How to Read More Books in 2023
8 Tips for a More Satisfying Reading Life + My Daily Reading Routine
Happy Friday, Readers!
The most common question I get from fellow readers — by far — is how I read so many books. Closely related: What does a day of reading look like for me? Below, I attempt to answer those questions, starting with a look at my daily reading routine and then getting into my eight best tips for how to read more and, ultimately, attain a more fulfilling reading life.
Let’s get right to it.
My Daily Reading Routine
My alarm is set for sometime in the 5am hour every single day of the week. The singular reason for this is so that my wife, Jane, and I can get ~45 minutes of reading in — with a good cup of coffee — before our kids are awake a little after 6:30am.
The idea of waking up to hyper kids in my face is as unappealing a situation as I can imagine. Of course, sometimes getting up before 6am is hard, but the calm reading time is worth every ounce of effort it takes.
There’s 45 minutes locked in, every single day.
During my work day, I’ll sneak in one or two 15-minute chunks of reading time. I’ve trained myself to reach for my Kindle rather than my phone when I need a break.
That’s another 15-30 minutes locked in, more days than not.
At the end of the day, Jane and I read in bed for about 30 minutes before our eyelids get heavy and I yell at Alexa to turn the lights off.
Thirty more minutes, locked in. Every day.
Totaled up, so far, that’s about 90 minutes a day. It sounds like a lot, but broken down, it doesn’t seem so unattainable.
After following this routine for over a decade, I’ve become a pretty fast reader. (The more you read, the faster you get!) I can get through roughly 100 pages in those 90 minutes. If the average book is 300-350 pages, that’s two books per week, 100 or so books per year.
If I get behind in any given week or month — which is inevitable, given life — the occasional weekend binge-reading session, a vacation or two, and a few snow days stuck inside more than make up for it.
This math has worked out like clockwork nearly every year. The exception was 2015, when our first kid was born and it took me a while to figure out my reading life. (I read 35 books that year.)
The bottom line: If you follow the tips below, you’ll likely find yourself reading more books than you thought possible.
1. There are no right or wrong books. Read what you want.
The very first thing you need to do in order to improve your reading life is to give up any idea that there are books you should read or need to read.
We all have that list in our heads of “should” books — for me, it’s often the classics that I skipped in high scool; for others it’s the hot new title of the moment or latest celebrity book club pick.
Over the years, the most important thing I’ve learned is that reading is always intensely personal. What you are drawn to and enjoy depends on your own stylistic tastes, your interests, your past experiences, your current circumstances, and more.
That little word “like” is actually a complex witch’s brew of ingredients — and when it comes to books, it’s certainly not defined by bestseller status or by placement on a “Books Everyone Should Read” list.
Let me repeat: There are no right or wrong books. Read that line again and again if needed.
Read what you like. Cheap thrillers? Great! Lusty romances with awful covers? Go for it! Big old history books? Sure, who needs Dickens! The latest pop psychology? Heck yes, Reader. Get after it, whatever it is. The magic and benefits of reading don’t depend on the genre.
There are plenty of things in life that are, quite necessarily, driven by obligation. Don’t let your reading life be defined by shoulds.
When you read what you want, you’ll read more due to the simple fact that you’re excited to do it. You’ll want to pick up the book instead of whatever else is pawing for your attention. The mental itch to find out what happens next (which happens even with non-fiction books) will compel you to read more. Guaranteed.
Let me repeat one last time: There are no right or wrong books. Read what you want and whatever makes you excited to read.
2. Don’t be afraid to give up (or hit pause).
The second most important thing I’ve learned about reading is to be totally comfortable either giving up on a book entirely or by putting it back on the shelf for the time being. This has definitely increased my overall reading enjoyment, as well as the pace of my reading.
When I feel obligated to read or finish an uninspiring book, I inevitably slow down. I pick up my phone more often (instead of the book), I let myself get distracted by my to-do list more easily, and I just don’t have that same urge to know what happens next that compels me to read more.
If a book just isn’t resonating with you, put it down. Sometimes the book just isn’t for you and your unique tastes; sometimes the book isn’t for you right now.
Reading assignments in high school and college trained us to read books all the way through, no matter what. That same sense of reading obligation has followed many of us into adulthood, to our own detriment.
When reading feels like a chore, we put it off. We begrudgingly read a few pages and put the book down to go do something else. And before you know it, it’s taken you weeks or even months to read a single book, when you could have read a handful of enjoyable and compelling titles in the same amount of time.
If you’re not excited to read, you’re not reading the right books. When that happens, quit the dang thing and find another book that excites you.
One final note on the topic: This isn’t to say you should give up on any book that requires effort. Some books are hard to get through or require some sheer endurance, but if you enjoy it and/or get something out of it, it’s still worth reading. Perhaps the best approach in that scenario is to read the tough book for just 10-15 minutes a day and then have something more fun and engaging for the rest of your reading.
3. Always have a book on hand.
Life is full to the brim with random moments of bookish potential — which are almost entirely filled by dinking around on our phone instead.
In the course of my own day, you’ll find me occasionally reading:
while waiting for the water to boil for coffee in the morning
while the coffee is steeping for 5 minutes
while the kids are brushing their teeth
while I’m brushing my teeth (if it’s a particularly riveting book)
while killing just 5-10 minutes before a work meeting (how often is that time just wasted on your inbox or Slack/Teams)
while taking a 10 or 15-minute brain break in the afternoon — a book is wayyy more satisfying than Instagram
while sitting for a few extra minutes in the school parking lot before I can get the kids
while cooking something for dinner that requires a bit of passive time
while out on a walk (audiobooks for the win!)
while kids are watching some TV before bed (and we’re definitely not counting down the minutes until bedtime)
I know that a lot of you have a hard time getting into a book when there are only 5 or 10 minutes to read, but I promise you’ll get better with practice. Give it a consistent try for at least a week, and I can almost guarantee you’ll absorb more than you think, and you’ll end up getting through books quicker than before.
Soon enough, you’ll be in the habit of reaching for a book in spare moments rather than the shallow allure of social media.
4. Read in a group!
Few things can motivate your reading like having some accountability. The best way to do this is by reading in a group. Here’s a few benefits of doing that:
You gain a deeper understanding of the book and its various meanings. How you understand a book is as much a product of your own life story as it is the story found between the pages. To hear and listen to other viewpoints is to expand your thinking about the book you’re reading as well as the human experience as a whole.
Hearing different opinions can (and should) change how you see a book. This happens all the time in the book club I’m part of. Someone will come in with scathing hot takes, only to see their opinion lighten up a little after hearing a few nice things about the book. The opposite happens too: someone has a book locked and loaded at 5 stars, only to bump it down after hearing some worthy critiques. This is a good thing! A broader, more complex view of what we’re consuming makes us more thoughtful consumers.
You’ll read more books! When someone is relying on you (even in a very low-stakes way) or when you’re apt to feel left out if you don’t do a thing, you’re more likely to get that thing done. This applies to books as much as anything else! If you’re part of a book club with a regular cadence of reading and meeting, you’ll end up reading more.
Whether as part of a book club that gets together in person or a buddy read (reading a book with just one other person) or an online book club, a little push is sometimes all you need to get on the reading train.
Join The Big Read — my online book club — for 2023! For $5/month or $50/year, you get access to weekly recaps, group discussions, and some good ole accountability. Sign up today for 20% off!
5. Be flexible. The perfect environment is elusive.
It’s tempting to fall into a “everything needs to be just right” mentality when it comes to reading. You need a quiet place free from distraction, clean and cozy surroundings, and a sizable chunk of time — this is the only way you can get into a reading groove. And once the spell is broken, it’s gone. Why bother trying again.
I used to be that way, but when our kids came along I had to learn how to read in wildly distracting, time-crunched scenarios.
There’s no secret to being able to do this — you just have to practice.
When it seems like the wrong time to grab a book and read, do it anyway. Kids around? Middle of the workday? Dishes piled up in the kitchen? Take 5 minutes to read a book — any book. It’ll probably feel uncomfortable and it may not feel like you’re retaining anything, but do it anyway.
These are also some great times to pop your headphones in and listen to an audiobook. It took me a looong time to get into audio reading, but I was finally able to crack that nut this year and about 10% of my books read in ‘22 were on audio.
I’ve gotten into the habit of turning on an audiobook in the midst of nearly any amount of dead space/time: doing dishes, driving anywhere (even if it’s just a few minutes away), walking, folding laundry, doing yardwork or shoveling a snowy driveway. . . nearly any menial task is made better with audiobooks.
At least once a day, try to read for a few minutes in imperfect conditions. Again, it’ll likely feel annoying at first and like it’s not worth it. Give it some time though and you’ll get there. You’ll soon realize you’re retaining more than you thought and that those little chunks of time add up in a big way. (See point #3 above.)
I’ve practiced this a lot over the years and can now comfortably sit on the couch with a book in hand and happily read while the kids are watching TV or playing or turning the house into a disaster zone around me. (This isn’t a gender divide thing where I’m sitting while my wife, Jane, does all the parenting and housework. Jane often knits during these same time periods and we’ve decided that the clean-up is worth it.)
Reading in an imperfect environment is great practice for the elusive and desperately necessary skills of focus and attention.
6. Be flexible, part two. You don’t need to understand or catch every word.
I’ve encountered a lot of readers who get slowed down in their reading by feeling the need to fully understand each and every word and sentence before continuing on.
Now, some books beg for completist readings where you slow down and truly catch each word with your eye or ear as you take it in.
But there are some genres that don’t rely as much on language as they do on plot or the mere conveyance of facts — like thrillers, history, memoir, contemporary fiction. These types of books just don’t require such intense reading. (Don’t come after me just yet — there are, of course, exceptions.)
There are times in most books where I can skim through whole pages or chapters and understand perfectly well what’s happening, even while not catching every single word. It’s obviously not the most comprehensive reading experience, but not every book calls for that.
When I’m reading purely for pleasure or entertainment, what’s the difference if I miss a few words but hang on to the story with no problem? If I get to a point where I realize I missed something important, it’s easy to go back and fill in the pieces.
When it comes to classic books, it’s especially easy to get slowed down by old-timey writing styles that we aren’t used to reading and by awkward words that are no longer used in modern conversation.
It’s tempting, in these scenarios, to slow way down in order to make sure you know exactly what’s being said in each sentence. I get that impulse, truly I do. But I’ve also discovered that the first time you read any book, most of your experience with it is simply trying to remember the main characters, figure out their story arcs (Do they grow? Not grow? What are they after?), and follow the major plot points. Focus on those things, especially when it comes to hard-to-read classics, and by the end you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of the book than you realized in the moment.
Better to have read Moby-Dick all the way through and caught 50% of its meaning than to have gotten permanently stuck on page 100 because you felt the need to thoroughly understand every jot and tittle.
Learn to skim when you’re getting frustrated.
It’s hard to do, I know — especially when you’re used to a completist style of reading. As with all of these tips, it simply takes practice. Rather than re-reading sentences, force yourself to just keep going every once in a while. Push past it and you’ll realize you didn’t actually miss that much.
7. Put in the effort to make reading a habit.
I was able to get pretty specific about my reading life up above because it’s been a habit of mine (and, for the most part, Jane’s too) for over a decade. We found what worked for us, discovered a lot of satisfaction and peace in that routine (especially once kids came along), and stuck to it.
Even activities that bring us joy require some effort or accountability (or both) to turn them into a life-giving habit.
For most people, morning and evening habits are tied to their phone. It’s worth asking if those current routines are fulfilling or not. How do you feel after reading for 30 minutes versus scrolling Instagram or TikTok for 30 minutes? I can guess what the answer is.
Next time your scrolling makes you feel a bit bleh, grab a book. It’ll take some willpower at first (perhaps a lot), but it’ll get easier and easier. For me, turning to a book in the morning and at night is so ingrained that I don’t even think of doing anything else. (Of course it helps that I’m only reading books that I really want to read. See tip #1. I gotta know what happens next!)
8. Track your reading.
This is a simple but very powerful tip. Once I started tracking my reading and was able to put a firm number to all those untracked minutes and hours with books in hand, I became even more motivated to boost the final tally by the end of the year.
I was embarrassingly excited the first time I hit 100 books in a year and I’ve used that number as a reading goal every year since. There’s no denying that we live in a quantitative world and it is immensely satisfying to see those numbers tick up every time you finish a book.
I’ve been tracking my reading for about 15 years now in a Google spreadsheet and every year I add to it I’m increasingly glad that I started when I did.
Though you may regret “lost” reading years and unremembered books, it’s never too late. Add in past books if you want, or not. There aren’t any hard and fast rules regarding tracking. Whether you use Goodreads, a Google spreadsheet, a paper journal, or something else entirely, all that matters is that you do it. Your future self will be so glad you did.
Reading takes practice.
Here’s the bottom line: Reading is a skill. There’s no doubt about it. And as with any skill, it takes some practice. What’s great about reading, though, is that the practice is so dang enjoyable! You’ll get faster, with time, which means you’ll soon be reading more books.
That’s all for me this week. I so appreciate your time and attention in our distraction-filled world. It means a lot to me!