5 Approaches that Helped Me Read 57 Books Last Year

Jan 02, 2020

The fact that I read 57 books last year was not due to a new year’s resolution. The accomplishment of reading 57 books is largely due to five approaches that I discovered, after I adjusted my definition of reading

For several years I lamented not being able to read much due to life’s demands, maintaining the idyllic mental picture of curling up for hours at a time under a blanket with a novel that had a healthy heft and bookstore scent to it. That scene was quite the opposite of the realities of my “free” time when I was folding laundry, exercising, or standing in a crowded train, often with short windows of time when content could be consumed. Even though my grandmother was somehow able to wash the dishes and iron the clothing of her ten children while reading propped-up books — a practice that she admits slowed her down but helped maintain her sanity — I knew that I was not capable of that. I also knew that I had the privileges of more modern technologies that would also make it less likely for me to break dishes or burn myself. Through a combination of physical books, ebooks, and audiobooks (yes, I now include listening to audiobooks as reading), I found that the following five approaches helped me fully indulge in reading, helping me feel like my true self.

1. Read several different kinds of books in different formats simultaneously

At any time, I would be reading several different types of books. Doing so helped my book consumption because I always had a type of book to fit my mood and my situation. While a novel in the form of a physical book was my top choice when reading on the couch in the evening, that did not happen as often as needing an ebook or an audiobook. I found ebooks to be particularly helpful during activities such as exercising on an elliptical machine (just swipe to the next page), standing on a crowded train (you only need one free hand to hold it and turn the page), and when I did not want to keep my husband awake at night with a reading light. Audiobooks were my companions when doing such activities as jogging outdoors, grocery shopping, and driving long distances — making the mundane fun and something that I often wished would even last longer. 

I would often have two to three different books going at any point. For instance, I often simultaneously read a nonfiction work-related book, a nonfiction book not related to my career interests, and a novel. For instance, if I was reading a denser book about organizational leadership and a heavier piece of literature, I would balance that out with a lighter memoir that would be nice to read when I was relaxing or mentally taxed from the day.

2. Read with a purpose-driven deadline

Although I did not set a goal to read a certain number of books, I did set a goal to learn more about strategic planning in advance of the Strategic Planning Professional certification exam that I took through the Association for Strategic Planning. Not only am I now certified in strategic planning, but I am also better read in the area — and I did so by the exam date. Just as reading about a destination before a trip or about having a baby before the delivery date, having a purpose-driven deadline can be a helpful motivation to read.

3. Read with a theme

Since the majority of the strategic planning books I read were written by men, I decided that the first ten books after my exam would be by female authors. I read a combination of fiction and nonfiction spanning centuries, by writers from Emily Brontë to Melinda Gates. By choosing the theme of the female voice, I also realized how all of the ten books addressed gender in some way, when male authors rarely broached the topic. Without a thematic approach to my book choice, I am not sure I would have noticed the common thread. Additionally, reading about consistent topics or themes, such as WWII or gratitude, can help you build expertise and a deeper connection with the theme, especially as different writers and perspectives challenge or reinforce what others say.

4. Borrow books

Borrowing books from the library or from other people incentivized me to read them more expeditiously. I often put holds on ebooks through my public library, so when those ebooks became available, I knew that I had a three week window before they would disappear, forcing me to wait several more weeks or months for it to be available again. When three books came available simultaneously, I viewed it as a fun challenge to lose myself in the books that others in my community were also requesting and reading. Similarly, I prioritized reading books that I borrowed from others in the hopes of staying a trusted book-swap counterpart. Plus, collectively debriefing on the books with the friends who loaned them to me was even more satisfying than the reading itself.

5. Choose reading

Over the past year I did not indulge in an overabundance of non-book content. While I did read articles, listen to podcasts, and watch programs and movies, I did not consume as many as my peers tended to. Rather than learning an article’s worth about a wide breadth of topics, I dove deeply into a few. Plus, books are always better than their movies, aren’t they?! I still spent time with family and friends, burned time on social media, and binge-watched the occasional show, but overall, I chose to read — and I think I did my grandmother honor by doing so.


NOTE: This was originally posted on January 2, 2020 on LinkedIn.


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