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Over 40% of Americans claim not to have read any books in the previous year. The survey was last conducted in 2002, and noted falling reading rates from previous years. I’m sure if you’re reading through lifehack.org that you probably don’t expect reading to stop after you graduate. Yet, with such dismal statistics, how can you beat the odds and read more books this year?

Why Bother Reading More?

I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements where famous celebrities sit next to a stack of books they haven’t read and tell you to read more. While I agree with the message, the posters take for granted that ordering you to read more is enough to convince you that you should bother.

I usually read 50-70 books each year and I believe it is one of the best investments of time and money I can make. But I wasn’t really sold on the process of reading in my spare time until a few years ago. I might only have read four of five books outside of class in 2002. My decision to build the habit of reading more books came from being sold on the benefits of reading more. Here are some of the reasons to start:

  1. Knowledge. It only takes reading 10-20 books on a subject until you know more on that topic than most of the population. Read 200-300 books on a subject and you’re an expert.
  2. Flow. Unlike the passive activity of television, reading takes mental effort. This mental effort results in keeping your mind sharp and engaged.
  3. Self-Improvement. A book doesn’t have to be in the self-help aisle in order to give you ideas for improvement. Great works of fiction, books on science, culture and philosophy are full of ideas that you can’t get just from skimming an online article.
  4. Awareness. What’s happening in the world? What trends are continuing into the future? Where is the world headed? Unfortunately just flicking through the 24-hour news programs on television are more likely to give you advice on the latest antics of Britney Spears than a broad perspective on the world.
  5. Power. Ignorance is not bliss. You can’t change something you don’t know about. Learning about yourself, science, culture and the world as a whole gives you a power most people lack–awareness.
  6. Pride. Not the most noble of benefits, but it still is a plus. Reading classic works of literature gives you the ability to know what people are referring to when they reference ideas like “doublethink” or quote Shakespeare.
  7. Changed Outlook. This one is harder to realize until after you’ve read a few dozen books, but reading great books can completely change your outlook on life. Books force you to think, and while you may feel you’re doing a good job of that already, they can make you think in ways you hadn’t even considered.

There are many other reasons for reading and I suggest you come up with your own. But wanting to read more (like wanting to exercise, drink less or get promoted) doesn’t make it so. Reading more books requires forming the right habits so that reading becomes an automatic activity, rather than a chore.

How to Read More Books This Year

Here are a few tips for boosting the amount of books you can read:

  1. Speed Read. Speed reading has been attacked by all sorts of people for being fake, compromising understanding or based on junk-science. I think this is based on the misconception that speed-reading is all about a magical technique that allows you to blur through pages, rather than plain, common-sense habits to make reading faster. There are entire books on speed reading, but here are a few tips that have stuck with me since I first learned to speed read a few years ago:
    • Use a pointer. Run your index finger beneath the text on the page. This keeps your eyes focused on a specific point on the page. After a week or two of adapting to using your finger, this can boost your reading rate considerably.
    • Practice read. Practice reading means “reading” slightly faster than you can actually comprehend. While you won’t get any new information from practice reading, this trains you to read without needing to subvocalize (repeat the words in your head).
  2. Start a Morning Ritual. Recently I decided to set aside time for reading each morning. Following when I wake up at 5:30, I read for an hour and a half. This lets me squeeze in reading time on a schedule that would otherwise be too busy during the day. Even if you can only devote 15-30 minutes of reading each morning you can read 20-30 books each year.
  3. One Book at a Time. Trying to multi-task between books is wasting your time. My rule is that I should continue reading one book until I finish it, or decide to quit it entirely. Putting one book on hold to start another just crowds your to-do list.
  4. Carry a Book With You. If you plan on going anywhere, keep a book with you and you can read if you are forced to wait. Throughout your day there are probably many moments where you have to wait for a few minutes in lines, during breaks or when traveling. Having a book with you means those moments aren’t wasted.
  5. Audio Books. Most popular books have audio versions. While the audio versions are more expensive (use the library), you can have something to play in your car when you are driving or in your iPod when walking around.

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