How to Read More Than 50 Books a Year

I don’t think I’ve met a single person that doesn’t want to read more. Most of us know the magic and wonder of a great novel and the eye-opening learning of a thoughtful non-fiction.

We often long for the days of our youth when we tore through novels and slogged through textbooks. We read articles that tell us one of the primary habits of billionaires is a commitment to reading - a lot. And if you’re a founder, a leader, or simply an ambitious, motivated and hungry person in business, you know that reading could unlock insight and practical, applicable knowledge to give you that edge.

The trouble is finding the time to read at all, let alone read more.

We’re all increasingly busy with work, home, health, and trying to have a fulfilling, rewarding life. Plus, we’re subject to regular notifications designed to draw our attention away from whatever we’re doing and back to our phones and our feeds.

So how do you create time and mental space to read more books that inspire, motivate, and educate?

It’s all about creating small, consistent habits that compound over time. Let me explain my methods.

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Up until about 2 years ago, I was only reading a handful of books a year. I’d bring them on vacations or on some plane rides, but I doubt there were very many years between my mid-20s and my mid-30s when I read more than 10 books - often a few less than that.

But two years ago, my best friend was a new, stay-at-home mom in a rural, conservative town (she’s very liberal) and was missing her girlfriends and connection. She decided to start a virtual women’s book club, which I happily joined. For the first year or so, we only read a book every two months, but my love of reading was reignited and a new trend began.

That first year, my commitment was sporadic, but over time it continued to grow. And now, with 2 weeks left in 2018, I’m nearly at the end of my 56th book.

Here’s what I’ve learned about how start reading a lot more books every year and some changes I will make to hit a new goal of 72 books in 2019.


#1. Join (or start!) a book club

The book club gave me the motivation I needed to make reading a priority. I didn’t want to let the group down by not reading, so other than one time because I was traveling too much and couldn’t make our regular meeting anyway, I haven’t missed a book. Not once.

And before you roll your eyes, think this is impossible, or balk at the idea of going to someone’s house once a month, let me tell you our book club is 100% virtual. I haven’t even met in person 80% of our members. Once a month, we have a video conference call from the comfort of our own homes.

I’m an introvert and a home body. The idea of going to someone’s house once a month does not really appeal to me. And this is such a wonderful and practical alternative. All you need is a phone or computer. There are tons of free options for video calls - Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.

Additionally, I garnered so much more value and insight from each book because of our conversations. Each woman in the group comes to the discussion with her own unique perspective on the novel, the characters, and the themes weaved throughout the narrative. We all benefit from learning from one another, discussing each other’s views and personal takeaways.


#2. Read every day. Even if it’s only 5 pages.

For the first year or so of book club, I was a regular participant, but didn’t read much outside of the club. And then one of our bookclub members picked A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James.

Woah boy.

This book is a beast. It’s nearly 700 pages, weaving a complex 40+ year story through the eyes and voices of 10+ characters - many of whom are speaking Jamaican vernacular. This is not easy reading and not for the feint of heart.

But I was determined to finish - on time.

The only way to do that was to set a daily reading goal. After I was a couple hundred pages into that i realized I needed to seriously commit myself or I would come up short, so I did the math. I needed to read 20 pages per day in order to be done in time. And so, my goal was 30 pages per day, knowing that on occasion, I’d have to do fewer or I’d miss reading completely.

I finished a week early and was the only person at book club who’d finished.

It was an incredibly eye-pening experience for me. I realized how much I could accomplish with just a little more discipline and intention. I was off to the races. After that, my reading picked up considerably. Now my goal is 30 pages every night. Some nights, I miss completely. Some I read 5 pages. Some I read 50. But week after week, I’m reading more and feeling a greater sense of satisfaction at my accomplishment.


#3. Don’t just read. Listen.

About a year and a half ago, I was getting concerned about how quickly I was getting annoyed with people. I was short to customer service people, frustrated by fellow passengers on my commute, and generally just a little grumpy with the world.


This was not me.

I’m a positive, optimistic, friendly sort of person. Sure, I don’t take any shit and have a penchant for direct communication, but I’m upbeat.

I couldn’t figure it out. And then I did.

I was listening to hours of political podcasts nearly every day. 15-20 hours per week! And it was killing me, making me think the worst of people, and angry all the time.

So I quit.

I started listening to nonfiction audio books. My rule now is that I read fiction and listen to nonfiction (though I always buy the hardcover of nonfiction I find particularly impactful).

On my commute, running errands, cleaning the house on the weekends, cooking dinner, I listen to nonfiction books about business, personal development, communication, culture, relationships, joy, family. And I have learned so much.

With nearly every book, I glean helpful, actionable advice on how to live a better life and be a better version of myself. I wind up bursting into the office in the morning full of ideas and inspiration about how we can improve our results. In meetings, I am now always the person to chime in with a story or maxim I’ve learned from a book on whatever topic we’re discussing, boosting my ability to add value and my resources for sourcing creative ideas.

Oh and I listen to nearly all books at 1.25x speed. Just fast enough to really crank through the book, but not too fast to catch the meaning and insight. And I write down notes where I can, so when I buy the physical book, i know which sections I want to review.


#4. Never be afraid to put the book down.

I have never been the sort of person to stop reading a book I’m not enjoying. I believe in slogging right through it, getting to the end, determined to check it off my list.

But I’ve noticed a few times, when a book just feels like work instead of joy, learning, and inspiration, I will simply avoid reading. Suddenly, I’m listening to podcasts instead of audible or staring at my phone in bed instead of reading.

It’s not easy for me and it usually takes a week of me steering clear of a book before I realize what’s going on and agree to simply stop. But I’m determined to pay closer attention in the future, as I realize I’ve missed some precious reading hours because of boredom or disinterest.


#5. Always have a backlog

This is a rule I haven’t always followed, especially with fiction. Because I began this new adventure in reading primarily focused on my bookclub books, sometimes I’d be done with the assigned reading, but with nearly 6 weeks before the next session. I didn’t want to start the next novel on the list, so it would still be fresh in my mind by the time our discussion came around, but I didn’t have any books waiting on the shelf either.

I’ve finally started making regular trips to Powell’s bookstore (our truly incredible local bookstore here in Portland) and buying four or five books at a time. Now, when I finish a book on a Saturday morning, I have another one waiting for me. This has significantly sped up my reading and added a really fun element of surprise to the whole experience, as I often forget what I’ve purchased by the time I get to it.

When I started noticing that I was reading lots more and finding such immense value and personal reward from the experience, I didn’t really have much of a plan. When it came to my reading, I hadn’t set any kind of goal, so I wasn’t terribly methodical about how to achieve one. It’s only in hindsight that I’ve realized these few practices that have made the difference.

And now that I have, I’m determined to read even more in 2019.