How to Read a Lot of Books

Reading is and always has been my favorite thing to do.  I’m currently reading How to Read a Book, and I’m learning some fascinating things about how to get the most out of books.  Basically, take expository works slowly to obtain knowledge, take narrative (including history) fast to have an experience.  Between learning new things and having new experiences, reading can be the most exhilarating form of mental exercise.

Sometimes, though, I get burned out.  Like getting too much of a good thing, reading too much in one genre for too long results in boredom.  This is particularly problematic if you’re trying to learn something.  If you’re not curious about what the book says anymore, you’re probably not curious about the subject anymore.

The key to avoiding this is to alternate genres.  When you start feeling that boredom set in, switch it up.  Change from non-fiction to fiction and vise versa; narrative back to expository reading.  If I’ve read a few pop psychology books and I’m avoiding the next one on the stack from the library, I need to skip it and grab some Harry Potter instead.  When I get tired of reading fiction and I’m ready to dig back into learning something, I can pick up where I left off.  After going back and forth for a while, I usually end up spending some quality time with Pandora and my headphones and just drawing.  It’s all about finding balance and not forcing yourself to read and completely killing your enjoyment.

Sometimes, though, there are books that you really want to read, but that you just can’t seem to get into.  There are books that you know you should read that you just don’t want to read.  Some people believe that you shouldn’t force yourself to read anything you don’t want to, especially if you have complete freedom–no teacher or boss is making you read it.  I mostly agree.  But I also think that you can’t shy away from books just because they’re “boring.”  Some of the most “boring” books are some of the best and are meant to be read.


As a daring reader and a lover of learning, I try to embrace even the boring books.  I usually try to read a hard copy first, but if that fails, I listen to it on audio.  Audio allows you to keep momentum with a book that you’d easily lose interest in if you put it aside for too long, a risk you take if you have to wait for time when you can sit down and read (we tend to make time for sitting with books only if we’re excited about them).

I choose to not use audio for books I’m excited or curious about because I tend to miss information when I listen.  If all I need is to ingest, get the general idea, listening to it while I do the dishes or fold laundry works really well for me.

Bedtime Books

Another great trick I use is to keep a boring/challenging book on my bedside table and use it as nighttime reading.  (Do not choose something that might be scary or upsetting.  Most classics and theoretical works aren’t usually like that, so you’re probably fine.)  You get the steadiness of dipping into it each night so you don’t forget about what’s going on, you can use it to distract you from the worries of the day so you can clear your mind for sleep, you can allow it to bore you into drowsiness and not feel bad (since you’ll pick up where you left off the next night), and you can take as long as you want to finish it because you’re just using it as a tool in your bedtime routine.  The thing is, before you know it, you’ve read the book!  I surprised myself by reading The Iliad this way.  It took me a month, but not only did I sleep better those nights, I actually remember basically everything that happened and who the main characters were.  Was it a really exciting book to read?  Not always, although I found that I liked it more than I thought I would.  That’s another secret I’ve learned from forcing myself to read books I think will be boring.  Am I glad I forced myself to read it?  Absolutely!

Digital Books

My mother is a faithful nighttime reader.  She can’t live without her Kindle.  But let’s talk about digital books for a moment.  I think the technology is very cool.  I own a Kindle myself.  But I just can’t learn to love it, no matter how hard I try.  I can’t engage with a digital book, and unlike audio, I still have to go through the work of reading without the pleasure of it’s heft and papery caress.  I also find it frustrating that I can’t quickly gauge the pages I’ve read and the ones I have still to read.  It takes a frustrating maze of menus to see a footnote or table of contents or index, where with a hard copy I can just flip back and forth however I choose.  A real book is cozy and friendly.  A Kindle (or any other e-reader) is just another device that needs to be plugged in.

Finally, and most troubling of all, I almost never remember what I read when I read digital books.  What’s the point of reading if you can’t remember it at all?  I have found that the one thing I do love about digital books is that I can get instant gratification if there’s a book (usually only fiction) that I’m dying to read.  One click and I have it.  It’s also a great tool for instantly previewing books I might like to buy or check out from the library.


If I’m going to be reading all these books, though, I need someway to keep track of them.  I use Goodreads exclusively for keeping track of what I’ve read and what I want to read.  I also use it for discovering new books and checking out books that others recommend to me.  Honestly, when I’m taking time off from reading completely, I still spend a lot of time on Goodreads just adding things to my to-read list.  That usually gets me excited to pick up the next book.

How do you like to read?  How do you fit reading into your life?

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