Epistles of Thomas

February 28, 2011

How do I read so much?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 5:51
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I’ve been asked how I’m able to read so many books every year. Do I “speed read,” do I just “skim” them or what? Let me explain, beginning with some background detail. First, I do read them cover to cover. If I count a book as read it means I have read every word in it. To qualify as a book it has to have an ISBN and page numbers. I could read a lot of short books but last year my average length was 192 pages so that isn’t the case. My overall average since I started keeping track (on Dec 9, 1986) is 178. I originally pondered counting lines per page or something to provide a more accurate count of how much I am actually reading but that seemed like too much work and now in the age of the e-reader it is possible to count actual words read. I am amazed how much books vary in words per page. You can see this when a book is originally published in hardcover and subsequently in paperback > the paperback version will usually have substantially more pages.

That said. How do I actually read so much? As of the end of February I have read 589654 pages, which takes:

1. Time. There’s only so much time in the day so where do I find time? I don’t watch TV. I gave it up for lent in 1998 and haven’t gone back. That’s not to say that I never watch it but I don’t follow any series and there is no such thing as “must see TV.” If I want to watch a series I buy it on DVD, like Corner Gas. This saves me having to watch the ads as well. Also, I am married but don’t have any kids. Kids take time, and rightly so, but I don’t have any yet. I also don’t work 70 hours a week. If you want to read a lot don’t get into management and work 70 hour weeks! I read wherever it’s convenient – on the bus, the train, the plane, in waiting rooms…Don’t get stuck reading 10 year old copies of Home and Garden or the airline magazine!

On top of finding time to read there is also the admitted fact that I read fast. I don’t “speed read/skim” because I enjoy reading and it’s hard to relax with a book if you are intent on pounding it back like sports drink after a game of soccer. I prefer to sip my books like herbal tea while playing tiddlywinks. Perhaps I should clarify that there is fast and superfast. In other words, I read a word at a time and not a paragraph at a time but I read those words pretty quickly.

Practice made me perfect, which is to say that the more you read, the easier it becomes. If you remember the first time you read Dick and Jane it took forever. The first time you picked up a textbook on elementary particle physics it took you a week of all-nighters. Now you can read about Dick, Jane and Spot and understand quarks and gluons with little trouble and your reading speed has increased.

Variety. Some people pick up their Calculus handbook and vow to read it if it kills them; usually they survive but their love of reading is gone afterwards. So read a variety of material. If you don’t feel like reading pick up a western.mystery.fantasy.romance and pound it back. You will be surprised how your brain responds with gratitude.

e-Reader. My wife bought me an e-reader in October and I’m sure I read 20% faster with it. The font is uniform in size and style which is nice. Turning pages is a click away and I hate to crack my spines so now I can be less careful about opening the book too far :).

Consistency. The longest book in the world was written by someone. Imagine how much longer it took him or her to write than it will take you to read. At a chapter per day most books can be read in a couple of weeks, no matter how difficult the subject matter. I admit to having started lots of books that I haven’t finished (yet!) but the way to finish a large book is one page at a time consistently. Just remember that sometimes the second half is better than the first and you will enjoy it!

Join a club. I have a LibraryThing account and some of friends and I have a group on there where we can chat, exchange book thoughts and see what each other has read recently. Of course, having someone like me in your group can be overwhelming – sorry about that folks. Do you still love me?

I hope this explains things and I hope that you can enjoy reading all the more!

P.S. If you’ve actually read this post you obviously enjoy reading. 🙂

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6 Comments »

  1. Good words my friend, good words 🙂

    If you had kids you could add a few pieces of advice: read while holding a sleeping baby; don’t get caught watching bad reruns on TV. And know that having an e-reader makes this infinitely more possible as you can actually read comfortably with one hand (no pages to turn, and those things are light!). Read with your children and teach them to love reading, it doesn’t just give you more time to read, its also really good for the kids. Be a miser with what free time you do have.

    My personal favorite, which you didn’t include, is to get a job where you have to read things you enjoy in order to work!

    Comment by Andrew — February 28, 2011 @ 11:34 | Reply

  2. Oh, and per your example, and being inspired by you (your post back in January about your 2010 reading), I am now keeping track of my own reading as well. So, thank you!

    Comment by Andrew — February 28, 2011 @ 11:35 | Reply

  3. Nothing like blasting you with comments 🙂

    Since starting to keep track of my reading I have also started regularly reading several magazines (through my e-reader). They are not super light, nor super short; they are things like science fiction magazines which regularly include 4-6 short stories and 2-3 novella’s, as well as more substantial political/cultural type magazines. I have been thinking about whether or not to keep track of those as well, and how I would do that. Any thoughts/recommendations?

    Comment by Andrew — February 28, 2011 @ 11:37 | Reply

  4. last one, I promise. The fireside room is lonely without you 😦

    Comment by Andrew — February 28, 2011 @ 11:38 | Reply

  5. Thanks, Tom, for sharing your secret! One more question: On average how many pages can you finish in an hour?

    Comment by Chris C. — March 14, 2011 @ 15:18 | Reply

  6. i am looking forward to see you stats the end of the year.

    Comment by mamaj — September 20, 2011 @ 11:13 | Reply


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