret to reading a lot of books?

  1. Ondřej Vágner // June 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm //

    Steps to reading a lot of books:

    Step 1: buy a lot of books.
    Step 2: read all the books you bought.
    Optional step 3: regularly check for any sequels to all the first volumes you just bought.

    But OK. My approach to these “obstacles”:

    1. Keeping track

    If it’s in my library, I want to read it at some point. I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise.

    2. Refining

    That’s pretty much just me standing in front of my library, thinking, “Hmm, I could read one of the five books I bought last week, but I don’t really feel like it. I’d like to read some , how about this one… oh, right, this is the one with doing ; it’s not bad, but I’ll keep it for when my memory goes, its biggest value is in the surprise, which I remember… oh well, I’ll take this one; I haven’t read it in ages.”

    3. Reading

    Either it’s in my bag or next to my bed (depending on the cover, really; what’s up with all the urban fantasy covers these days? It’s like they’re trying to appeal to people who consider pornography too highbrow!). Plus, sometimes the book I just bought is more intersting than the one I read at the time, so I generally have about three or four books in various states of being read.

    4. Retaining

    I generally read three or four books at the same time, switching between them with little difficulty, and I can remember most of the plot points and characters from books I read years ago. Not really a problem.

    So, yeah. Reading is not hard.

  2. My secrets to reading a lot of books.

    I have a fast reading speed that allows retention.

    I do mini-reviews so I can keep up with what I’ve read. I share these reviews on the reader lists I’m on so others can enjoy the good books, avoid the bad ones, and recommend to me authors similar to the ones I like.

    I have a varied taste in books so I’m just as happy to read a cozy mystery as an urban fantasy. This helps stop burn-out, too.

    I don’t watch reality TV and televised sports. I only watch what I really want to watch, otherwise.

    I changed my library return policy on my ebooks from an automatic return in 14 days to 7 days so I’ll finish the book fast and not borrow so many at a time. I return the book as soon as I finish it.

    I stopped writing fiction so I have more time reading it.

  3. What’s reading a lot of books? Are six pulp novels at 200 pages each more than one biography at 1,200 pages?

    I’ve kept track of every book read since December 1990, but I use a database like Access or SQL sever. I’ve got about twenty three years of data I can do analysis on.

    While lists can help focus attention on what’s been read and how often, making time to read is probably just as important. Before 1997, when I stopped watching TV, I read about 45 books per year, and that jumped to 75 afterwards. I hit more than 100 per year when I begin listening to audio books on my commute.

    The trouble is I always wanted to read more than the previous years and that kind of pushed me to shorter books. More recently I’ve been tracking the page count as well so I see that six short book is the same as one long book.

  4. Greg, I’ve got a database of books read which is about 10 years older than yours. It started out as a hand written list. Then when I got a Radio Shack Model 100 (early laptop), I typed my list into that. Eventually someone came out with a way to transfer information from the Model 100 to a regular computer. At the point it went into a spread sheet, I think I may have had to re-enter everything but since then it has been easy enough to maintain and has saved me many times from buying a book I have already read. It is a wonderful resource to have and browsing through it often reminds me to check for books by authors I loved.

  5. They key to reading a lot of books? It’s not about the covers – keeping track, speed reading, etc.

    It’s about the distractions (not something I’m personally good at avoiding). You have to put in the time and there are a million things to prevent you from sitting down and reading.

  6. Am I the only one here who thinks the secret to reading a lot of books is

    1. Open book.
    2. Read book.
    3. Close book.
    4. Repeat with new book.

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