“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” — Ernest Hemmingway
I read that Stephen King reads around 80 books a year and in one of my favorite books by him (On Writing), he states, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
As I get older, I notice when I don’t read as much that my memory and cognitive skills decline. I thought I would post this update in part to somehow encourage myself to continue on to the finish line by reading 100 books for the year, my highest pledge/goal yet, and so I could mention a few pointers that help increase the number of books I read.
I’ll start with mentioning that my top 3 reasons for voracious reading are 1) exercise for my brain, 2) to become better at writing and 3) because books are fun, entertaining and educational.
Because I do include comics and cookbooks in my list, I try to limit those to roughly one per month. This is just a personal decision and if I wanted to read more comics, I would just increase my overall goal to compensate. I like reading cookbooks because I cook quite often and cookbooks help me find new recipes, ideas, and techniques but the internet and youtube are giving cookbooks a real challenge. I also add in occasional classics with a goal of at least one or two per year – think Frankenstein, The Jungle, The Illiad, and/or Thomas Jefferson. While a majority of the books I read are non-fiction, I include several in the genre that I’m interested in writing, Science Fiction. I also try to read genres and areas that I don’t know as much about and on topics where I may disagree with what I think the book is promoting especially in the area of politics.
Regarding formats, I read the lowest number of physical copies of books but I try to read at least a few of those per year. The number of ebooks versus audiobooks that I read are more evenly split but with ebooks I use TTS (Text To Speech) for many of those so it’s still similar to audiobooks.
I think reading a varied number of formats helps one in different ways. For instance listening to audiobooks or ebooks read via TTS, I believe helps with active listening skills. One thing I do continuously while listening to books being read is quiz myself on what I just heard. If I don’t know because I was distracted or wasn’t properly tuned in then I’ll sometimes stop and go back to an earlier part of the book. Otherwise, I’m reinforcing an unwanted skill and that’s one of tuning out that which I’m trying to hear. A similiar thing can happen with visual reading, but it doesn’t seem to be as common.
Using goodreads.com is a good way to keep up with what you’ve read and possibly, if you have a lot of friends on there, may encourage you to read more. It’s taken me many years to get to the reading level I’m at now so I usually don’t need the motivation from others but I do find keeping track of what I’ve read helps out a lot.
Here are the top five ideas that I used to increase my reading goals:
- Leverage technology and devices. I use a kindle fire HD 10 for reading ebooks visually, audiobooks, and listening to ebooks via text to speech. In my opinion, it has one of the best voice engines for text to speech – it doesn’t sound as robotic as other devices. I’ve used apple iPhones, IPOD touch, and IPOD Nano and these work fairly well for audiobooks but you may run out of memory if you stuff a lot of audiobooks on it. I recently bought a Samsung A51 phone for $200 and I added a 512 GB card to it so it’s my new favorite phone/mobile device. With the large borderless screen, I can even read the occasional ebook chapter visually. I use it with Straight Talk but if you didn’t activate the services on it, it would probably be better than most mp3 players you could buy. I still use the Apple devices so I have access to the apple ecosystem but not as much as before and for my two older iPhones, I don’t activate service on them and primarily use them on wifi. If you want to mix things up and you like to spend time outside during the day, the Kindle Paperwhite is a good cheap option. I bought one for around $100 that uses the e-ink technology so there is almost no glare if you’re in direct sunlight or if it’s bright out. They also have backlights for night or indoor reading. A couple of other nice things about the paper white are long battery life (possibly in weeks) and they are very thin and light and comfortable to hold. Additionally, with a high contrast sharp screen it should cut down on eye strain. Just keep in mind that e-ink technology is still mostly b&w for cheap devices but this is ok for high-contrast visual reading. You can also pair a bluetooth headset with the newer kindle paperwhites for audiobooks or text to speech but it doesn’t have a headphone jack since it is water resistant. It also has a good TTS engine that is better than Apple and Samsung to me. Note, newer devices like the Kindle paper white, iPhone, and Samsung phones typically use it’s Accessibility features for vision impaired users to activate text to speech. This takes some getting used and the touch screen gestures vary among devices. I’ve been able to learn them all but it wasn’t easy. You’ll also want to activate a feature called “continuous reading” on those devices so the visual screen reader doesn’t stop at the end of each page while reading a book. And last but not least don’t forget about your laptop or PC. It can handle any of the book formats and can be a convenient option for some people.
- Keep it interesting by reading various formats even physical paperback and hardback editions. Find a book that you’ve always wanted to read and start it. Some people like the tangible feel of a book while reading it and if that works for you go for it. If you’re on the go a lot and need more convenient options use your existing phone to read visually or listen to audiobooks or even text to speech. Or pickup some of the cheap devices depending on you want to read.
- Use audiobooks or Text To Speech applications to listen to books while doing other activities. I’ll listen to audiobooks or text to speech while cooking and washing dishes. It sometimes takes some practice and if you’re doing a new complicated recipe or listening to a book on Physics then you may not be able to multitask very effectively. I’ll usually have 10 or 20 books that I’m rotating around so I choose the right book for the task I’m doing. Listening while exercising, or doing yard-work is another option. Of course if you have a long commute then that could be a great time to listen to audiobooks as long as you’re not distracted from driving.
- In addition to item 3, find new and creative ways to multitask. I’ve actually read print books while on the treadmill and elliptical but you have to make sure you keep it safe. In other words, if you’re just starting to use a treadmill, it may not be a good idea to multitask by reading visually. Make sure you are very familiar with the treadmill before trying to read on it. Also, reading on the treadmill works best at lower speeds such as a brisk walk or slower. If you’re running you probably won’t be able to read visually. However, audiobooks or text to speech may be an option even at higher running speeds as long as your able to do it comfortably and retain what you’ve heard. When you have a spare minute set up audiobooks or ebooks on your existing phone. Then later while you’re waiting in a Dr’s office lobby read or listen to books. I often find that I’ll do a combination of reading visually and listening to a book before I finish it.
- Set monthly and annual reading goals. Use something like goodreads annual reading challenge if interested. Initially don’t be over-ambitious with your goals. Keep them reasonable where you can comfortably meet the goal and then increase it over time. It’s also ok to surpass your goals by reading extra and then you can start pushing yourself a little more to increase your reading.
I’ll likely do another post on finding good deals on books, audiobooks and devices. But until then here are a few pointers to saving money. Keep an eye out when you’re at a flea market, yard sale or second hand store. They’ll usually have used books for pocket change. If there is a specific book or genre you want sometimes Amazon or other online retailers are a good option. Don’t overlook the used books on those sites. On more than one occasion, a somewhat hard-to-find book I was looking for was over $20 for the digital and print version, but I found a used copy for 99 cents plus $4 to $5 shipping. I rarely pay over $10 for books, ebooks, or audiobooks. Most ebooks and print books I buy are around $2. Audiobooks tend to be more but even then there are good deals to be found and most I buy are around 5 to 6 bucks. Older classic ebooks and audiobooks can often be found for free with the latter being read by volunteers. But if you don’t have time to stop and read and need to multitask then letting a device read an ebook to you is a good option. Even if the voice quality isn’t great, you may still be able to adapt to it.
One last thing to note is that I notice many people who don’t like to read and gripe about reading is they find excuses why they don’t read. For instance, they’re too busy or it’s a big waste of time. I would hope that these same people wouldn’t say that physical exercise is a waste of time. At any rate, keep an open mind on reading and what you read – occasionally veer outside of your comfort zone and read something you wouldn’t normally agree with or like. Reading is a mental exercise for your brain and if you do it enough to make it a habit and give it a chance you just might enjoy it – the same phenomenon is true with walking or working out nearly everyday – at some point it gets easier and seems normal and when you don’t do it something feels missing. And like physical exercise, reading can be a good stress relief and as I mentioned earlier you can even multitask and do both at the same time. It’s educational in many ways whether you read fiction or non-fiction. For me, reading increases my memory, vocabulary, and cognitive skills. I’m almost 50 now and the more I read the better I feel and the easier it is to think through complex problems on my job even though most books I read aren’t directly related to my day job of computer programming.
Whatever path your take whether it’s reading more or not, I wish you the best of luck. Here are the books I’ve read this year.