Sidharth Vardhan

How do I read more books?

(First written as an answer to a question on quera a while ago.
Reproduced here since a lot of people keep asking me this question)

I have 1800 read books on goodreads and that is only a fraction of what I have actually read. So I get asked this a lot. Some of what I am going to say might seem contrary to what you hope to accomplish but please read my answer through. Here are some tips:

1. Read qualitatively, not quantitively

I know this flies into the face of your question but it is important. You do not want to read 10,000 books and not a word wiser. You wouldn’t want to read ‘more’ if you were only after the entertainment. That said, ‘quality doesn’t have to mean you must learn something from a book. People who read to learn often end up with motivational books and they are not something I personally recommend. What I mean is that you should be able to feel you gained something – an experience. One quick way to do so is to keep a diary of some sort in which you can write what you have to say for a book – doing this makes reading a true two-way conversation, and you are forcing your brain to actively process what you read rather than merely passively receiving the information. It might just be a feeling for a character in fiction – one of the reasons why to read more should be to help you to express yourself better. I do it through my so-called goodreads ‘reviews’ (they are more like just ‘views’) among other things. This way you might not have quantitively read more but you will definitely have read qualitatively more.

2. Don’t set yourself goals

I know some answers here suggest otherwise but my personal experience is goals make you run faster through pages without stopping to think about what you have read. Reading should not be turned into a rat race.

3. Read several books at a time

The idea is to spend several days with a book and yet not lose the number of books. We do lots of our thinking subconsciously. And we will able to do it more when we leave and come back to a book more often. And if we slept several nights during our reading of a book (which is when our brain does most of the processing).

Again, some books are meant to be read in specific moods and your moods won’t wait till the end of the book to change. Also you might continue with a book you started yesterday and discover that you are suddenly not in the mood for it – it is fair to no one to force youself to soldier through it in such times, better go with another book.

This will also help you to go through a difficult-to-read book because you won’t read more than a few pages at a time and you can then move to other easier-to-read books.

Moreover, there is synchronicity in things. Books you read may tall to each other and open up new avenues for your thought process.

Unless the book is really seductive (like sirens or something), I will try to change to new book after reading one chapter from it. Chapters seem naturally stopping points – and it seems unfair to book not to take a break, there is a reason after all they call it a ‘chapter break’.

4. Do not be afraid of abandoning books

Life is too short for a bad book. If you think the book has nothing to do for you, abandon it. Again, the book might have something to offer, but you may think your reading abilities are not up to the mark and so you can abandon it with hopes of coming back to it. As a matter of principle, I don’t rate abandoned books but that just my personal aesthetic. You will have every right to do so.

5. Find fellow readers

I live in a small town and don’t know anyone who reads but Goodreads resolved the issue of finding some other readers for me. Finding other readers means you find easy recommendations and you can gain different perspectives on books you have already have read. Having someone to talk to on what you read will also make you feel more motivated about reading.

6. Spend more time with books

This is the best tip anyone can give. Always have a book handy with you. Carry a book everywhere. Mobiles have made it easier and you can now carry a whole library inside your pocket. At all times, you can now have books handy and snatch whatever moments you have. Read on mobile while exercising and walking. Read every few minutes you get – even if they be two. Train your brain to enter a book or leave it as easily as it starts or stops listening to the music.

7. Read on different mediums

You can read hard copies, over computers or laptops, mobile handsets or reading devices and you can also listen to audiobooks. You can allocate different books to different means mentioned here. Audiobooks are best for English classics pre-1900AD. You can listen to them on your mobile in an app Librivox available on Google Play Store. This will help you read while traveling without straining your eyes. Don’t use audiobooks for harder books though.

8. Don’t drive if you can avoid it

I always use public vehicles if I can’t travel to a place by walking. Driving needs lots of focus for itself. At best you can listen to audiobooks while driving. Instead of driving, read while you travel. When I become the president of world, which may happen any day😎, I will make it a law that every reader has a right to have a designated driver to do the peasant work of driving.

9. Take breaks

Some readers have recommended time lockouts. My personal experience is that one gains more if one takes a break – a minute or two if not more, after having read a few minutes. You can spend this time doing something else that interests you or you can do meta-reading on the book —its Wikipedia page, reviews, etc. I also drink water during the said break every hour of so.

10. Read in different poses

Do not always feel inclined to sit while reading. Human body doesn’t take naturally to stillness – we move around even in our sleep. You can walk around in the room, lie on the bed, etc – reading all the while. You can’t read lots if you hold your body tight.

11. Protect your eyes

Use reading apps or software that blue light filters and/or dark modes. For mobile handsets, I use Moon+ reader which has more options than any other reading app I know. On my laptop, I use Calibre reader. If possible, don’t read in dark. Keep lights on in your room and the brightness of the screen low. Protected eyes mean you can read more without letting them hurt lot.

12. Don’t be afraid of divided attention

Things like talking to people or watching videos need very little attention and you can read some easy-to-read books while doing such things on the side. Mobiles with split screens and apps that display on others apps make it easier to read while you wait for an answer in your chat. Reading too doesn’t need all one’s attention except when one is still developing the habit. It needs lots of attention but not all.

And actually, after some point, if you force yourself into a book too entirely when it is too easy on your attention, the wasted excess of focus will just tire you out. In my experience, people who make reading such a hard thing as needing all your energies for time being are very likely to find little time and inclination for it. Make reading a source of pleasure as easy to take in as listening to music.

Again, real-life and what happens in books may enjoy synchronicity — and you may gain from the interplay of two realities —yours and that of the book.

There are three kinds of distractions you should avoid though – those short video sites like Tiktok, social media and the addictive mobile games. They are mediums that encourage your mind toward lethargy. People are liable to waste more time on them than they planned to – which is defination of addiction. Unless it is of art or beauty, all addictions are bad addictions. Compared to them, video streaming sites such as Netflix are a much better option if you are looking for a break from reading.

13. Read across genres

Read different genres and read different forms of literature – poems, plays, novels, short stories, graphic novels, comics as well as non-fiction – biographies, essays, etc; especially in the beginning when you are trying to find out where your own interests lie. Wherever your interests will be, there you will also be able to read faster.

14. Read books from different parts of the world

If you read a book from a new country you gain a lot simpler in terms of getting to know about their cultures.

Moreover, the quality of books themselves might vary. Latin American literature, for example, tends to have a very original quality (of which ‘magic realism’ is one of the results), books from States tend to try to stimulate readers, those of Europe are very less likely to feel inclined to do so, good books from Indian author often convey a sense of anguish about conditions in the nation. Please note I said words like ‘tends to’ because it is my own general experience. And yours may not be the same. And moreover, even in my own reading, these characteristics weren’t always true.

15. Start with smaller books

Smaller books will be faster to read and you will gain confidence. You can find out about your own interests in different genres while investing lesser energies and time in each of them. You can rate the books you have read on goodreads and it will help you find other (may be bigger) similar books.

Some awesome shorter books I can recommend are – Apology by Socrates, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Stranger by Albert Camus, No Exit by Sartre, Ones who walk away from Omellas by Ursulla K. Guinn, Mrs. Dollaway by Virginia Woolf. I think these books will also be easy to read as well.

Some Caveats

These are things I have learned from my experience. Your own reading habbits might not match mine or, for that matter, any other answers given here. So you will learn lots by trying things yourself. I am sorry for typos, I bet they are many. I am posting without rereading as I don’t expect anyone to read this answer.

Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan

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