When you read a lot of books people inevitably assume you speed read. In fact, that’s probably the most common email I get. They want to know my trick for reading so fast. They see all the books I recommend every month in my reading newsletter and assume I must have some secret. So they ask me to teach them how to speed read.
That’s when I tell them I don’t have a secret. Even though I read hundreds of books every single year, I actually read quite slowly. In fact, I deliberately read slowly, so that I can take notes (and then whenever I finish a book, I go back through and transcribe these notes for my version of a commonplace book.
So where do I get the time? (Well for starters I don’t waste any of it asking dumb questions).
Look, where do you get the time to eat three meals a day? How do you have time to do all that sleeping? How do you manage to spend all those hours with your kids or wife or a girlfriend or boyfriend?
You don’t get that time anywhere, do you? You just make it because it’s really important. It’s a non-negotiable part of your life.
I think there are three main barriers that hold people back from making this happen and I want to disassemble them right now so you can start reading way, way more.
The key to reading lots of books: stop thinking of reading as some activity that you do. Reading must become as natural as eating and breathing. It’s not something you do because you feel like it, but because it’s a reflex, a default.
Carry a book with you at all times. Every time you get a second, crack it open. Don’t install games on your phone — that’s time you could be reading. When you’re eating — read. When you’re on the train, in the waiting room, at the office — read. It’s work, really important work. Don’t let anyone ever let you feel like it’s not.
Do you know how much time you waste during the day? Conference calls, meetings, TV shows that you don’t really like but watch anyway. Well, if you can make time for that you can make time for reading (or better, just swap those activities for books.)
If I had to steal books to support my reading habit, I would. Thankfully you can buy some of the best literature ever published for pennies on Amazon.
But forget money entirely when it comes to books. Reading is not a luxury. It’s not something you splurge on. It’s a necessity.
As Erasmus, the 16th-century scholar once put it, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”
On top of that, books are an investment. I hear from people all the time who tell me they plan to buy this book or that book. Plan? Just buy it. I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it. Not money, not time, not my own laziness. Don’t wait around for some book you want to read to come out in paperback — trying to save $2 or $3 is the wrong mindset. If it’s a book you’ll read, then read it now, not in a year.
(One related note: I don’t check books out from the library and haven’t since I was a child. This isn’t like renting a mindless movie. You should be keeping the books you read for reference and for re-reading. If you are OK giving the books back after two weeks you might want to examine what you are reading).
Perhaps the reason you’re having trouble is you forgot the purpose of reading. It’s not just for fun. Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error — find that point. Benefit from that perspective.
The walls of my house are covered in books from floor to ceiling. The last time I moved, I had to rent a U-Haul exclusively for books. At first, that frustrated me, and then I remembered that books paid the rent on both those houses. They kept me sane, and they made me a lot of money.
The purpose of reading is not just raw knowledge. It’s part of the human experience. It helps you find meaning, understand yourself, and make your life better.
There is very little else that you can say that about. Very little else like that under $20.
Look, you either get this or you don’t. Reading is something you know is important and want to do more of. Or you’re someone who just doesn’t read. If you’re the latter, you’re on your own.
Think of someone like Frederick Douglass, who brought himself up out of slavery by sneaking out and teaching himself to read. Books weren’t some idle pursuit or pastime to him, they were survival itself. And despite this dire situation, he managed to read and, as the writer Thomas Sowell once put it, “educate himself to the point where his words now have to be explained to today’s expensively under-educated generation.”
What excuse do you have?
If you want to read more, there’s no real secret. It’s about adjusting your priorities and your perception so that reading becomes an extension of who you are and what you do.
When that happens, you’ll be the person that people now ask: How do you do it? And the answer will be: I just do.
Ryan’s latest book, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph was released by Penguin on May 1st. He is also the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying and Growth Hacker Marketing. He is currently an editor at large for the New York Observer and contributes to Thought Catalog from his home in Austin, Texas.