Reading for the Rushed

Reading for the RushedPeople sometimes ask me how I'm able to read 70+ books every year despite my extra-curricular, professional, and authoring activities. The truth is that although my reading count the past few years has remained fairly consistent, it's far less than my historical count (by half) and pathetically less than truly prolific readers. Alas, people ask and so I'll try to answer the best that I can. Below you'll find a short list of principles that help me to maximize my reading time and motivation.

Read only what you find interesting

This seems self-evident, but many people: 1) have no idea what they find interesting, or 2) feel that what they find interesting is childish or lowbrow. That may be the case, but who cares? The point of reading is to enjoy reading. No one can tell you what you should enjoy reading, so read what you enjoy. I believe that as time passes your interests will expand into other kinds of writing, but even if that never happens it's not terribly important.

If the book you're reading is too embarrassing to carry onto the subway then find something else to do on the subway, or buy a Kindle. All books look the same in the Kindle.

Be willing to abandon bad books

Like many people I feel physical pain when reading a bad book. Likewise, there is a relative "point of no return" for each reader where, when reading a bad book, they will feel that the time and pain spent is too costly to abandon the effort. Fight that urge because there is nothing less conducive to prolific reading than trying to slog through a bad book.

Read in context

I tend to read 3-4 books at a time. It was once difficult to keep the "story lines" straight in my head when switching from one book to another, but I found that context helps solve that problem. For example, I read a certain book before bed while I read a different book in the morning and yet a different book for study. I hope you get the point. The goal is to contextualize certain books (or even genres) so that my mind is ready for certain content at certain times. However, do not stick to this partitioning too strictly as truly great books smash through the contexts and I find myself unable to put them down. Roll with this. There are few things more joyful then finding a truly great book.

The more you read the faster you'll read

It's true. Reading is practice for your reading speed and vocabulary. The more you read the faster the words will flow past your eyes and the less time you'll need to spend in the dictionary. I still religiously check the dictionary for words that I'm unfamiliar with and are important to understanding the narrative. However, for words that are interesting but inessential (it's hard to know which words fall into this category, but you'll learn to identify them over time) I write them down and look them up at my leisure.

Take notes

This is related to the point above. That is, by keeping notes you can go back later and explore certain aspects closer and more deeply. This will help you by simply learning more and this fact will help you pre-load information for future books that might require certain knowledge that you might not otherwise have had. As a nice side-effect, taking notes always helps me to recall the book later on, even if I never look at the notes afterwards. The very act of taking notes seems to help me to crystalize ideas.

Keep a reading log

Since I was a kid I've kept a list of the books that I've read and the dates that I started reading and the date that I completed reading. This may seem a bit gratuitous, but there is a good reason for doing this. That is, by keeping a record you'll start to recognize patterns. For example, you might notice that you happen to dislike certain sub-genres of sci-fi and will learn to avoid them. There are many patterns to find in your reading habits and the avoidance of genres is just one.

And that's it. Those are effectively my reading tricks. I have no idea if these are generally applicable, but if you think so then I'm happy to have helped. Title image remixed from Leremy and EDHAR/Shutterstock.

Reading for the Rushed | Send More Paramedics


Michael Fogus is an open source programmer and core member of the Clojure programming language development team. His favorite books are "House of Leaves", "Rings of Saturn", and "The Code of the Woosters".

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