By Davy Ellison
The Art of Reading More Books
At the beginning of the year a former student of the College messaged me to ask for some practical pointers on how to read more books and, more importantly, sustain reading more books over the long haul. I fired back a few thoughts that appeared to be helpful. Here I have developed them:
1. Join a Reading Challenge
One of the best things I ever did for my reading life was participate in the Tim Challies VT Reading Challenge. There are plenty of reading challenges out there and I am not convinced that it really matters which challenge you tackle—the real benefit of joining a reading challenge is the accountability and motivation it engenders for reading more books. The benefit of engaging in a reading challenge can be further strengthened by doing it with others, whether a spouse or a group of friends.
2. Set Reading Goals
Somewhat connected to participating in a reading challenge is the practice of setting reading goals. Most obviously this relates to the number of books that one aims to read in a set period of time. However, with a little imagination reading goals could be broadened. In the past I set a reading goal connected to types of books: I wanted to read more novels and become acquainted with older books, therefore, I set a goal of reading a novel or biography and a book published pre-1900 before reading a contemporary book and did so for a year. I also want to read all eight works of fiction recommended by Karen Swallow Prior in this post—although I am giving myself more than a year to accomplish this one. The key with setting reading goals is to make them challenging but achievable.
3. Set Reading Patterns
Like exercise or becoming proficient in playing an instrument, those who read a large volume of books set reading patterns. For me the key to making it through books is spending at least 30 minutes reading before going to sleep every evening, ensuring persistent progress through books. If a base of reading a little every day is in place that means a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday morning spent reading is a big bonus. Although most people do not watch live TV anymore, if I do find myself watching a programme or film on a channel that has advertisements I read during the ad break or if I am watching a football or rugby match I will read during half-time. Find daily and weekly patterns for reading—it may well surprise you how much you can get read by maintaining such patterns.
4. Keep a Book on your Person
There are lots of wasted minutes during the course of a day or week, but the time may be redeemed by having a book with you at all times. Whether you find me waiting in the car to pick someone up, sitting in the doctor’s surgery or dentist’s waiting room, or even in the garage while I get new tyres put on the car, I will have a book in my hand. I like a physical book, but it could be done easily by having the kindle app on your mobile.
5. Plan the Next Book
It is helpful to always know what you are reading next. Knowing what your next book is going to be prevents you from spending half an hour browsing your bookshelf once you have finished the book you are currently reading. I tend to plan four or five books in advance and I always put books I am more excited to read after books I am less inclined to read. Putting the books in this order keeps me motivated to work through less interesting books in anticipation of getting to the book I really want to read.
Much to the humour of my students, I commonly assert that many aspects of life are an art rather than a science. It will be unsurprising to them to hear me say the same is true of reading. Read what you enjoy, read whenever you can and do not feel guilty about the vast amount of books that you will never get to read. Nonetheless, I hope some of the above tips may help you develop the art of reading more books.