The past few years I’ve consistantly had “read more books” on my list of yearly goals. I read a lot as a child, but the last few years my TBR pile has been rapidly outpacing my actual reading. So, this year I decided to get specific and quanitfy my goal: 100 books in a year. While I admit this is a bit of a stretch goal (I think I read under 30 last year) in the first quarter of this year I finished 23 different books, only two short of my quarterly goal. I’ve implemented several techniques that have helped, including reading more than one book at a time.
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Reading More Than One Book at a Time
I got into the habit of reading multiple books at once primarily because, as a graduate student, I had to. I was always reading at least one book related to my degree. If I wanted to read anything fun it was either read concurently or wait until I graduated. This year, I’ve taken it up a notch and I’m often reading at least three books -a mix of fiction and nonfiction- all at the same time.
The trick is making sure the books are different enough that you don’t get them confused. An easy place to start is to pick one fiction and one nonfictoin book, but if you want to add on more it can get more specific than that. As I’m writing this, I’m reading four books:
- A collection of litterary fiction short stories
- A historical romance novel
- A nonfiction history book
- A book on productivity methods
The characters in the two fiction books are so different that I’d never confuse them. And the history book and productivity manual use such different parts of my brain that it’s easy to decide which one I want to read at any given moment.
Reading Books in Multiple Formats
Generally, I like the experience of reading paper books best, but there are a few downsides. They’re heavy to cary around (not that I’m doing too much of that these days!). They also either cost money or involve actually going to the library. So, right now they make up about 1/3 of my reading.
Ebooks, while not as satisfying make up another 1/3 of my reading. Right now I read them both on my phone and on my 10 year old Kindle. When that goes, I’ll probubly replace it with a Kobo, as most of my e-book reading is through my library. Ebooks are great specifically because they’re such a convenient way to read library books, especially during this pandemic.
I also like having a book on my phone for those times when I didn’t expect to have a chance to read. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of novels when my 3-month-old neice unexpectedly decides to take a nap on me. I the past, I’ve used reading on my phone as a way to pass the time when standing in long lines or waiting for an appointment.
Listening to Audio Books
The remaining 1/3 of my reading is done by listening to audio books. Shifting a bit of the time I used to listen to podcasts over to audio books let me get through seven books in the first quarter of this year. The trick, I found, was to figure out what sort of books worked best for me as audio.
Now, I only listen to fiction when the narator is female because cannot stand the way male narators do female voices. I’ll listen to non-fiction with any narrator, but it can’t be too technical. Book length is also important. Anything over 15 hours is too long to read before the two week long loan at my library expires. Closer to 10 hours is ideal.
Using the Library
Learning to use the library in my new town has been key to increasing my reading. Borrowing books from the library can be a bit of a pain because of limited borrowing times (mine is just two weeks). However, library loans eliminate money from the reading process.
Elimniating any financial constraints is important for two main reasons. First, I find it easier to give up on a book that isn’t working for me when I didn’t pay for it. I’m more likely to take a chance, but also less likely to waste my time. Second, I don’t have to think about my budget at all. I never have to choose between two books I’m kind of interested in and one I really want. I also can read in whatever format I want.
Re-Learn Your Taste in Books
If you haven’t been reading lately, it may be because you’re trying to read things that you’re no longer interested in. Or, perhaps just things you aren’t in the mood for. Reading more than one book at a time can help to keep your concentration in the moment, but it works best if you actually like the books you’re trying to read.
When I was first trying to get back into reading I signed up for Book of the Month Club. It pushed me to try new authors and genras that I hadn’t read in a while. It was through reading my first few BOTM books that I realized that I loved reading historical fantasy books with strong female characters.
At the same time I’ve been introduced to litterary fiction books by authors of color that I might have overlooked otherwise. I recently finished The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans, a collection of short stories and a novella that I know I’ll be thinking about for months. The writing was so sharp and powerful that, even though I’m not much of a literary fiction person, I am so glad I read it.
If you find yourself in a reading slump I highly reccomend finding a book club or subscription that you vibe with. Even if you end up with some duds, it’s a great way to re-discover what captures your attention.
Know When to Quit a Book
One of the hardest things for me to learn is how to give up on a book. Not just put it asside and pretend I’ll get back to it later, but to officially declare it off of my TBR list. Part of that has been learning to distinguish between a challenging book and one that I just don’t like.
A challanging book is one that I can’t sit down and read for long periods of time because I have to digest what I’m reading. Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste is a great example. It took me a good month to get through because I needed time to think about all the new ideas she was presenting. I read several other books while working my way through Caste, but I never gave up on it because it felt valuable.
In contrast, I started the audo book version of a historic mystery novel a few weeks ago. Quickly, I found myself annoyed with all the characters. I’d really wanted to like it. I’d been on the waitlist for over a month at my library. But when the author started making ahistorical comments about corsets (a personal pet peeve) I knew I was out. I immediately returned it to the library.
Now, I try to evealuate a book when I’m 10-20% in. If it isn’t something I want to be reading I let it go. I highly reccomend this technique to anyone who tends to get in a reading slump because they don’t like what they’re reading. It get easier with practice and makes room for the reading you really want to be doing.
Track and Document Your Reading
I keep a bullet journal, and I’ve started using a collection to keep track of my reading. It’s a pretty simple spread. At the top I use hash marks to track how many books I read each quarter, if they’re fiction or nonfiction, and the format I read them in. Below, I list the title, author, and the page number of any notes related to the book.
Most of the time, I just jot down a few points about each book when I’m finished reading it. Maybe a quote or two if something jumpe out. This helps me remember the book later. Occasionally, I may create a page just for notes on a specific book, particularly if it’s for a bookclub or I want to review it.
This method of tracking is low effort enough that I don’t have trouble keeping up with it, but detailed enough to be useful. Even if you don’t have a journal, I recommend keeping at least a short record of everything you read just so you don’t forget all that you’ve done.
What Do You Do to Increase Your Reading?
Are any of you out there working on increasing your reading? Leave me a comment below or on Instagram!