So many books, so little time
There are so many books I want to read but it doesn’t matter how much I try I can’t seem to go through them fast enough. My reading buddies are always ahead of me. Today I decided to find a way to get ahead, and thus began the search for strategies.
One of my problems is that ever since I started writing (which was more than two decades ago) I have become a slow reader. I call it ‘deliberate reading,’ when I am savoring the good writing, mulling it over in my head, responding to it mentally, thinking how I can use this sentence structure or even the idea in my own writing. It frustrates me but I can’t get rid of this annoying habit. Then I found out that it is a universal problem for all writers. Amit Chaudhuri wrote in an essay in The Paris Review:
The number of books we buy far outnumber those we read. Again, the reasons for not reading are multiple—deferral, because of the paucity of time, is a common one. But a powerful cause for not reading is because the writer in us—I use the word “writer” not for one who’s produced books, but for whoever is possessed by the possibility of writing—takes over from the reader. This might happen when we’re transfixed by the jacket and keep studying it, unable to proceed to the first page. The image on the cover, its design, the lettering—these have thrown us into the realm of possibility. Once we’ve entered the story which that possibility engenders, reading the novel itself becomes redundant. We may not write a word, but the writer in us predominates. A version of the novel emerging from the jacket—or even the title—holds us in its spell. That’s why the crowd of unread books on our shelves is never, generally, a burden. They signal a possibility—not that we will one day read them but of how the idea, and moment, of writing is constantly with us.The Moment of Writing by Amit Chaudhuri
How many books can one read in a lifetime?
Looking at the number of books being produced every year and the number of books that have been printed since the Gutenberg invented the printing press, there is a very little chance that we can read even a fraction of those.
Let’s say you are an above-average reader and read 52 books a year (although a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that adults read an average of 17 books each year.) Assuming you started reading at the age of ten and you continue to read one book a week till you turn 85, that would mean (75 X 52 = 3900) you will be able to read, at the most, 4000 books in your lifetime.
When you come to think of it, it is nothing.
According to Google’s advanced algorithms, there are 130 million books, 129,864,880, to be exact, in the world (reported by Ben Parr).
It means that you need to be awfully selective of what you read.
You need to be strategic about what you read rather than what you can get your hands on i.e. books bought on sale or got from the library because they happen to be displayed when you walked in.
What books should you read?
I found the best strategy to select what books to read in How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, written by the University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard.
“There is more than one way not to read, the most radical of which is not to open a book at all.”Pierre Bayard
In this tongue-in-cheek book, Professor Bayard points out that we think of books in two simple categories “books we have read” and “books we haven’t read.” But in fact, there are several more categories. He suggests the following:
- books we’ve read
- books we’ve skimmed
- books we’ve heard about
- books we’ve forgotten
- books we’ve never opened.
Prof Bayard argues that we shouldn’t be ashamed of not having read everything, and that talking about books you only heard about should be more open and natural. It is better to strive to think about the ideas within the books – even if you only heard of them – than being a walking encyclopedia of citations.
He has a classification system to keep track of how he had interacted with the books in the past.
- UB book unknown to me
- SB book I have skimmed
- HB book I have heard about
- FB book I have forgotten
- ++ extremely positive opinion
- + positive opinion
- – negative opinion
- – – extremely negative opinion
I find this classification an excellent way to categorize the books on my bookshelves particularly the unread ones and this way figuring out which ones I want to skim through, which ones I want to read and which ones I want to give away to charity.
How fast you can read?
One way to go through more books is to read fast. Staples collected speed reading data as part of an advertising campaign for selling e-readers. The campaign also included a speed reading tool that is still available to try. Go ahead and take the test to see how fast you read.
Kevan Lee in The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books recommends five ways to read more books including speed reading through new technology. Spritz and Blinkist take unique approaches to help you read more — one helps you read faster and the other helps you digest books quicker.
Use eReaders and Audiobooks
For a long time, I remained loyal to physically books giving arguments like, I like to hold a book in hand, I like to underline it, I can easily pull it out from my bookshelf whenever I need to refer to it…
Then a few years ago I bought a Kindle. I have been carrying it with my holidays and have never felt short of books. I can read multiple books on it, just like I do at home, depending upon my mood. Kindle is also a great source of old classic books that you can get for one dollar.
Recently, I took membership of Audible and now I have become a fan of it. I am listening to it in the gym while walking and cooking. I can easily go through a book in five days.
Now I have divided the books into three categories. Books I want to listen to I buy them on Audible, books I want to read I buy them on Kindle or get them from the public library and books I want to keep I buy physical copies.
Strategies to go through more books
John Rampton gives 25 strategies in his post 25 Expert Tips to Reading WAY More Books This Year I picked five out of those to incorporate in my strategy.
- Set a dedicated reading time. For me, it is at night. Sleeping with a good book is the best thing in the world.
- Read at least 20 pages. This can be done in between chores and whenever I have a few spare minutes.
- Read in Sprint. This strategy involves setting up a timer for twenty minutes and read fast. Knowing the timer is on will keep me from distractions.
- Quit books you don’t like early on. This is something I really need to do. I keep hanging on to books I know I should let go.
- Build a reading list for the year on Goodreads and let it help you reach your goal by prompting you titles related to your previous choices.
Here it is, my strategies to go through more books.
Do you have any more suggestions for me? What are your reading habits? Please share them with me through the comments section.