Have you ever felt like a slave to your book? Like you entered into a hasty marriage with some novel your mom’s friend’s son recommended (or more likely something you saw on Oprah’s Book Club), and now you’re stuck with that old ball n chain until the bitter end?
Well I’ve got news for you; it’s okay to break up with your crappy book. Just like any relationship, as long as you entered into it with the right intentions and spent some quality time with it to find out whether or not you two have chemistry, it’s okay to move on from a book that is no longer compelling you to read it.
That's why I operate on the 50-page rule, a rule that allows me to pick up a book, give it a go, and put it down without a second though. The single most important advice I can offer to those who want to read more books is to stop being scared of picking up a bad book for fear that you’ll have to read the whole thing.
Why Read More Books?
I won't use this section to talk through the science on reading. We all know it's good for us (or at least slightly better than staring at the computer or TV screen). Instead, I want to talk about what motivates us to read, as individuals.
The big question to ask yourself: What do I want to get out of reading? It's an important one to answer before you begin to wade through the millions of books that exist.
Here are the main reasons why I read:
Life is sometimes incredible, sometimes awful, but mostly it’s...fairly mundane. For me, a good book is like a relaxing reward at the end of a tough or boring day. That feeling you get when you’re racing back to your book and don’t want to put it down is one of my absolute favorites.
To Gain Perspective
Like I mention in my Read section, there are few better ways to get outside your own perspective and broaden your worldview than to read books (Travel is another one). Becoming immersed in the narrative of someone’s life is akin to developing an intimate relationship with that person, and it’s through intimate relationships that our compassion for others grows.
To Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
I will never stop saying it: The secrets of the world are hidden in books. Before I started my new job, I read a book on the subject of content marketing. I walked in on my first day with the normal amount of anxiety a new job brings, but with the excitement that I had knowledge and ideas to contribute as soon as someone asked. One 200-page book helped me feel like I'd had at least a year's experience under my belt, when I was essentially brand new to the field.
To Grow My Vocabulary
Although this is more a by-product of reading than a motivation for me, reading books makes you a better writer and speaker. I’m often complimented on my vocabulary, and even though I'm not awesome at pronouncing all the words, I know more than the average person because I'm exposed to such a wide variety of them through my reading.
Once you’ve figured out why you want to read more books, that will help you determine the kind of books you’re going to want to read. For me, I choose a fiction book to help me escape, a biography for perspective, a non-fiction to learn the secrets of the world, and anything at all to hone my writing/speaking skills.
The 50-Page Rule, Explained
So now you’ve got some tools to pick a book that has the potential to really interest you. Next comes The 50-Page Rule.
The rule is very simple. Pick a book that interests you, and commit to reading the first 50 pages. If you aren’t compelled by the book after 50 pages, you’re done with it.
Return it to the library, give it to a friend, whatever - you and it are through. Break up with this book with #noregreats. You do not have to feel bad about this.
There are bazillions of incredible books out there in the world. There is no one book that is so special or life changing that you should feel bad about not reading it.
Some bloggers will tell you to quit at any time, but I disagree. Not every great book on my list kicked off in the first ten pages. That’s why I’ve always felt that it was important to first have a strong basis for choosing your book and then giving said book a fair chance to prove that it's worthy of your attention 'til the end.
Other Strategies To Read More Books
My strategy is not the only one that will help you read more books, just the one that works best for me. A couple other strategies to consider:
Commit to reading a set amount per day
Perhaps you commit to 20 pages per day or 20 minutes per day. Establishing the habit (more on the importance of those here) of reading is perhaps the strongest foundation you can set for yourself if you want to read more books.
Read physical books
I get the allure of Kindles and reading books on your smartphone - these devices are much easier to transport than a pile of physical books. But here’s the thing; your chances of getting distracted while reading a physical book are significantly less than while reading on a device. If reading more books is a priority for you, choose physical books over virtual ones.
Find a book list curator that shares your tastes
There are so many public figures (hello, Oprah) and smaller players (oh hi, Refinery) who regularly cultivate reading lists for their audiences. Try a few selections from a handful of lists to see if anyone is curating exactly what you’re looking for. I personally dig into to the NY Times, LA Times, and SF Chronicle Bestseller Lists for a lot of my gems.
Listen to audiobooks
Do you commute and/or clean your house sometimes? Oh, you do? Well, fabulous, then you have time to listen to audiobooks! I love that I’m technically reading a book while I walk to work or do my laundry. The life-changing moment was when I realized I could get free audiobook downloads through my library’s subscription to Hoopla & OneDrive. If that’s not enough motivate you to get your library card, I don’t know what is.
Read no more than three books at a time
Select up to three books to put to the 50-page test, and stick with those until they’ve either passed or been tossed. Any more than that, and reading can begin to feel like a chore. I like to make sure I’m reading a fiction, non-fiction, and biography at any given time. I find that when I do, my brain starts to make interesting, cross-disciplinary connections that it most certainly wouldn't in everyday life.
The most important thing to remember when you want to read more books: don’t be afraid to start them. Know that the books you choose to read don’t own you, and you’re not a bad person if you put a book down after giving it a fair chance.
Do what you can to make reading a habit, reduce distractions when you're trying to read, try audio versions, and don't bite off more than you can chew. But again, none of this matters until you choose a book to read and find one that compels you to turn page after page long past your bedtime.
Want to get started? Head over to my Read section to check out some of my favorite books. Note: They all pass The 50-Page Rule with flying colors.