On the first day we moved into our home in Maryland, our gracious friends arrived in work clothes to help unload furniture and boxes from the truck, to fill the air with sweet fellowship, and to assemble beds. O, the sweet taste of hard labor accomplished within the ceaseless hum and energy of joy-filled fellowship.
On the second day I said, “Let there be a library.” And by the end of the second day there was a library—my library. All my books were unboxed, organized topically, and aligned properly on the bookshelves. It took the entirety of the second day. The boxes full of, oh little things like clothes, toys, and my wife’s books could wait until the third day.
I love books. I love to buy new books, collect old books, and cover my walls with books. Books are the scholarly jolts that begin my day and the literary nightcaps that bring my day to a close. Books are my hot chocolates, my Irish cream coffees, and my hot lattes with extra shots of espresso.
Are my biblio priorities healthy? I suppose at times I lack self-control, like the jogger who runs for 20 miles when he should only run 5. Or maybe like the chocoholic who measures serving sizes by the bag, not by the piece.
Vice aside, I suppose it’s out of a love of reading that I invest so much time in the discipline. But a question I receive a lot, and even more frequently now that I’m posting my reading digests, is this:
How do you read so much?
Which is a misleading question because it can be interpreted and answered in any of three different ways:
(1) Often the question arrives more in the form of a rhetorical exclamation than a question, more like: How do you read so much!
(2) Sometimes the question is asked with a schedule in mind, like: How do you find all the time to read?
(3) Sometimes it’s asked with achievement in mind, Like: How do you read so many books?
In the case of (1) let me just say that I’m a normal guy. Maybe less than normal. One fact I try to forget—and would forget if not for its value as a bludgeoning cudgel to smack pride in the nose—is that for at least one third of my college years in I found myself on “academic probation.” Which sounds a lot like criminal probation, except that criminal probation is a recovery phase following a guilty verdict. “Academic probation” is what you get on the spiral downward before someone officially pronounces you guilty of stupidity and kicks you out.
So I don’t read a lot of books because I got born smart.
In the case of (2) I don’t think I spend much more time reading than some of you. My calendar is full, my honey-do list is long, my kids are hyper, and my boss is active (or is it the other way around?). My running shoes are muddy, my weight bench is dusty, and my 10-foot front yard needs to be mowed at least twice a year.
And this leads me to the first of three tips.
Tip 1: Capture Reading Time
So, when do I read? Everytime I get a spare moment. Sometimes I read over my morning bowl of Crispix, sometimes I read over my lunchtime can of tuna, and sometimes I read over my evening cup of decaf.
I read at the DMV. I read when I’m waiting on my barber. I read when the kids are climbing all over my back on the living room floor. And on Mondays I retreat for 4-6 hours to read at Starbucks.
Books I have no intention of reading cover-to-cover are kept beside my bed. I’ll grab one of these volumes and read for about 20 minutes each night before falling asleep. This stack is constantly cycled, but here is a current picture:
A month ago a friend introduced me to the Kindle, Amazon.com’s electronic book reader ($359). Having immediate access to 200 books on this one device has improved my reading productivity, especially while traveling. The little device switches between books quickly, allowing me to pick up books where I left off. I’ve found ways to make my own free ebooks of Spurgeon sermons and the works of Jonathan Edwards. Really any text document can be converted into a book (via Mac OS X and the free program Stanza). And there are more than 23,000 free books already formatted for the Kindle. The Kindle is a traveling library of sorts.
Hours x WPM =Books Read
In sum, I read for about 15 hours a week. This sounds like a lot, but you can capture 15 minutes here and here and easily come up with 5 hours of reading time per week.
Here’s a quick calculation (from someone who took the same college Algebra class three times) to prove how small moments of reading time really do add up.
The average reader moves through a book at a pace of 200-250 words per minute. In finding 15 hours to read each week, I read for 900 minutes. Assuming the average book is around 60,000 words in length, and figuring nothing more than an average pace, I am positioned to complete 3-4 books per week! Do the math: That’s a pace of nearly 200 books per year. At this pace, I could read the complete works of William Shakespeare (850,000 words) in a month (but that would be an awfully boring month).
Your personal goal may be 5 hours of weekly reading. Sounds like a lot. But you hit this goal if you set aside 15 minutes to read the morning, 15 minutes to read at lunch, and 15 minutes to read before you fall asleep. Reading at 225 words per minute, you could easily read one book every week.
My point is that time is a precious commodity for the reader. And we all can make extra time within our day to invest in reading. Reading 50 books per year is a realistic goal for most of us (paying for 50 books is quite another problem).
So perhaps you can now see, I don’t read a lot of books because I have an abundance of smarts or free time. I just try and capture moments throughout the day, and redeem the time.
Next time, I will disclose tip #2 for reading more efficiently and effectively (no Kindle needed).