I read 76 books last year. Here’s how.

That’s a book every 5 days. This is by no means outrageous or, to be honest, even that impressive (if you want impressive, consider that bell hooks famously reads a book a day). It does, however, cause raised eyebrows when people hear it, along with comments such as “How do you find the time to read so much?” or, from the slightly less diplomatic of my friends and acquaintances: “Do you ever do anything but read??”

As a matter of fact, I am neither a professional reader nor writer, reading is merely a hobby for me and I do have a life outside of books — hence I thought it might be helpful to share how I managed to fit in 27 890 pages (approximately 7m words) into 2016 (while also changing jobs and apartments and dealing with the general chaos of the world).

So here are 4 tips that help me squeeze more reading time in:

  1. Every time I am waiting for something, I pull out my Kindle

Waiting for the Tube, on the Tube, in a line at the grocery store, waiting for the doctor… You get the gist of it. Even if I only read a page or half at a time, it adds up.

Before I had a Kindle, I would carry around a paperback. That worked pretty well, too, but since I’ve got a Kindle I’ve been able to read around 30% more books a year, simply by finding more time to read in the previously barren swathes of time I spend waiting around.

(However, this does not work with all types of books. Some, like classic literary fiction, require longer periods of focus. Others, like most popular science and business books, don’t suffer from being chopped up. Which leads me to — )

2. I read several different books at a time

I usually have around 3, sometimes 4 in progress at the same time. This enables me to take mental breaks — when a novel becomes too dark or depressing, I switch to an easy-read non-fiction. If the non-fiction in turn becomes too dry, I tend to have something from genre fiction (most frequently fantasy or detective) ready to entertain me.

As an example, I am currently reading:

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay” — Elena Ferrante (fiction)

The God Delusion” — Richard Dawkins (non-fiction, social science)

Good to Great” — Jim Collins (non-fiction, business)

Crossroads of Twilight (Wheel of Time #10)” — Robert Jordan (fiction, fantasy)

A variety of genres helps keep me from getting book fatigue, which in turn enables me to read more efficiently.

3. I quit a book if it doesn’t grab me within the first 20 or so pages

I used to feel compelled to finish every book I picked up. No more.
Cliche as it may sound, life is too short to read bad books. If you are not convinced, think of the millions and millions of unread books out there (129,864,880 as of 2010, to be precise). Any one book that you miss out on because you forced yourself to keep slogging through a bad one might be the one that would have changed your life.
So don’t waste time on books you don’t enjoy.

And finally:

4. I challenge myself

The single most effective way of increasing the time I spend reading is by challenging myself to read more. I use a Goodreads reading challenge, but there are lots of ways to do this. Join a book club, make a resolution to post reviews once a month, make a bet with your other half or best friend on who can read more…

I’ve heard others make the argument that reading challenges lead to quantity over quality and skim-reading in order to get a (virtual) badge, with no real benefit derived from the books themselves. For me, that is not the case — I still read at the same speed I always have, and process books as I always have done.

What it does do, however, is push me into choosing reading rather than yet another Netflix binge, or re-watching old Friends episodes I’ve seen approximately 42 times. Not that those are not perfectly valid ways to spend time — they are, and I personally love them — but it is very easy to get stuck in those habits, and find yourself complaining “I simply do not have time to read”.

You do have the time. Trust me.

On a final note, let me leave you with some book recommendation lists for your to-read shelf.

Happy reading!

Shane Parrish on Medium — “39 Book Recommendations From Billionaire Charlie Munger that Will Make you Smarter”

Bill Gates’ book blog

Ryan Holiday’s reading list

Tim Ferriss — “The Unusual Books That Shaped 50+ Billionaires, Mega-Bestselling Authors, and Other Prodigies”

And here is the full list of the 76 books I read last year, in case you are interested