A lot of people set a book goal at the start of the year. So at the end of the year, we see all the posts on social media about how close they came to completing their goal. I love to read but other than work, I usually read for my own enjoyment, so I don’t set these goals. I let myself down in enough ways, I don’t need books to be another source of disappointment. But, maybe you did have “read more” on your list of New Years Resolutions. If so, here’s a list of tips from a super reader named Tyler Cowan. He’s an economist, blogger and author who wrote an article on how to read as many books as possible. I should preface this by saying that the numbers this article is dealing with are anywhere between 50-100 books a year, which sounds like a lot more than just trying to clear those books off your nightstand. But if you want to pull in those numbers, here you go.
Tip #1: Be ruthless. Not captivated by a particular book at a particular time? Then on to the next. “Just stop reading, put them down,” Cowen advises. A boring intro, bad design, or hard-to-read font is enough to persuade Cowen to chuck a book. There are countless amazing books out there. Don’t settle for less than good.
Tip #2: Go ahead and skim. At least in the case of nonfiction, if you already know the material, feel free to skip ahead. “When you go to read actual books you’re like, ‘I know that, I know that, I know that,’ and you keep on going, and you read much more quickly. And that’s really the way to read a lot,” says Cowen. (This also creates a virtuous cycle in which the more you read, the more you’ll know, and the more you can skip.)
Tip #3: Read to solve problems. “The best reading is focused reading, when you’re trying to solve some kind of problem,” Cowen believes. You could aim to answer a specific question, investigate a given author, or scratch an itch of curiosity. “You want to start with a problem or question when you’re reading,” he insists.
Tip #4: Read in clusters. This naturally follows on from the point above. If you arrange your reading around questions or areas of exploration, you’ll end up reading multiple books about the same topic. That allows you to “do a kind of cross-sectional mental econometrics and see which pieces start fitting together,” says Cowen.
Tip #5: Read fiction. Gathering a stack of non-fiction titles to explore a topic is great, but don’t neglect fiction. “Reading fiction is important to understand the cross-sectional variation in humanity, to understand how difficult generalizations can be, to just get a sense of how different social pieces fit together, and to get a sense of different historical eras — and plus, reading fiction is often just plain flat-out fun,” explains Cowen. Amen to that.
Tip #6: Read books about topics you know nothing about. “Every area you don’t give a damn about you probably should read at least one book in. Because the very best book in that area is superb, and you’re not going to know what it is. So if tennis is something you don’t know anything about, well, read Andre Agassi’s memoir. That’s a wonderful book. You don’t have to know about or care about tennis,” claims Cowen.
Tip #7: Have fun. “Take reading seriously, develop a passion for it, and view it as part of your practice as a knowledge worker to get ahead, but along the way, having fun doing so,” Cowen concludes.
I probably do stick with far too many books I should just quit. Most of the time it’s titles that everyone is raving about and I’m trying to figure out why they love it so much. If I’m hating it but unwilling to give up, I’ll do the skimming Cowen suggests in Tip #2 just to get through the book. But if I am trying to learn something, like in the case of non-fiction, skimming doesn’t work for me. I retain virtually nothing if I skim, so that’s a waste of everyone’s time.
Most of these don’t apply to me since I read very little non-fiction. I’m curious about Tip #6, though. Reading something you know nothing about would keep monotony at bay. And if you adhere to the book dumping in Tip#1, what’s the harm, right? I’m not familiar with this term “super reader”, which I think just reinforces that I am not one. (I had to laugh because the whole first page of hits I get for ‘super reader’ are from Scholastic as, “a child who enters a text with purpose.”) Honestly, I think I’d prefer to hear about people aggressively going after a books-read goal than a weight goal or a money goal – you know, shake it up a little. As long as I don’t have to compete, because I’ll hand you your ribbon now. I’ll stick with my single target of being a regular reader who adheres to Tip #7. Oh look! I already hit my goal.
Photo credit: Jamie Street, Monstera, Yaroslav Shuraev and Ksenia Chernaya of Pexeles
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