Monday, March 17, 2008

How to read buckets of books and impress your Goodreads friends.

Friends (especially Goodreads friends) often ask me: "How do you read so much?" Contrary to popular belief, I do not read for two solid hours every night, foregoing TV, Rock Band, and other shallow entertainments. In fact, I rarely read for a stretch of more than thirty minutes - I'm too fidgety. So I thought I'd share 10 "hot" tips with y'all.
  1. Read all the time, everywhere. This is the only real advice, but I wanted 10 tips. Take advantage of all of those random minutes of idleness or boredom to read. You'll be surprised at how a bunch of 10 minute intervals can add up.
  2. Carry a book with you. Small purses are lame. Clutches and evening bags? Pshaw! Carry at least one book with you at all times. I usually carry two. I spend a lot of time moving books out of the way to find my wallet. But, I'm never short on reading material.
  3. Take advantage of bureaucracy. I try to spend my time at the DMV, the airport, and waiting at the doctor's office reading my book instead of People magazine (yet I still manage to keep up on celebrity gossip somehow). And then there is that interminable line at Trader Joe's. Rather than grit my teeth at the toddler who is screaming "But I WANNA COOOOOKKKKIEEE!!!!" at the top of her lungs, I put the iPod headphones in and pull out my book. Not only do I get good reading done, but I'm in a better mood when my turn arrives. (I have even been known to read during particularly bad traffic jams. This only works if traffic has come to a complete halt, however! Which means, this only works if you live in California. But, don't try actually driving and reading! Don't worry, if traffic starts moving again and you don't notice, the nice driver of the car behind you will let you know!)
  4. Read as many books at once as you can. I'm incredibly schizophrenic and easily bored. So I am always dabbling in at least five books. Seriously. This has at least one major advantage: if I forget my primary book at home (or if I'm too lazy to go fetch it), I just dive into another one. And then, as my friend Jeremy would say, "Rinse & Repeat." Before you know it, you are "currently reading" over 20 books. But believe it or not, you generally finish one or two of those, at least. And if you're not drawn back into the book, see tip number 10.
  5. Fill your house, car, and office with books. That way, you can always grab something to read, often without even having to leave your seat. It helps if you are a slob like me, because covering every useful surface in your life with books will come more naturally to you. If you think I'm kidding about my car being full of unread books, you're wrong.
  6. Read outloud to your friends/partner. You can always be enjoying a leisurely outloud stroll through "David Copperfield" on the side while you blow through piles of lighter books. Some people claim that they cannot keep up with more than one plot line at once, but I notice that these same people usually have no problem simultaneously keeping up with the plots of "Lost," "Sopranos," and "Friday Night Lights." I'm not buying it.
  7. Read while watching TV. Which brings me to the next tip. Read while watching TV. I notice the baseball season is especially good for this. I read my book during the games and only look up occasionally to see if anything's happening (but it's rare that anything's happening - it's baseball). Admittedly, it may be too distracting to try to read a novel while watching TV. You could end up rereading the same sentence over and over. So use your judgment. I find this to be the perfect opportunity to look at large-format picture-filled books about how to manage my imaginary farm or decorate my house in sinister-grandma-chic. I love melodramatic mini-series too, but I read during commercials.
  8. Audiobooks. Listen to books in the car! Or listen at home while you're quilting or knitting. Note - both BART and sewing machines drown out audiobooks - best stick with music. Steve and I listen to "All Things Wise and Wonderful" when we drive together, whereas I listen to "A Tale of Two Cities" when I'm alone. It's slow-going, but eventually, I'll have finished both of these just driving to see our folks or to work engagements. Listening to books on the way to work appointments is the best. I'm getting reimbursed for listening to Dickens! Suweeet!
  9. Skim, skim, skim. Behind my long list of "read" books, there is a lot of skimming, let me tell you. I'm not a fast reader, I'm just a good skimmer. My job has helped me perfect my abilities, but anyone can get good at skimming through practice. However, it's generally much harder to skim fiction than non-fiction. If you read more nonfiction, you'll read more, period. That's why you may have noticed I'm slower at getting through novels. My rules of thumb for nonfiction: read the introduction and table of contents first to get your bearings; read headings and look at the pictures; and in sections of interest, read the first sentence of each paragraph to see which paragraphs you want to read in more depth. Hopefully, if the author knows his or her Strunk & White and utilizes topic sentences, you'll save a lot of time this way. Note - this does not work for legal cases from the 1890s, before judges discovered the paragraph.
  10. Put down dumb books. It took me a long time to learn that it was okay to abandon a book. But life is short, and I have a lot of books on my to-read list! If I'm just not interested anymore, I let it go and jump enthusiastically into the next, more interesting book. I try to keep self-punishment to a minimum. Even if that book would have made me a better educated and more moral person, if I'm bored (even after skimming ahead to see whether there is something more interesting coming), I put it aside. Who cares if I'd rather read a book on fashion than a book on the history of the Vietnam War at any given moment? The well-read person should read lighter and heavier fare. You can always come back to the "good" stuff later.

Hey, you asked.

Edit: In thinking about this last night, I realized I needed an 11th tip - the hardest to implement tip of all.

11. Learn to tune the world out. None of my tips work for people who need silence and quiet surroundings to concentrate. I developed my better-than-average ability to tune out distractions when I was in high school and my little brother was two years old. If you can study calculus with a toddler in the background, you can tune out anything (and yes, I believe this is a positive thing, although my husband might not agree!). I do believe that this skill can be learned over time, with practice. Having an iPod helps, but that means that you have to be able to listen to music and read at the same time, which not everyone can do. But people who can tune out distractions are more productive at work and get more done generally, so I think it's worth working on it. The problem is not that everyone keeps distracting you while you're trying to focus on "War and Peace" - that's just life. The problem is that you are paying attention to the distractions! Good luck!


  1. Great post! We liked it so much we blogged about it:

  2. Hi,

    These are some good tips :)
    I could relate to the part about putting a dumb book down :). Although i still find it hard to leave a book incomplete. But you're right - keep self punishment to the minimum :)

  3. Awesome list! Anyway to get a part two of where to store all of these books that we rack up? ; )

    How often do you read a book more then once? Skim more than once?

  4. I rarely re-read fiction, unless it's Jane Austen (I've read all of her books at least twice). I mean, a novel has got to be AMAZING if I'm going to reread it, because I have plenty of fiction on my to-read list that needs to be read the first time around. I do re-skim nonfiction pretty regularly, however. Especially if I find myself thinking about it later.

    I will say, however, that rereading is great. Everytime I reread a book, I get so much more out of it that I missed the first time through. But usually, my impatience and constant craving for NEW, NEW, NEW, prevents me from going back.

  5. That sounds a lot like me when I get the reading bug. Right now I'm going through a slower phase but maybe these tips will get me going again =)

    I still have problems with dumping books though. Especially when I sometimes seem to find books that are terribly boring to read, but about an interesting subject that I'm just dying to know about.

  6. Oh yeah, and I'll have to do a follow-up post on how to store and organize your books. I'll include pictures of my books - spread all over the floor of my bedroom, piled on every surface, and crammed in heaps on the floor of the back seat of my car and in the trunk. Often covered in dog hair, dirty, slightly damp and mildewy, dog-eared (or dog-chewed), kicked-around, and loosely "organized" by the time I bought them.

    I have a better idea - you should do that post, Andrea!

  7. Wonderful tips! I found that I already do pretty much all of these, but I still thoroughly enjoyed these! :D

  8. Except for the audio books, I follow all of these tips myself. Audio books I find myself tuning out and therefore missing the plot.

  9. I'll have you know that I read this post out loud to my husband as he washed the dishes. Good tips ;)

  10. I like Ur tips.

    I already do most but when reading/listening 2 a really good book but don't seem 2 be on the way 2 finishing it, I just say get it done and just set aside a time 2 read/listen to it.

    also since U obviously never played baseball, it's understandable that U don't have a clue as 2 how much is going on but hey Ur tips were good when sticking 2 what U know.


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