A friend just sent me this message on Facebook:
Do you know how fast you read? …I noticed that you seem to finish a lot more books than I do and was wondering if you read pretty fast or just read all the time or both?
It was a timely question, because as I drew near to finishing the book, How to Read Literature Like a Professor, I felt inspired to share the ways I read as much as I do. I set the goal to read a book a week during 2012 and I’m well on track to accomplish that goal. I am reading that much by choosing to read at times I wouldn’t normally have thought to read, listening to audiobooks, setting aside time regularly to read, and seeking out inspiration to keep reading.
Read When You Normally Wouldn’t
The reason How to Read Literature Like a Professor is significant to this discussion is that I read it almost entirely while brushing my teeth. Really. I estimate 95% of that book was read while brushing my teeth. It has taken me months, of course, but I wanted to prove a point.
A friend at work borrowed a short book from me. Several months later, she had read all of 5 or 6 pages. Every time I brought up the book, she would say with exasperation that she doesn’t have time to read. I was thinking of a response to inspire her to read when it dawned on me that I was about 2 chapters into “How to Read”, but I had only read it while flossing and brushing. (I do this by using a tissue box to hold it open, enabling me to read “hands-off”.) I shared that fact with her, but instead of rising to the challenge, she brushed it off by assuming that I am a fast reader. Now I have finished my book, and she is still in chapter one.
I need to point out that I am not a fast reader. I’ve timed myself on some books at 10-15 pages per hour. Books read purely for entertainment, like fantasy or young adult fiction, have a higher page per hour rate for me, but overall I consider myself a fairly slow reader.
I counteract my slow reading by reading everywhere. I often have a book with me just in case there’s down time. I almost always have a book in my pocket at work. I have a bookshelf by my bed, a book in each bathroom, one or more on the computer desk, one in my bag, and several on my study desk. Initially, I worried that reading in short snippets would make it hard to follow the story, but often I find it gives me more time to think about the small chunk I did read. I highly recommend committing to always having a book with you. This is especially easy in the day of smart-phones with e-readers.
Listen to Audiobooks
Another key for me is listening to audiobooks. My commute to work is about 40 minutes each way. I hate the radio even more than I hate TV, so I’ve always listened to audiobooks in the car. After I got an iPod, I started listening to blogs as well as books, and I listened while exercising, doing yard work, fishing, and more.
As of today (March 14) I’ve listened to 5 books this year. The best part is there are a few good options for free audiobooks. We check them out physically and download them from the library. For those in our area, we use this link here. And we also use librivox, which is a site dedicated to making all public domain books available in audio format. Librivox can be rough at times due to using purely volunteer readers. I like the library copies with paid voice actors and movie stars that can do different voices.
Another option for those who don’t mind paying is audible.com or another similar service that offers a certain number of downloads for a monthly fee.
Schedule Time to Read
Scheduling time to read is especially important for my school assignments. Reading Kant or Darwin is not very easy for me. They and writers like them offer ideas, theories, and philosophies that require a lot of concentration on my part. I need time to focus and figure out what they are trying to tell me.
The biggest enemy here is distraction. Turn off the computer. Turn off the music. And lock the kids out if you can.
(Of course, locking the kids out isn’t always an option for many reasons. In fact, it is important that your kids see you reading. You should also discuss with them what you are reading and the epiphanies you have. Recently, Ashlee and I realized how powerful this is; even if you think it will be over the kids’ heads. Who knew a breakfast discussion with a bunch of kids younger than 10 years old could turn into a great conversation about economics and sound currency!?)
As the adage goes: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If reading is important to you schedule time to read.
My final bit of advice is to seek inspiration. Sometimes I don’t feel like reading. I’d rather watch a movie or play a video game. If I let these funks run too long, it takes a lot to get out of them.
One technique I use is to watch an inspirational movie. This satisfies the desire to veg, while also exciting me to get back to my studies.
My most recent example of this is the movie A Touch of Greatness. (It’s available on Netflix!) This documentary is about a fantastic teacher who inspired kids to educate themselves. His students enjoyed the hard work of learning. At one point in the move, the camera pans across his classroom, and I see several pictures of influential men – authors, scientists, and statesmen – posted around his room. Their stories inspire me to continue educating and preparing myself. I also understood that the teacher had to know about these men and their ideas to inspire the kids and teach them about these men. I needed to know more about those men. I needed to read!
That made it easy to turn off the computer and pick up a book.
There are books, podcasts, blogs, and videos that all provide this boost for me. I may post about them later. For now, email me if you want suggestions.
I think that adequately answer the question about how I read so many books. Honestly, I feel that I don’t read enough. I also feel that our country no longer reads enough as a whole. Unfortunately, the further we get away from reading great books, the less able we will be to solve the problems around us. Without climbing on my well-worn soapbox, I’ll simply say that we must read if we wish to remain free and prosperous.
So I invite you to consider my comments above and pick something you can implement to start reading or read a little more. It will be well worth the time and effort.