Does ‘read more’ ever pop up on your New Year’s Resolutions list? Does it pop up every year? Do you start out well but quickly fall back into old habits leaving a book half read for weeks and months at a time?
Or maybe you just returned from holiday/vacation where you tore through more than one book and enjoyed it so much you want to do more of the same.
It’s all very well having good intentions to want to read more, but where do you find the time? Or in some cases, the motivation? I recently hit my ultimate personal goal of reading 100 books in one year. A pretty spectacular achievement since just a few years before I was reading less than a book a month. In this article, I’ll share with you the reading hacks I used to help me chew through my To Be Read pile.
(If you’re Googling books because you’re looking for some suggestions on what to read, I’ve scattered a few suggestions through this post. You can also check out my list of the best 50 travel books ever.)
1. Set a reading goal
What gets measured, gets done. It’s been proven time and time again. Think about what you typically read in a year then increase that number to the number you want to read – that is your goal for the year. How many books should you read a year? That really is up to you. I suggest this number represents a challenge but nothing so serious that it terrifies you into not reading at all. If you’re trying to get back to reading, you probably have an amazing baseline of 0. All you need to do is nudge that number up to at least 1.
2. Break down your reading goal into weekly or monthly goals
Take the number you have above and divide it by 52 – that’s the number of books you need to read each week to hit your goal. For example, 52 books a year is a neat book a week. 100 books a year is nearly 2 books a week. Maybe 12 books is your goal, which is – very technically – 0.23 of a book every week. Or, more practically, one book a month. If you really want to get into the details, you can go on to work out how long you should read a day. That’s a bit too much maths for me.
3. Add your reading goal to your work to do list
At the start of every month, I add my book goal to my work to-do list. Seriously. It works. Sometimes I know at the start of the month the books I want to read – it might be the books I’ve carried over from the previous month or a new books that’s been released by a favourite author. Sometimes, the task is more vague ‘read 2 fiction and 2 non-fiction books’. Adding the task to my to do list, I can see how realistic my goal is for the month. If I’m travelling a lot, I’m more likely to read than if I’ve got back to back social events.
Don’t have a to-do list? There are loads of apps out there or just grab a pen and paper and scribble down your reading target each week/month.
4. Track how many books you have read
If you don’t track your progress, you’ll find that by July you’ve read just 1 out of your 25 book target and have to cram the other 24 into the rest of your year. Making balanced and steady progress is the way you’ll meet your target. Sure, some books take longer than others (War and Peace, anyone?) but consistent progress is the way you’ll read more. So, keep an eye on those numbers.
5. Try a book tracking app (recommendation: Book Buddy)
A pen and paper list is great for tracking all things books but if you think you’ll keep setting reading goals each year, consider an app for a book list. I started with Good Reads but didn’t find the lists intuitive. Plus, there was too much noise (I found myself reading other people’s book reviews rather than reading books). Now I use Book Buddy which is distraction free and lets me scan the barcode when I’ve finished a book. It’s free for one list and a few GBP/dollars if you want to keep multiple lists.
6. Keep a list of books you want to read
Ever had that ‘there’s nothing I want to read’ feeling? If you enjoy reading, this is a frame of mind that usually can be fixed by stumbling across the book you’re in the mood for. We’ve already discussed that there are too many books out there, which is why keeping a list of books that interest you is a good tactic. I have a ‘want to read’ list in my Book Buddy app and I can usually find something in there that tickles my fancy.
7. Keep a list of recommendations
One of the reasons you want to read more is probably to expand your mind or read more broadly, and reading recommendations is good way to get out of a reading rut. Tip: take recommendations from people you know or who tend to like similar books. Reading something some high-brow stranger said is a ‘must read before you die’ is likely to stop your reading entirely, especially if it’s a tomb that doesn’t jibe with your preferred reading style.
8. Read as much as you can in month one
Nothing gives you a motivation boost more than overachieving a goal. So, try to start strong. It will also give you some wriggle room if, in September, the only reading you do is the subtitles when you binge watch Narcos on Netflix.
9. Tell someone about your plan to read more books
I don’t for a second want you to think that setting a book reading challenge should be stressful (or a point of showing off) but like any goal, if you don’t hold yourself accountable, you’re less likely to hit your reading target. If you need someone to give you a nudge, tell a friend or partner or family member what you’re trying to achieve and get them to check in with you every now and then.
10. Join a library
There are many reasons to join a library including the power of the ‘due back’ date. If you’ve taken out several books and they’re all due back on the same day, that’s a book reading goal right there. Don’t cheat. No renewals! Ok, maybe one or two.
11. Read whatever you like
Seriously! If you’re going to succeed with a book challenge, you should mostly consume what you enjoy. And if you only follow one of these tips for how to read more, make it this one.
12. Have a few book genres you can chew through quickly
I can tear through crime fiction and travel books like they’re going out of fashion but still have half (ok, quarter) read classics on my shelf I started…two…three…fine, four years ago. I do still make my way through plenty of ‘off genre’ books but if I’m trying to boost my number of books read, I return to what I enjoy the most. I’ll pick up anything by Lee Child, Dan Brown or Bill Bryson when they release new books.
13. Stop reading a book if you’re not enjoying it
This was a big mental challenge for me. My mindset: if you picked up a book, you completed it, be damned. Then I realised I have no problem switching off a film or show that doesn’t grab me in the first 15 minutes. If I don’t want to commit the time to a 2 hour movie, why on earth would I spend a week (probably a month) with a book I don’t like? I now try (doing better but not perfect) to abandon a book if it’s not grabbed me by the first few chapters.
14. If you like a book, try another by the same author
Talking about reading what you like, I commonly go on an author binge. If I’ve read something I’ve enjoyed, I’ll stick with that author through a few more books until I hit one that isn’t as good or I’m in the mood for something fresh. I sprinted through several books by Emily Barr (travel fiction) this way. And I definitely went though a YA (Young Adult) dystopian future phase reading the Hunger Games Trilogy, and, wanting more, the Divergent Trilogy.
15. Don’t feel compelled to read the classics
As I’ve mentioned, I have several partially read classics on my bookshelf. Here’s the truth: I don’t really enjoy books written in that arcane style. Bronte can bog off and Austen bores me. I want death and adventure and travel. I don’t give a hoot about some Victorian family prancing around the English countryside. Call me culturally illiterate (clear invitation to the trolls). But here’s the thing: I. Don’t. Care.
16. Don’t let anyone shame you for the books you choose to read
On that note, don’t ever be ashamed of what you read. Like managa, read manga. Gorge on chick lit, gorge away. I can’t bare people who shame others for what they read. Actually, let’s just leave that sentence as: I can’t bare people who shame others.
17. Pay attention to the thickness and print size of your books
Those people who think I should read more classics are probably going to consider me a cheat for this but if you have a big number of books you’re trying to read – like 100 (or 5 if you only ever read 1), don’t make life hard for yourself. You don’t need to make every one of those 5 books from the Game of Thrones series. Mix it up, add in a few thinner books to help you hit your goal.
18. Keep an eye on the book charts
Even if you enjoy more obscure genres, keep an eye on the book charts. Those books are selling millions of copies for a reason. Try a few (remembering to abandon any that don’t grab you). You might surprise yourself and add a new author/genre to your list as you go. Plus, there are new genres coming out all the time – Uplit is a new favourite for these depressing times. I also never thought I’d enjoy fantasy until I tried a few books by Neil Gaiman as well as the Game of Thrones books (note: I’m only reading GOT at the rate of one a year; when winter is coming, obviously).
19. Join a book club
Book clubs can be a double-edged sword. Often you’re reading something you wouldn’t choose, which can slow you down. Equally, you’re going to get held accountable for finishing a book by a deadline. The key is finding the right book club. I once elbowed my way into a friend’s book club I later found out was known as wine club. It worked for me and it got me reading more, too (between the sips of wine).
20. Follow avid readers on social media
We all know social media is addictive, right? And the advertisers know how influential it is (I didn’t want an ice cream until I saw an ad for one). Use that power: fill your Instagram feed with bookish people. See them reading, feel inspired to read. Here are a few Instagram book-based accounts I enjoy.
Like posting on insta? Why not post the books you’re reading. You will no doubt end up connecting with other book people.
E-reading was a big step for me but since I decided to become a Kindle owner back in 2012, I haven’t looked back. I still read paper books, of course (I’m not a savage). But having hundreds of books in my handbag makes it difficult NOT to read.
21. See if your library has free e-books
All libraries differ and, to be honest, I’ve never got myself organised enough to do this, but most/many/lots? of libraries have an ebook catalogue which means you can borrow ebooks for free. Go to your library and ask them what kind of e-reader you need to be able to borrow ebooks. I’m sure your lovely librarian will take it from there.
22. Get the free Kindle app on your phone
Start small – download the free Kindle app onto your phone. If you pay attention, you’ll be surprised by how much downtime you can fill with a few minutes of reading. By having the app on your phone, there is never a ‘not got a book on me’ moment….apart from if you don’t have your phone on you (though, let’s face it, you’re far more likely to leave an arm at home).
23. Put the Kindle app on your home screen
In fact, put it where your social media apps usually sit. Then, every time you go to check your social media, spent a few minutes reading first. It all adds up.
24. Try before you buy with free Kindle book samples
This is one of the main features I love about Kindle – you can try a free sample of every book they sell. If you’re still getting your head around abandoning books, download kindle samples. It’s usually the first chapter or two of a book. Psychologically, I feel better ditching a free sample than putting aside a paper book I’ve paid for.
25. Use Kindle sales to buy books cheaply
Books can be expensive if you’re not using a library. Especially if you’re reading a big number of books. I therefore try to buy books on sale. Kindle has a couple of good sales each year, usually during the holiday periods (though, weirdly, not over Black Friday – boo). In January, I typically buy 10-15 books when they’re on sale at £1-£2 each. Bargain.
26. Be wary of some Kindle books on sale
Anyone can upload a book for sale on Amazon. Several times I’ve downloaded a book I’ve seen on sale only to find it’s self-published tripe that needs a good edit to the tune of half the book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against self-publishing it’s just that there’s no quality control. When I do shop in the Kindle sale, I tend to stick to authors or books I’ve heard of/that are on my reading list or that have a high number of good, genuine-looking reviews.
27. Check out the ‘average time to read’ info on Kindle
Yes, back to the ‘cheating’ aspect of getting your book numbers up. Kindle books all look the same size (one flat cover on the screen). After embarking on a +800 page book last year – A Little Life – (thanks to a recommendation by my brother, who apparently hates me) I have gotten better at checking the ‘average time to read’ info on Kindle. I’m not scared of big books, and as harrowing as A Little Life was, it was a beautiful read. However, experience tells me that very few books are worth the time taken to work through over 600 pages (George RR Martin – yes. War and Peace, I’m still at 10%).
28. Keep an eye on the percentage read
Kindle is brilliant for those goal oriented readers. When I try to up my reading time in the race for the finish each year, I figure out what % of each book I need to finish a day to get there. That’s much easier to track on Kindle than doing it by eye.
29. Buy a kindle for when you’re out and about
Once you’ve become a Kindle convert (it can take time), I really recommend getting an actual device. They fit in your bag, they’re lighter and easier on the eye than a phone/tablet screen and the battery lasts forever. I use mine for travel and I’d be lost without it. Tip: if you do travel/read in the pool/read in the bath, go for a waterproof one. I gave mine a dunk recently and it’s been on the fritz ever since. There are too many Kindle versions to choose from, IMO. I’d recommend going simple with the Paperwhite Waterproof unless you really do want the extra, dancing functions.
Tip: I’d suggest buying without special offers (ads on the kindle), lowest GB (you are unlikely to need a lot of space as the books are tiny), without Kindle Unlimited Subscription (most of the Kindle Unlimited books are self-published tripe). The link above is the one I would recommend – a good balance of good kindle functions (reading light/best screen/waterproof but without the extras you don’t need).
30. Add Kindle books to your gift list
There’s something about reading a gifted book that makes it more special. And as we get older we’re often harder to buy for. Why not give your nearest and dearest an easy option – create a wish list on Amazon of books you want to read and let them give you a gift you’d love, page after page. This applies to paperbacks too if you really aren’t ready for Kindle.
If you’re not ready for Kindle, you’re going to hate this section through and through. Read it and choose to ignore if you want. But come back to it later. Next year if necessary.
31. Accept that audiobooks are still books
I’m honestly still struggling with this one but it wasn’t until I tried Audible that I was able to make a leap in the number of books I read a year. Now, about 25% of the books I ‘read’ are audio books. It’s difficult for someone who loves the process of eyeing words to take those words in through the ears (and it used to make me fall asleep). But thinking back to Niles in the bookstore, I now see ‘reading’ audible as just another way to try to get through as many books as I can in my life.
If you want extra validation, Stephen King gets through around 80 books a year and he uses audiobooks too.
32. Get an Audible subscription
I’m sure there are lots of audiobook options out there but if you want to listen to popular books by good authors, legally, get an Audible subscription. Sure, it’s £7.99 a month, which seems a lot for one book but without the subscription the cost is much more – over £20 per download. Focus on this: by using Audible, you can easily add 1-2 books to your reading goal each month.
And when you have a subscription, you qualify for the daily deals – usually around £2 per book so I stock up on these alongside my free credit each month.
Tip: you can usually get a free 30-day Audible trial. Audible is also often on sale over holidays with deals like 3 months for the price of 1.
33. Add audiobooks to your daily routine
I’ve gotten into an Audible routine. I listen when I’m making my morning coffee, when I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m stuck in traffic, and, on the days when I’m not washing my hair, when I’m in the shower. Adding it to my every day moments, I’m racking up more books each week.
34. Use Audible when you’re in motion
Audible isn’t something I listen to when I’m sat down (then, I’m reading book-books). I use Audible mostly for when I’m on the move. Mostly, I listen when I’m engaged in mundane tasks like chopping vegetables, cleaning up or standing in line at airports.
35. Get some wireless headphones
This will dramatically increase the number of reading opportunities you have with Audible. Tidying up, I’m typically moving from room to room and can keep listening without having to lug my phone around. Likewise: in the shower (I’ve still not been brave enough to intentionally test how waterproof my new iPhone is).
36. Use Audible to read challenging books
I do still try to read some of those ‘must read before you die’ books. And if I’m more that 50% convinced I won’t like the book, I listen on Audible. Sometimes the narrator can bring a book to life. Otherwise, I use the special power of Audible…
37. Listen to Audible books on higher speeds
IQ84 is officially the worst book I’ve ever read and I’m just glad I never spent the 46 hours reading time to get through the words on the page. I listened to it on Audible instead. Typically, I play Audible at 1.25-1.5x normal speed but with IQ84 I was running at 3x normal speed and even then the book seemed too slow. Still, I can now add this challenging (for risk of death by boredom) book to my list of books I’ve read.
Tip: slowly up the speed so you get the gist of the chapter and keep upping it until you reach the point you can still follow the storyline.
38. Listen to audiobooks while you workout
I accept that if you’re doing something high intensity, you might want some pumpin’ tunes but if you’re sat on a bike or doing repetitive weight sets at the gym, Audible is a great companion. In fact, I keep some good books just for my gym sessions which acts as a motivator for me to go to the gym so I can keep listening.
39. Trade podcasts for audiobooks
If you enjoy podcasts, try swapping them out for books. It’s an easy trade and a good way to get your book numbers up.
40. Use Audible for books with different dialects
I’m forever impressed by the audible performers who can consistently trot out several accents in one reading. This was one of the surprising upsides of listening to Audible versus reading. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy The Goldfinch (loved it) and part way in regretted not reading the paper book. But it didn’t take long for the American/Russian accents of the performer to suck me in.
Tip: Over time, you’ll come to find favourite performers on Audible which can add a whole new element to books. Also: books read by the author are an absolute bonus. I’m currently listening to Michelle Obama read Becoming. The business books by Dan Lyon were another favourite (he’s very funny).
41. Read several books at once
This is an online tip that I struggled with at first (my reading was always linear – read this, finish it, read that, repeat) but it was also a game changer. Why? I’m not always in the mood for crime. Sometimes I want to read something inspiring or romantic. Sometimes I want to get through a big, hard book by interspersing it with a ‘guilty pleasure’ books (read 10 pages of the tomb then you can read John Grisham). By swapping between books, you’ll absolutely read more. People often assume it’s confusing. However, if you can keep track of multiple TV shows each week, you can absolutely read multiple books.
42. Leave your books lying around
By reading multiple books at the same time, you can more easily squeeze in a few minutes of reading time. I typically have one book in my kitchen, one in my office, one in my living room, one in my bedroom and one in my bag. I am never without a book. Little by little, those ‘just read a quick page’ moments add up to whole books.
43. Read when you wake up
How many of you pick up your phone first thing? I’m the same. But I’m getting better at quickly putting it down and opening a book instead. Reading first thing gets me ahead on my reading goal for the day. Not only that, it’s better for my brain and mental health – my day feels much calmer, especially as I tend to read inspiring books early in the morning which is a much better way to start my day than dealing with demanding emails or comparing my non-thigh gaps to thin Lizzy in her bikini on Instagram. My latest favourite inspiring books are by Bréne Brown.
44. Read at lunch time
I work from home/a cafe/wherever serves food and coffee and has wifi, so it is admittedly a bit easier to step away from my desk and catch 10-15 mins of reading but you can add it into your office routine, too. Get outside, sit in your car or just open up your book/Kindle as you munch at your desk. The emails can wait. If your boss disagrees, send them to me.
45. Watch 1 hour less TV a day
Significantly scaling back my TV watching and replacing it with reading time has been another life changer. TV watching, like most things, is a habit. With a bit of focused attention you can quickly get into the habit of reading books instead of watching TV that you don’t enjoy. I often found myself saying ‘there’s nothing good to watch’ yet tuning in anyway. I stopped that. On the nights when I’m not socialising, I try to start reading by 9pm. It gives me enough time to watch a bit of TV but makes me much more relaxed before going to sleep. The bigger challenge is not picking up my phone and titting around on social media or with work emails once I’ve switch off the TV. That’s a work in progress (and I’d have no doubt already hit my 100 books this year if I’d been better at it).
46. Read the book before you see the movie
All movies have been written before they make it to screen. In many cases it’s a screenplay but in lots of cases there is a book behind the movie. If you’re a big TV fan, try reading the book first. You can then become that annoying person who waxes lyrical about how the book was WAY better.
47. Use your commute to read books instead of your phone
This is one of the easiest times to fit more reading into your day. If you’re in the car or walking, use Audible. If you are on a train or bus (or plane), use a paper book or, better (because it’s lighter and you have more books to hand), Kindle.
48. Use any spare moment to read
Supermarket queue, post office queue, immigration at the airport queue, deli queue, any kind of queue. Waiting for the kettle to boil. I’ve been known to (kind of passive aggressively) pull out my Kindle when I’m sat with friends over lunch and they’re all face down in their phones. Any given spare moment is a possible reading moment. You will get used to reading mere paragraphs before closing your book. Tip: get a pack of cheap bookmarks and leave them sideways so you know where you’re up to.
49. Get off social media and read books instead
First step, use one of the many ‘time online’ tools to see how often you’re checking social media. It’s no doubt hours per day, more than you thought and a lot of that time you’re most likely scrolling through ads. Think about this: would you ever pick up a book filled with 30% ads and read the ads as well as the book? Unlikely. Limit your social media time (you’ll see more feed and fewer ads) and replace it with reading time instead. It is hard, I know. I use the function on my phone to limit my social media time and though I repeatedly click ‘ignore’, it makes me think twice about what I’m choosing to consume – the picture of Barabara’s breakfast that looks like a turd or the latest antics of Jack Reacher (making someone’s face look like a turd)?
50. Add book events to your social calendar
I find that just being around other readers can inspire me to want to go home or to a cafe and read. Try adding some book events to your social schedule whether it’s World Book Night, an author signing at your local book store or just forming a habit of going for one coffee at the weekend with the plan of sitting and reading. Cake: advisable.
51. Expect to fail at the big book reading challenges
As I’ve mentioned above, I failed at my 52 book challenge the first time I tried it. I also failed to read 100 books in a year the first time I tried it. This from the girl who used to get through about 1 book a month because – no time to read. Try hard, expect to fail…
52. Then try, try, try again
The key, for me, was not setting a one year book challenge. Rather, it was setting a book challenge every year. The year after I failed to read 52 books, I succeeded. The year after I failed to read 100 books, I succeeded. Does that mean I’ll try to read 150 or 200 books next year. Unlikely, but knows? What I do know is that I will be setting myself some kind of reading challenge. And there’s every chance I will fail at it. But even if I do, I will pick up another book and try, try, try again.
Why you should read more
I’m not going to go into the details of why you should read more. Suffice to say, there are significant benefits of reading books that positively impact your physical, emotional, mental and intellectual health. Don’t believe me? You can find out more about the importance of reading books here.
Not all of my reading strategies will work for you but some of them definitely will. Take what you want from this list and leave the rest. What matters most is that you increase the number of books you read because…aforementioned significant benefits of reading.
Is speed reading cheating?
First of all, I read about as quickly as I eat, which is a snail’s pace. I’ve tried tips for speed reading but it honestly takes all the pleasure out of reading for me. I try to read a mixed-bag of books each year and my interests are pretty diverse anyway. So, I don’t consider it cheating adding smaller books (Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and Grief is the Thing With Feathers were both quick reads on my reading list last year). Nor is it a problem adding many quick reads just to get your numbers up. As far as I’m concerned (and don’t make me get into a fight about this), reading is reading. If you want to work your way through the Mr Men series. Go for it. There’s no cheating about it.
How I read 100 books in a year
I’ve been an avid reader since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Ok, at 5ft, I’m still kind of knee-high to a grasshopper but the point is, I was a reader from a young age. Yet, even I have had long spells where I would barely get through a book a month. University (too much textbook reading); my 20s (too many parties and hangovers); my early 30s (too much work).
It wasn’t until my mid 30s when I quit my job, started this blog and began to travel much more that I reacquainted myself with my passion for all things books. However, like most people, reading books was a leisurely pastime I fit in as and when; the only real, dedicated reading sprints I had were when I was on a beach or sick or on a long-haul flight when there was little else to do.
Then, I remembered watching a character in a TV show (I think it was Niles in Frasier) where he was crouched down in a bookstore crying about all of the books he would never have time to read because there are literally millions (billions?) of books in the world and it’s impossible to read them all. That scene stayed with me – my ‘to read’ list was really long and even if I didn’t add another book to my list or no new books were published, I’d still struggle to get through them all if I stuck to my casual reading pace.
That’s when I set my first reading challenge. I Googled how to read more books, which is when I came across the challenge to read 52 books in a year. It was a big number for someone coasting by on just over a dozen books a year but I decided to set myself the challenge of reading a book a week.
I failed, of course. Except I didn’t really fail because I doubled my reading, hitting 33 books that year.
What I couldn’t fathom was how to get from there to reading 52 books a year. It seemed too large a leap. So, I returned to Google for some tips for reading books. I focused on people who had actually nailed the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge and quickly realised I needed to change my reading habits.
I tried again and, feeling very proud, I overshot the target, managing 56 books that year. Inspired, and with my new strategy pushing me to new reading levels, I set another seemingly impossible challenge – could I really read 100 books a year?
It would be a great story if I said I hit those 100 books the very next year but once again I failed. In fact, I failed by a long shot, totting up ‘just’ 69 books.
You’re probably coming to realise, I’m pretty bloody minded with these things so I took a deep breath, had a look at how I could improve, and tried again this year.
And I did it! I hit the 100 books a year challenge.
I don’t share these numbers with you to show off. I’m sharing it so you can see how someone who was averaging around 15 books a year has made a gigantic leap in the number of books I read a year. And in this blog post, I’ll share all of the strategies I have used to help me read more.
I’m not suggesting you need to set a gigantic goal to read 100 books in a year or even learn how to read a book a week Whatever your goal is, it’s your goal.
Want to read one book when you usually read none? Excellent goal.
Want to get back into reading after a lull and think you’d like to read one book a month? Go for it.
Your only competition is yourself and the number of books you want to read.
What I hope with the list above is to give you is some strategies for hitting your reading goal so you can read more this year.
Now, I’m off to read (over lunch) because it’s a whole new year with a whole new reading goal. Wish me luck. And I wish you luck too.
If you’ve got any more tips for how to read more books, let me know in the comments below. Also, if you have any suggestions for either a new book challenge for me or just good books (no self-promotion, please) leave a note below.
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