3 Tips For How To Read More Books : Life Kit Got an intimidating tower of unread books looming on your nightstand? This episode will help you pick up more books and get through them quicker.
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How To Read More Books

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How To Read More Books

How To Read More Books

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Hi. I'm Julia Furlan. And this is NPR's LIFE KIT.


FURLAN: Today, we're talking about how to read more. And you know what? I'm going to start this episode with a confession. I read a lot of articles and magazines and nonfiction journalism, but I have been halfway through Michelle Obama's memoir, "Becoming," for upwards of six months. There are also about seven books on my nightstand that I have not read. And actually, there's an entire pile of books in the corner of one room that used to be on my nightstand until they felt too judgmental of me, and I had to move them.

I know that a pile of unread books seems like a bad look, but I really do love reading. As an only child growing up, I never left the house without a book. There was an entire genre of kid photo of me at family gatherings where I'm, like, up a tree with a book instead of at the table with everybody else, you know? But I don't know. There are just so many shows to binge-watch. And I feel like my life is full of people and things that need my attention. And then there's that other thing that often gets our attention.


FURLAN: Oop, going to put that on airplane mode. It feels like I sit down to read a book, and then, all of a sudden, it's two hours later and I'm three months back into an Instagram account for cats with their mouth open. Side note, that account exists, and it is fantastic. Anyway, I know I'm not alone.

What do you personally do as a book queen?

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Well - book queen (laughter).

FURLAN: Yes. That's your job title, isn't it, queen of books?

NEARY: All right. I'm going to put that down, book queen.

FURLAN: (Laughter).

NEARY: I like that. Yes. One always wants to be a queen of something.

FURLAN: Well, look at that...

NEARY: (Laughter).

FURLAN: ...Your very own queendom.

That's Lynn Neary, who has been covering books for NPR for a decade, so she's got, like, royalty status.

NEARY: People always say, how many books have you read this month? You know, how many books do you read for your job? And I never really want to sort of reveal that because I feel like that's my own private, secret, little number.

FURLAN: Lynn might be able to build herself an entire house out of the books that she reads for her job. But she says that she's actually not a speed-reader. But she also says that that's OK and that we should all just take it easy on ourselves when it comes to the pace that we read at.

NEARY: I always feel like I probably should be a faster reader than I am to do this job. But I just think people should settle down about that. Read at your own pace. Read it the way you're comfortable reading. Read the way you like to read because it should be something that's pleasurable.

FURLAN: Lynn also has the same struggle that many of us do, that transfixing pull of literally all other forms of entertainment.

NEARY: I think the idea of binge-watching TV is one of the biggest competitions for me with reading because as a reader and as somebody who loves stories and narratives, I think there's such great television out there right now. And it's just easier for me to watch television than it is to read a book.

FURLAN: Lynn has some expert advice for getting more reading done. I know I'm not the only one with books on my nightstand. And sometimes, I don't get through more than a few pages before falling asleep if I do it at night. Her advice is our first takeaway, read in the morning.

NEARY: I don't know exactly when this began. But at a certain point within the last, let's say, 10 years since I started covering books, I started waking up earlier than I used to. And I'd be awake. And I really didn't want to be awake. You know, it was like 6 or 6:30 or something. And I'd think, this is too early. I don't want to get out of bed right now.

And so I began reading. And I think I had this idea that maybe I would read myself back to sleep if I picked up a book. And what I discovered was I was wide awake. And it was a really good time to read.


FURLAN: Obviously, this might not work for you depending on where you're at in your life or what time your alarm goes off. But it feels, like, counterintuitive, which I think might mean that it's a brilliant idea.

Another expert we spoke to, Kevin Nguyen, he's been working in books for many, many years and reads on average 100 books a year. He has a great piece in GQ that he wrote last year called "How To Read A Whole Damn Book Every Week." Kevin is also a big morning reader. He says the key is if you want to read more, you have to make it really, really easy.

KEVIN NGUYEN: The hardest part about reading a book is just, like, opening the book.

FURLAN: Right.

NGUYEN: I think a lot of people, when they sit down and they read, it's not hard to get lost in it. It's not hard to just actually read the book. It's just easy to be distracted by your phone and any other number of things going on in your life. So I think part of it is, you know, we have this imagination of like, oh, reading time is, like, this luxurious thing. I'm in my armchair sipping scotch. Or I'm, you know, about to go to bed, you know? And I think it's - you have to make it a more regular habit than that because if you just wait for all those times when you're drinking scotch - hopefully, you don't drink that much scotch.

FURLAN: (Laughter).

NGUYEN: I hope you read more than you drink scotch. But, yeah, if you wait for all those moments, you're never going to finish a book.


FURLAN: I think he's so right about this. I mean, I respect Michelle Obama so much. And in my head, I've been thinking that in order to give her words the attention they deserve, I've got to have, like, an uninterrupted span of seven hours and my perfect mug of tea and the perfect light and my fuzziest socks.

But you know what? Michelle - I'm going to call her Michelle. Michelle will never know if I read her book on my phone while I'm standing on the subway platform avoiding my nemesis, a subway busker who plays "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty every single morning. Michelle Obama is never going to know. OK. So this is our second takeaway - read when you can wherever you are, especially if you're commuting.


NGUYEN: It's a built-in thing in your day. You're driving to work. It's audiobook time. You get on the subway. It's time to, like, open the book. I'm not going to play video games on my phone or listen to a podcast. It's really easy to have that kind of discipline because it's sort of, like, a sequestered part of your day where you decide, I'm doing this thing at this time. Another thing I like about reading on your phone is it's always with you. So, like, when you're in line at, like, a cafe and you just know it's going to be, like, a 5-minute wait, like, that's 5 minutes you can read right there.


NGUYEN: And those minutes add up a lot.

FURLAN: Having a book with you for all those little in-betweeny (ph) moments of your day is so smart, right? Like, when you're waiting for the bus or in any kind of line, that's when you read. Audiobooks are also a really great way to do this, too, because that means that - boom - the car is now fair game for getting some reading time. When Kevin showed up for our interview, he had two paper books in his bag, plus several that he was reading on his phone.

And while we're talking about phones, this could be a really smart way for you to rethink your relationship to your phone, you know? Like, if you're getting through a few more pages of Michelle Obama instead of scrolling through the really dismal news coverage - I don't know - that sounds like a win to me.


FURLAN: Here's takeaway number three, match the kind of book that you're reading to the amount of time that you have.

NGUYEN: I'm usually reading a couple novels at a time, a nonfiction book and then maybe a comic book...

FURLAN: I see.

NGUYEN: ...Because they just feel so different. And then, like, when I found myself with, like, you know, 20 to 40 minutes on a commute - because that's the span of the subway commute - it could be 20 minutes or 40 minutes...

FURLAN: Yeah, never know.

NGUYEN: ...That was enough time for me to get through a bit of the novel.

FURLAN: Because books have different textures and they demand different kinds of attention from your little brain, it's smart to dip your eyes into something lighter when you're at the DMV, for example. I mean, the DMV is dark enough on its own. So then you can save that historical doorstopper for when you're in the right place to really take it in.

There's another thing that's beneficial to reading multiple books at multiple speeds at the same time, too. It can give you a sense of achievement, which is our next takeaway - track your reading. Some people keep track of how many pages they've read in their books, but Kevin just has a little note in his phone with all of the books that he's completed.

NGUYEN: And that's part of the feeling of accomplishment and momentum. It's funny how, like, quantifying these things can actually be pretty encouraging. I know, like, if you do CrossFit, you know, like, you write down your exercise and your times that day, which sounds very corny, but there's no reason that you can't keep track of that.

FURLAN: Look. I have never done CrossFit, but I have watched my friend's triceps appear before my very eyes as they posted all these weird acronyms and stuff on Instagram. And stay with me here - reading is like CrossFit for your brain on some level, right? I like to think of tracking your reading as a thing that I sometimes do when I'm making a to-do list - right? - where I, like, write down a few things that maybe I've already done. Or maybe they're, like, really simple things - just so that I can cross them off and feel this, like, rush of accomplishment. Kevin just uses the Notes app on his phone. But some people also use sites like Goodreads to track what they've been reading. And if you want, you can also track your reading by posting about it on social media.

NGUYEN: I see a lot of people keep track of that stuff on Instagram and will tweet about it. I think it's a great idea, you know, because taking a photo of a book and putting it on Instagram is, like, a good way to keep track of your goal and also, like, tell people you read a book. Then people know you read it and maybe want to talk to you about it. They've also read it. And then what's always funny is, like, you sort of see, like, midway through the year, the books start to get, like, a little skinnier.

FURLAN: (Laughter).

NGUYEN: Suddenly, there's, like, a poetry collection in there. But I think that's totally fine.

FURLAN: Both Kevin and Lynn told me that it's important to accept that not every book is going to be the one that grabs you. When you start a book, sometimes, it feels like this promise that you're making to yourself. But I think it's important to say here that you have to be able to let it go if you can't push through a book. You don't have to like every book.

NGUYEN: One challenging thing I think about goals - especially, like, an every-week goal - it's like, you're just going to go a week where you didn't finish a book. Like, maybe you were on vacation, or work was really tough. That's OK. It's OK to fall off the wagon and just push yourself to, like, make up that week.


FURLAN: Here's the thing that really appeals to me about tracking my reading. Like those folks who, all of a sudden, are posting their poetry collection, I feel an incredible rush of accomplishment when I finish a book quickly. And if I'm following Kevin's example and reading lots of different books at the same time, I'll feel good with some momentum from speeding through one book so that I don't get caught in my current situation where there's just one lonely book sitting there half-read and then a whole pile of other ones looking at me resentfully.


FURLAN: OK, readers, listeners - well, whatever you are - let's recap everything that we talked about on this episode so that you can turn this podcast off and get fired up on some reading, OK? First, don't be afraid to read first thing in the morning before your whole day happens to you. Second, read in the in-betweeny moments, especially when you're already trapped somewhere or commuting. Third, match the book you're reading to the amount of time that you have. And finally, track your reading so that you can feel like you're really getting somewhere.

And if you're looking for something really good to read, check out NPR's Book Concierge. There are hundreds of recommendations from all of the smart staffers and critics around here. And you can search for, like, really specific topics like Ladies First or Rather Short or Rather Long or Tales From Around the World. And you can find all of that at npr.org/bestbooks.

I'll be back soon with more tips that will make you turn into that one emoji that has, like, the nerd glasses and the little teeth on it. I mean, that's who we all want to be, right? Nerds?


FURLAN: For more of your favorite show, NPR's LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes - there's one that's a cheat-sheet to investing. And I can't promise that you're going to get rich quick, but you can listen and find out. You can find all of our episodes at npr.org/lifekit. And while you're there, please subscribe to our newsletter so that you don't miss a single episode. And here, as always, is a completely random tip, this time from LIFE KIT listener Kora Puddin (ph).

KORA PUDDIN: In light of the practically apocalyptic shortage we're facing - if you smother a halved avocado in butter, it can keep it from turning brown.

FURLAN: If you've got a good tip or you want to suggest a topic, email us at lifekit@npr.org. This episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. And Clare Schneider is the gravitational pull holding the entire LIFE KIT universe together.

I'm Julia Furlan. Thanks for listening.


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