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How to Read Two Books a Week

100 books a year sounds like a lofty goal, but it’s not that hard once you break it down

Most of my friends know I’m interested in Stoic philosophy. When one of them wants to start learning about the subject, they’ll ask me something like: “Which one should I read first — Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus?”

My answer: Buy them all. Read them all.

If you’re reading less than you want, you’re not the only one. I love books, but since I graduated from college, I read fewer books each year. Loving books doesn’t always correspond to actually reading them, it turns out: My work and life got in the way of reading as much as I wanted. One year I looked at my Goodreads page and noticed that I had read only five books in the entire year. I was appalled.

I set myself a goal of reading 100 books a year. That’s actually quite reasonable once you break it down: Most people read 50 pages an hour. If you read 10 hours a week, you’ll read 26,000 pages a year. Let’s say the average book you read is 250 pages. In this scenario, that adds up to 104 books in a year.

Here’s how to do it.

Buy books in bulk

Reading can be a costly habit. To fully engage with it, you need to think of books as an investment — and the more books you have in your home, the greater your return will be. Buying books in bulk is a strategy I’ve learned over the years.

The idea is simple: If you have more books in your house, you’ll have more choices, and this will help you read more. Here’s why: Most of the books you read are not planned in advance. You don’t sit down in January and say: “The first week of June I’ll read this book.” You finish a book, look you at your inventory, and decide what you’re in the mood to read next. Don’t overthink the decision — you’ll end up reading reviews for hours, which is a waste of time.

Having an inventory of books keeps up the momentum, and it means you never have an excuse not to read. A book is only a waste of money if you don’t read it.

A(always) B(be) R(reading)

You might have heard the term “ABC” from David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Closing. Many salespeople and entrepreneurs live by that motto.

I live by a different motto: Always Be Reading.

To me, that means fitting in at least an hour of reading time on weekdays, and more during the weekend and on holidays. Find a way to read around your schedule and your life situation, but don’t make excuses or rest on the notion that you’re too busy.

Everyone has downtime that could be filled with reading:

  • Read on the train
  • Read while you’re eating
  • Read at the doctor’s office
  • Read on the toilet
  • Read on your work breaks

In general, think of any waiting or idle time as time that could be spent with a book. While everyone else is scrolling through Twitter or checking Instagram for the 113th time that day, get in a few pages. It’s certainly a better use of those few minutes.

Don’t force it

I don’t like to call any book bad, even if I thoroughly disliked it, because every book is the result of a significant amount of writing and editing labor.

But not everyone is going to enjoy every book, and your tastes might run counter to what’s popular. Maybe a book is a bestseller or a classic, but you can’t stand the writing. Or maybe you’re interested in a book, but you’re not in the right frame of mind to read it just yet.

In any case: Don’t read out of a sense of duty, or force yourself to read something you don’t want to read. If you can’t muster any interest when you flip through the pages, don’t waste your time.

Instead, pick up something you’re excited about. If you don’t know what that looks like, start by seeking out books that are related to your profession, hobbies, or interests, or written by people you admire.

Read multiple books simultaneously

I might read 50 pages of one book in the morning and then read another book in the afternoon. At times, I’m reading up to five books at once.

Some people prefer to read one book cover to cover before moving on to something new, but there’s no rule that says things have to be done that way, and you might find yourself reading more if you can tailor the material to your needs and moods over the course of a day or week. If you’re in the middle of a dense history, for example, you might want to unwind on a Sunday morning with some lighter fiction.

There are times when I want to tackle, and carefully annotate, a book about investing, but that doesn’t mean I want to be sitting in bed at night with a highlighter. If I did, I’d be up way too late, my mind buzzing with all the new things I was learning. Instead, at night, I reach for a book that quiets my thoughts.

Retain what you’ve read

It’s easy to read fast and then forget everything you’ve taken in just as fast. Reading is an investment of time and money that only pays off if you can remember what you’ve read.

To retain the knowledge and information you absorb from your books, it helps to have a system. This is how I do it:

  • When you read a book, use a pen to make notes in the margins and highlight important lines. Especially if you’re reading digitally, be aware of over-highlighting — just because it’s easy, you shouldn’t highlight everything you find slightly interesting. Limit yourself to “aha” moments only.
  • If you read something you want to make sure you remember, fold the top or bottom corner of the page. If you’re reading digitally, take a picture and store it in a note-taking app.
  • When you finish the book, go back to the pages with the folds and skim your notes.
  • Write down in your own words what the book is about or, if applicable, what advice the author is giving.
  • Copy the quotes that stand out the most to you.

The point is to help you process the information so you can use it later. You read because you want to learn from other people’s experience.

Otto von Bismarck put it best: “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”

The article was first published at The Medium

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