From the Mailbag: How Do I Read So Much?

I got a very pleasant comment/question/quemment a couple of days ago from a relatively new reader, Vitor. I’ll cut out the stuff that flatters me (not that I didn’t appreciate it), and stick with the heart of his email:

I’m not here just to talk about how much your writing has been pushing me to read more, but I want to know how can it be possible to read as much as you do, even with our daily routine…

Thanks for the quemment, Vitor — I’m going to try to reply more via email, but for now, I’ll write a bit here because I need content for today.

First off — don’t worry about numbers. Seriously. Yeah, I track them for this and that, but unless I get wrapped up in the ego-game (which happens a lot more than I like), it’s not a focus. Worry about the what you’re reading — is it what you want to be reading and is it giving you what you want?

Secondly, I’ve been a fast reader since I was a kid. That helps my numbers considerably. I’m not a speed reader, I tried some of that years ago, and go so wrapped up in the techniques that I never retained anything I “read.” Also most of the people who really get into that don’t seem to have a lot of fun reading, and what’s the point? (I’m not saying speed readers who get a lot of joy out of it don’t exist, just that I’ve never met one).

Can I interrupt here to recommend Alan Jacobs’ excellent book: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, which I blogged about here. I think if you get into Jacobs’ mindset (or a close equivalent), it’ll help a lot.

But to sort of actually answer your question, let me start with Nero Wolfe — one of the greatest characters created in the last century — reads a great deal, too. I tried to find the quotation describing his reading habits and couldn’t (which will bother me for a week or two), but essentially, he’s not a quick reader, but he reads steadily. That’s the key. As you read more, you’ll get better at it, and eventually, quicker.

Essentially, here’s how my typical weekday breaks down as far as reading: I get to work 30 minutes (or so) early, spend 20 minutes reading; I get two breaks plus lunch — that’s roughly another hour; and then I get another 30-60 minutes in after I get home (I try not to turn the laptop or social media on until I get some good reading done, and usually succeed.). Then if I have to take a kid somewhere, pick them up from something, etc. — there’s a few minutes to read. Basically, any time there’s a few minutes to kill, I grab my book — it’s better than Angry Birds or Facebook. This past weekend, for example, my daughter was in a school play — after we got in our seats, I had about 20 minutes of reading time, plus part of the intermission. So that’s 2-2.5 hours a day, during the week (plus some occasional bonus time). Sometimes on quiet Fridays I’ll get more done — or if I’m almost finished with a book, I’ll negotiate a few extra minutes with my wife before we start Jeopardy!.

Frequently (especially in December/January), in my Saturday Miscellany posts, I’ll post something along the lines of how to read more, here’s a couple of them that you might find helpful.

  • How to read more books in 2018
  • Ask a Literary Lady: I Need a Better New Year’s Resolution Than “Read More”


  • Anyway, the main reason I posted this response here rather than via email is so that commenters can chime in with handy tips, etc. So, please — help him. (Paul, I’m especially looking at you here).

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    2 thoughts on “From the Mailbag: How Do I Read So Much?

    1. First, thank you for the answer. It’s been a hard challenge for me to get into reading, mainly because I don’t have English as my first language, and I’ve been doing most of my readings in English. But I also am realizing that I’m doing much better with the practice, and I’m really happy about it!

      For me is hard to turn the Netflix and WhatsApp off, this distracts me a lot, but I’m taking care of it little by little. I’ll try to do what you recommend (reading all free time, enjoy the reading etc), and read the book on reading that you listed!

      Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

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