I have always been an avid reader. When I was a kid, my parents joked that my books and I were inseparable. It was true – I carried a book with me everywhere I went and read whenever and wherever possible.
As I grew older, I found it more and more difficult to find time to read for pleasure. However, by following a few simple steps, I have managed to average about thirty books a year. This year I have decided to push myself even further, challenging myself to read forty books.
Reading lots of well-written books (both fiction and non-fiction) is one of the best ways to stimulate your brain and make yourself smarter. Aside from all of the useful information you can learn from good books, the very act of reading will strengthen your writing skills, expand your vocabulary, improve your memory, exercise your analytical thinking skills, and sharpen your focus and concentration. Check out this cool video that talks about how reading novels increases intelligence and also improves empathy.
Want to become a prolific reader? Here are the ten steps I follow that have helped me develop a consistent reading habit and consume lots of books each year.
How to Become a Book Reading Machine
1. Read at least 20 pages every day.
This is the single most important step. The reason is this: If you want to read more, reading must become a habit – something you look forward to and prioritize each day, something that becomes a non-negotiable part of your daily routine.
Twenty pages is a reachable daily goal even if you consider yourself a slow reader. It usually takes just half an hour to complete twenty pages, depending on the size of the book. The more consistently you read, the easier and faster it will become for you to complete those twenty pages. If you have time to read more, go for it. If one day you are especially busy and fear you won’t be able to read twenty pages, at least try to fit in a single page. It is better to read something than to skip reading entirely.
2. Make time to read.
“I just don’t have a lot of time to read” should never be an excuse. The problem is not that we don’t have time. It’s that we don’t make time. It means that we are prioritizing other activities over reading. Instead of setting aside free time for TV or computer games or social media, spend a half hour with a good book. There’s a great quote by Groucho Marx that goes, “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
Try to carve out a half hour at the same time every day. It could be during lunch or right before you go to sleep. Usually, nighttime is the best time since you won’t have any other obligations. Alternatively, you could break up your quota of pages across the day: ten pages in the morning when you wake up and ten pages at night before going to sleep.
3. Read in a well-lit and quiet space.
First things first, it is easier to read more when you are not straining your eyes so always make sure that the room is well lighted. If you use a device like an iPad to read eBooks, you can wear a pair of computer glasses like these that block blue light and minimize digital eye strain and fatigue.
Second, you will be able to read faster in a room that has few distractions. I know that whenever I am reading in a room where someone is watching television, I often end up reading the same sentence over several times. There’s a reason why libraries are quiet and peaceful. This is why I like reading best either early in the morning or late at night. There are not as many people up and about to interrupt you. Try to choose the same place to read every day. That way your brain will associate it with reading, and you will be in reading mode as soon you grab your book.
4. Take your book with you everywhere.
If you’re still finding your day way too busy to fit in reading time or you want to double your reading time, start taking a book with you everywhere. You will be amazed at how much free time you actually have. Snatch some time on the subway (or in the car with an audio book), in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or at the haircutter’s, in line at the store or on your lunch break – really the possibilities are endless!
5. Read several books at the same time.
By reading several books at the same time, I find that I end up finishing more books by the end of the year. However, I have also found that my limit is three books at once, so be careful with this one or you might overwhelm yourself. I usually like to diversify my reading habits by enjoying a nonfiction book and a novel at the same time. It is easiest for me to manage one in the morning and one in the evening.
6. Keep a book list.
By keeping a reading list, I have a constant well of books that I can dip into so I never have to waste time wondering what I should read next. If you set up an account on a website like Goodreads, you can easily add books to your “want to read list.” Every time you hear about a book that sounds interesting or if a friend recommends a book to you, add it to your list. I also like keeping a list of the books I have read during the year and joining a reading challenge. This lets me see my progress and keeps me motivated to keep reading every day.
7. Read books you enjoy.
I’m one of those people who absolutely hate abandoning a book, but sometimes a book really isn’t worth finishing. Trying to force myself through a book that I am not enjoying makes me dread my daily reading time and slows down my reading speed. However, I do like to give books a chance: sometimes the first few chapters of a book are incredibly boring but then I reach the action and realize why everyone gave the book a five star review.
Moral of the story: if you are really suffering through a book, don’t be afraid to put it down. If it’s a nonfiction book, you might want to just jump to the chapters that pique your interest. Ultimately, if you want to read more, find books that you love, that are about topics you are interested in, and that you won’t be able to put down.
8. Make friends with fellow book lovers.
Nearly all of my friends are book lovers. Whenever we meet up, we always ask each other what we’ve been reading. We love suggesting books that the other will enjoy, and sometimes even reading the same book together. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” That means: if you want to build a reading habit, surround yourself with other people who understand the importance of reading and whose obsession with reading will rub off on you.
9. Train yourself to read faster.
If you want to read more and you have a very slow natural reading speed, then you should focus on increasing your words per minute. However, reading faster does not necessarily imply speed-reading. In fact, speed-reading is often not the best choice when you are reading a complex text or a novel. See this article that discusses the drawbacks of speed-reading apps and how reading comprehension can suffer.
When I read novels, I never skim. I always like to savor each word the author has chosen and pause at times to ponder the plot or reread a paragraph. However, I can do this without sacrificing too much time because my natural reading speed is quite fast. There are lots of ways to boost your natural reading speed, the most obvious of which is to just read more. As you consume more books, your reading speed naturally increases. You can also try guiding yourself with your finger or a pencil under each line as you read. Another method is to read a book and listen to the audio book at the same time. And, of course, eliminate multitasking while reading and other distractions.
10. Love it.
In the end, reading is not a race. It is not something to be rushed through. Rather, it is something to be enjoyed and loved. When you sit down with a book, you are having a conversation with the author. Books let you peek into the brains of some of the smartest people who ever lived. Savor the moment. Feel the cadence of each word. Take notes in the margins. Let yourself be carried away by the story. Let yourself feel the wonderment of learning something new. The ability to read and have thousands of books at our fingertips is a gift that should not be taken for granted.
The Pew Research Center reported last year that almost a quarter of American adults had not read one single book in 2013. Let’s change the statistics. How many books are you challenging yourself to read this year? What has been your favorite recent read?