How to Read More

Woman Reading by Will Barnet

Woman Reading by Will Barnet

Not everyone I know is bookish like me. I often hear, “I wish I had time to read.” I also hear, “I wish I worked in a library, like you, so I could sit around and read.” Grrr!

There is a fantasy about avid readers. We know how to choose the perfect literary novel that captures our imaginations. We select one of our many days in which we have nothing to do. We curl up with our hot chocolate, our cat and a hand-knitted blanket. We lose ourselves in the pages of a book. We emerge hours later as an edified human being. And we have nothing in common with Real People who have Real Lives.

Every day, I squeeze in some reading, in dribs and drabs, because there is no perfect, uninterrupted time. Sometimes I have 2 hours, but that’s the limit of my attention span. To make the best use of my broken-up time, I realized I have a reading strategy. It goes like this:

The Dramatist by Brigit Ganley

The Dramatist by Brigit Ganley

I surround myself with books

If I have one book waiting to be read, I’ll have lots of reasons not to read it. It might be too heavy to carry in my purse. It might be too serious after a hard day at work. I might read one chapter and not like the style. If it’s less addictive than reading Buzzfeed or my blog feed, I won’t read it. I need choice. I need a selection of books so that no matter what mood I’m in, how tired I am, or what’s on TV, at least one of those books will be irresistible to me. Instead of taking one book home from the library, I borrow 4 that look really good, and choose later.

I know I’ll never read them all

It’s impossible to read every book that catches my eye. Every month I discover at least 25 books I am “dying” to read, and another 50 I would “like” to read. No one is going to stop publishing and wait for me to catch up. Hundreds of books will pass me by. If they are memorable enough, I will find them again. I keep some lists, I place some holds at the library, and I allow myself to be led astray when I stumble across a little gem. On my death bed, I will probably think, “I wish I had read War and Peace…I wish I had read more Anne McCaffrey…I wish I had the latest issue of Dwell magazine to browse through right now…” and that’s OK!

I focus on what I can read, and do have time to read, rather than what I can’t

I don’t beat myself up about what I haven’t read. I haven’t read Dante or Dickens. I don’t have (or make) time to read the first five volumes in A Song of Ice and Fire. But I enjoyed the latest Bridget Jones, and I’m reading a Young Adult bestseller.

I read for enjoyment, not obligation

If you are reading a dull book because you need to finish it by the due date, or because your friend recommended it, or because your book club is reading it – just don’t! (But if you are reading Jane Austen’s Emma to pass English 101, carry on!)

I rush some and wait some

Last month I was in the middle of reading Oscar and Lucinda for my book club, when The Rosie Project came in for me at the library. I dropped everything, read The Rosie Project, and was glad I did. It was just the break I needed, and I was re-energized to finish Oscar and Lucinda.

I’m honest with myself about my tastes in reading

I have learned that whenever I choose books to travel with, I choose books that are too literary. Six hour flight? A perfect chance to plow through The Goldfinch! But what do I really read? I watch the in-flight movie, or read a Hello! magazine. I would be better off bringing the latest letter in Sue Grafton’s alphabet, or maybe that Allie Brosh book!

I know what motivates me to read

In library land, we call this “appeals.” Instead of saying I like thrillers or romances, I figure out what I like within those genres: snappy dialogue? plot twists? really getting inside the mind of a character? a book set in a country I’ve been longing to visit? The most motivating books refuse to be put down because they speak to my deepest desires or to the sleaziest part of my reptile brain. Self-improvement rarely wins out!

I manage my expectations

Sometimes I settle down to read, and I’m interrupted four times in the first fifteen minutes. Instead of writing off my scant reading time, I think positive: those six pages I read were just enough to get me hooked, and I can’t wait to get back to that book! If too many other tasks demand my attention, I’ll choose a less demanding book that I can start and stop at will.

I identify times and places I can read

On weekdays, I can read while working out (30 minutes), after breakfast (1 hour), on my work breaks (15 minutes), at lunch time (20 minutes), and while waiting for dinner to cook (40 minutes). Most days I read blogs after breakfast and in the later half of the evening. On my work breaks, I check the news and a few web sites. I read books during workouts, at lunch time, while cooking dinner, and on weekends. I don’t read much on weeknights or at bed time…zzz!

I choose formats for each time and place

I always have at least one e-book on my iPad, which I read while on my exercise machine, and bring with me when I’m out and about. I read it when I’m early for a meeting, or having a coffee break while running errands. Rom listens to audio books and podcasts at the bus stop, and uses his Kindle on the bus (we are a multi-multi-device family). I save my thick literary fiction for at home on the weekends, and browse through a feel-good book at bedtime (such as Beautiful LEGO).


Source: moreofamore (at) tumblr

I switch books

This week I am reading Moonwalking with Einstein on the iPad, Eleanor and Park in two uninterrupted time blocks, Marzi (a graphic novel) whenever I have a few minutes, and Humans of New York at bed time. Typical week.

I drop books

I stop reading a book if I don’t care about the ending, if the author’s style grates on my nerves, if it’s too much like the last thing I read, if I find the arguments or values abhorrent, if I’ve been completely mistaken about the premise of the book (if I don’t realize I picked up an “inspirational” book, for example), or if no one is waiting for my opinion of it!

I tell someone

I read a lot more when I have someone to discuss books with. Rom gets to hear about what I’m reading, whether he is interested or not! (But not half as much as he tells me about his reading, because he has far fewer colleagues who read obsessively and trade book reviews!) Luckily, in my library work, my co-workers never get tired of discussing books or making recommendations to each other.

I have book buddies

It’s one thing to tell your spouse or kids what you’re reading, and another thing entirely to discuss a book among others who have read it! Whether it’s one friend or an online community or a book club, it creates a real sense of shared experience to talk about a book and get different views on the same characters and events. Even if all you say is “I loved it!” and “I know – me, too!,” it brings a sense of solidarity.

I always have the next book waiting

Every time I finish a book, I’m still immersed in the other three I have on the go, and I have another stack waiting. Sure, I’ll return most of them to the library unread, but the cream rises to the top and they will be read! As long as I skim off the most compelling ones, I’m happy.

So, how much do I read? Forty to sixty books a year. More if they’re graphic novels, photo books and nonfiction. Fewer for fiction, especially serious fiction. I’m OK with that.

How do you find time to read? How do you manage all the books you want to read?


  1. You are right that there is no point wishing for more time to read…you have to make the time if it is important to you!
    I used to have time to read my full allowance of library books (8, I think) a week. I was a kid/teenager, though, without housework and other grown up things to eat into reading time!
    Recently I have started reading more, because I have made an effort to reduce time vegging out in front of the TV and replace it with reading. At the moment, I have a ‘real’ book and an e-book on the go. I find that I get too scatter-brained if I have mulitiple books on the go, and feel that I am making no progress on any of them.
    I have been fairly ruthless with my books so far, but I am feeling a further cull coming on, as I am sure that there are books I still own that I am not excited about reading…life is too short for that!
    I mostly read non-fiction at the moment, and I too have never read Dickens…I have tried, but I have always got bored. It sort of feels like sacrilage to say that!

    • There was indeed a further cull coming on- several more uni books have gone, and I am left with a selection of books that I am at least vaguely excited about reading! It’s amazing how much more ruthless I have got with books- I think because I have realised that my reading time is more limited, and thus precious- unlike the days when I could read several books in a week!

      I’ve updated my books list post on my blog ( and it now seems that I have 14 unread or partially read physically books…I may even finish them by the end of 2014! Currently reading (and enjoying) the God Delusion; I have also read Man’s Search for Meaning ( recently, which was leant to me by someone at work…I found it oddly depressing for something that was supposed to be about the meaning of life!

      • I have 11 books left in my Reading Down the House challenge, and I will have them done by year-end, too. I have read The God Delusion. Man’s Search for Meaning is on my list of Important Books I Should Read, and it has been much recommended to me – we’ll see!

    • I usually have two full-length books on the go (one print and one e-book) and anything else is a graphic novel, photo book, etc. I would like to give Dickens a fair chance – I haven’t even tried to read one – and I do like a fair amount of Victorian literature. I probably read a book a day when I was a kid/teen, as well.

  2. EcoCatLady

    β€œI wish I worked in a library like you so I could sit around and read.” – Oh, that made me laugh out loud. When I worked at the music school I often heard similar things. You know… speaking of which, your thoughts on how to squeeze in more reading time sound remarkably similar to things various music teachers have said to me over the years on how to squeeze in more practice time. I guess it’s like anything else – you make time for it and always remember that you’re doing it because you want to!

    Though… I’m pretty sure that on my death bed I won’t be lamenting that I never read War & Peace! πŸ™‚

    • Interesting, I would not have thought to apply that to music practice. It seems like you need time and dedication for that, rather than fits and starts – but that is a stereotype.

      • EcoCatLady

        Ha! Those are my exact thoughts about reading! Actually, the one thing that EVERY good music teacher has told me is that you should not keep your instrument in its case – instead you should get a nice stand for it and have it out all the time so when you feel inspired to grab it and play a little, it’s ready and waiting. The folks I know who are really good keep their instruments by the television and play scales and other exercises during every commercial break.

  3. I guess my question is how to find enjoyment in reading when the mere idea of it feels like pulling teeth!
    I went with undiagnosed ADHD until college, so it wasn’t until then that I understood WHY I disliked reading books so much. Now, I wish I could muster up the patience to read anything more than a blog post. I have gone many years post college without reading a single book. I think it’s hard for me too because my parents are avid readers and lamented over the fact that I did not share their passion. I was pressured too much to enjoy reading. I’m definitely more of a TV/show person (I can’t sit through most movies) and get my educational fill via documentaries and Nova/Nature/etc. I think the reason I love science so much is that you just have to read simple, formulaic journal articles that are straight and to the point rather than reading entire books lol!

    • Reading for pleasure is somewhat uncommon; lots of people don’t read books at all. I think reading encourages stillness and reflection, and obviously that is not natural to everyone. Reading for information is more of a life skill that reading fiction!

      • I think everyone can read for pleasure. It is all about finding the right book for you. When you find a book you like, you’ll enjoy the experience. It’s like if your only experience of watching TV was program types you abhorred, and they were the ones that dominated the schedule. Don’t give up on TV altogether. Hunt around for the program you enjoy

        I’ve had many students tell me they hate reading, until they find the book that resonates with them, the one that they enjoy. Except for the ones with dyslexic, which would make the process truly frustrating, I can help most students find a book that makes for an enjoyable experience. Then they tell me they don’t like reading, except for that one author, that one style, that ….

      • I agree; I was thinking more of those with dyslexia or serious reading difficulties. Although there are always audio books and reading out loud, in that case. When people don’t read novels at all, they can potentially miss out on a lot of cultural references (depending on whether they make a point of compensating, or not).

    • EcoCatLady

      Oh… as a borderline dyslexic, I can TOTALLY relate to this. Just opening a book makes me feel uncomfortable. It just brings back the horrors of school and being forced to spend hours and hours and hours every day trying to cram information into my brain… having to lock myself into a tiny study room about the size of a closet and walk in little circles reading out loud to myself until the wee hours to make it through college. And always… ALWAYS trying to make myself do it faster… only to realize that I’ve once again gotten to the end of a sentence, or paragraph, or page and have absolutely NO idea what was written there.

      But I am very fortunate to have CatMan who loves to read out loud to me. It gives me a little taste of what it must be like to enjoy reading. I know I’ll never ever get to the point where I can just look at the words and absorb the meaning without having to read them aloud to myself in my head, but I am finally at the place in my life where I can, on occasion, enjoy a book as long as I have no deadlines, and can read as slowly as I like. I usually make it through one every 5 years or so!

  4. I was reading your post and thinking “me too!”. But I limit my reading to evenings because if I start reading early in the day I will not get anything else done (I’m one of those readers who starts a book and won’t put it down until I finish it or can’t keep my eyes open any more). I always have books on my Kindle and books that I am in the queue for to download from our library (but sadly I haven’t held a “real” book in ages). And I keep a list of my favorite authors as well as Google “authors similar to…” when I run out of books to read from my favorite authors.

    • The only thing I dislike about e-books is that for nonfiction books with footnotes or sections of illustrations in the middle, it’s dreadful trying to flip around from one section or page to another. Otherwise I’m fine with them! Our library has a feature built into the catalogue called NoveList that recommends other titles based on ones you’ve looked up.

  5. Thanks for answering one of my questions too! I only love the occassional book enough to carry it everywhere, and sneak a read between work etc. Lots I like to read, just not *that* much, so they get relegated to before sleep time. But so many nights, the chat with the BF, lying in bed, is enough for me to be sleepy enough to turn off the light when he goes, without reading :(. Today is a day off, so I spent some time reading before more napping :D. However, the lure of the internet, and the downloaded TV shows is stronger. The fact the BF isn’t a reader means it’s somewhat isolating to him when I read. Thankfully, I come from a family of keen readers, so there’s lots to discuss as my grandparents age, and their life is less active. I can always say ‘what are you reading?’!

  6. I’ve always been a huge bookworm and then I went off to university… and only picked up a book once during the first semester. There was always readings that had to be done, or class to go to, and I spent most of my free time on my laptop, catching up on social media or watching tv shows. I also think it makes a big difference that I don’t have a comfy ‘reading chair’ in my res room – reading in a spinny office chair just isn’t the same.
    Then over winter break I read something like 5 books in 2 weeks, and made it one of my ‘new years goals’ to read at least 4 books per month. Since coming back for second semester I’ve made a conscious effort to download ebooks and bring my ereader around with my everywhere; and once I’ve started a book then I usually finish it within a day or two. I’m not sure if my grades are getting any better (I sometimes end up reading through lectures…) but I’m definitely happier and more relaxed now that reading is back in my life!

  7. Brilliant post. Thank you. I may link this in one I’m thinking of doing about reading soon.

  8. Fiona

    I also laughed out loud at the image of “selecting one of your many days in which you have nothing to do”! I’m guilty of saying “I don’t have time” to read when what I really mean is that I’m not organised enough to be proactive about books. I love all your tips. In this time of multiple distractions I especially like the idea of having multiple ‘tempting’ books around. I usually have one or two books I “should” read, not books I really can’t put down.

    • Same here – when I say “I don’t have time to read,” I mean that I’ve set other priorities. Of course I can be busy enough that I’m going from one event to another, but I could always read at breakfast, before bed etc – I am choosing not to. Today I am bleary-eyed from having stayed up late to finish Eleanor and Park!

  9. I laugh at folk who say they never have time to read. I think that if reading is genuinely something you want to do, you’ll find the time.

    I love your reading strategy! I too read a lot, and do many of the same things you do. I have loads of books around the house, some I’ll read and some I won’t, and I always have my next ‘to reads’ in a nice pile. (Plus I have a ‘to read’ folder on my kindle too.) Funnily enough I don’t discuss books as a rule, because I don’t know many folk that read, which I guess is a bit unusual,

    I find I go through phases where I just hate ebooks. After I’ve read a few on the kindle, I’ll go for a few months of only reading books – as convenient as the kindle is, I just love holding an actual book and turning pages!

    • Thanks! Have you ever read Nick Hornby’s book Polysyllabic Spree? In each chapter he lists all the books that are in his house waiting to be read, and he talks about the ones he’s read, the ones he’s struggling with, the ones he’s given up on, etc – I love it!

      I always have one e-book in progress for convenience, but I still prefer print books – however, I am surrounded by them at work, so that’s a strong influence!

  10. I don’t really manage to read all the books I want to read, but I remind myself it’s a relaxing pleasure, not a marathon. I read a bit before going to sleep each night and in dribs and drabs throughout the day if I get the chance.
    Off topic, but thought you might be interested…

    • Sometimes I try to cram in reading, especially if I’m trying to finish a book for Book Club, but I try to keep those occasions rare. I will listen to the podcast over the weekend – thanks for thinking of me! I read The Guardian almost every day and I missed it!

  11. As a fellow librarian, thanks for highlighting one of the most common misconceptions about our profession: that we have time to ‘sit around reading.’ My standard response to people when they say this to me is, ‘I have worked in libraries for 25 years, and I have NEVER read a book at work.’ I mean really, if you work in a grocery store, do you get to ‘sit around eating?’

  12. Katie P

    This was just wonderful! I found myself nodding along to the same feelings of anxiety of indulging in the classics instead of the newest Stephen King novel (but I need to read Dickens – right?!); the unending lists of books to read based on recommendations from friends, family, Amazon; and the ability (or is it inability?) to carve out those entire afternoons of reading that I experienced in childhood. I appreciated your tips in how to reframe the art of literary indulgences – having multiple options of reading formats available, taking a break to sneak in a new piece in order to allow yourself to return back to another work, and just embracing the time you DO have to sit and enjoy a great book. I’ve got my book on cd, my Kindle, and my hardcover all rearing to go for this coming weekend πŸ™‚

  13. Loved this reading post and reading about how and what you like to read. I can’t go to sleep at night unless I’ve read something in bed. I have to choose my books carefully at this time, nothing too sad or scary or it will have the opposite effect and keep me awake. I also love to read in the bath! (No, not with a kindle)

  14. I love reading so I will make time for it no matter how busy I am, although I can only handle reading one book at a time. I used to volunteer in a library and there was never time for anyone to read, let alone fully catch up on re-shelving and repairing books! But I think a paid hour or two of reading would be much appreciated by most librarians πŸ™‚

  15. I love this post and the comments.

    When people ask my “How do you find time to read books?” I ask them how much TV they watch. If you like something, you’ll do it. Reading is not a chore. (And I pass on a lot of house cleaning. How can that be pleasurable? Far better to sit and read than iron.)

    My other favourite question “How can you have more than one book on the go at the same time?” I ask them how do they manage not to mix up the characters and plots on the different TV series they watch. Like you Dar, I have several going for different moods, for portability, because the new is more attractive than the old.

    Love the misconceptions about the work of librarians. I no longer get annoyed about the one about teachers – great to have a short day and all those holidays. “Yeah,” I say, “it’s brilliant. Go to uni and get the quals.”

    I haven’t taken to reading ebooks. I just don’t like the font and I love the feel, the smell of books. I love turning the page. When I want to skim back to something, I can do it quickly in a real book. I find my place without having to use book marks. I just know where I am up to. Even if I up the book down for a few weeks, I can find my spot in a few minutes and skim to remind myself what has happened.

    My one weakness: reading a good book at night. “Just one more chapter,” I say. Opps! Way past midnight and I have work… Oh well, may as well finish another chapter, and another, and….

    • I love your comparison about keeping the plots and characters straight in TV series! People tell me that one reason they watch TV instead of read is because they want to do something “mindless” after work. I suppose that TV is delivered to you, and you can just switch channels until something is “good enough,” while finding an engrossing book takes at least some effort. Lots of people find it hard to concentrate while reading, versus watching TV. In which case, maybe their book just isn’t compelling enough! Or, they find it hard to deal with distractions. I am the opposite, I find it hard to watch movies on DVD and I don’t like to be interrupted during. Sometimes I even put the English subtitles on because it helps me focus and not miss anything!

      The inability to jump back and forth in e-books is truly frustrating and I find it a major barrier to embracing them, especially non-fiction.

  16. Lisa

    I can’t imagine not always having a book or two on the go, and I always have a ‘to-read’ list. I must read before bed, although I am guilty of not turning the light off and going to sleep at a decent time because I am reading. Conversely, my husband, who also reads before bed, invariably nods off with the book/e-reader hitting the floor or worse his face. πŸ™‚ Thank goodness he can sleep with my lamp still on!

    As I get older, I am getting better dropping a book I am not enjoying reading. It’s hard though, because I feel I have to still know the ending or that maybe it will get better. Silly really – too many books to read to waste time. I do think you should read what you like and not worry about what you ‘should’ be reading. My friend’s spouse frequently berates her for not reading something ‘important’ or ‘worthy’ in his opinion. She has a 2 hour commute after working 8 hours a day, and sometimes she just wants light, easy and fun. I say there is nothing at all wrong with that, and I argue that any reading is better than none, as long as one is engaged and enjoying it.

    PS. I read Dickens’ “Great Expectations” in high school and hated it. I do like his “A Christmas Carol” novella. I recently tried to read Les Miserables, and just couldn’t do it :S

    • I read a little bit at bedtime but don’t last long, and I use print books. I have become used to falling asleep in the glow of Rom’s iPad!

      I try to give up books quickly if they don’t grab me; otherwise, like you, I do become invested in the outcome. Then at the end of the book, I think, “That was disappointing and forgettable – I wish I hadn’t spent 6 hours reading it!” So I try to keep that in mind. Thanks for the Dickens tips! I will not be reading Hugo anytime soon πŸ™‚

  17. Loved your post and agreed with most of your points. I tend not to read too much at night – as I usually have to finish the book, even if it is 2 am. I have lists and lists and boxes and boxes of books to be read. I have not made much headway on my TBR books but I am reading. I always make time to read and always have several on the go. I am using the library more now – trying not to buy any books.
    Loved the Rosie Project by the way.

    • Hi Bev, Happy to hear you are still reading up a storm! The last time I bought books was last May on vacation. I expect I will always buy some books on vacation (especially in the UK) because the selection is so different from home and I can’t resist!

  18. I have found I read a lot of non fiction now as it is easier to pick up and put down in small chunks, I’m also trying the kids Kindle but I really am a book person!!.

  19. Lane

    I have to read at night before sleep, even for just a few minutes. I have 2-3 books going at a time; most recently was the last person to read “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, as I’d just driven through Savannah; Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, about the international market collapse, and reread To Kill a Mockingbird for an blog book club. I don’t have a Kindle or an Ipad to read on, but I am thinking hard about it especially for travel. I have book shelves in every room.

    • I haven’t read Midnight so maybe you were the second-last person to read it! I love books about economics, banking and finance (!) so I’ll have to find that one. I also re-read To Kill a Mockingbird last year because I spotted a 50th anniversary edition. I like using my iPad Mini as an e-reader because it’s small and light for those occasions when carrying books is difficult, like at workout time or long intermissions at the theatre. (remind yourself not to go anywhere with me; you might not miss out on much sparkling conversation!)

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