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Literary Gluttony – How to Consume More Books This Year

Literary Gluttony – How to Consume More Books This Year

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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?

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    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.

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    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.

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    How to Read More Books This Year

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

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    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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    Scott H Young

    Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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