How Smart People Read Books

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We live in a world of information overload. Americans spend an average of 444 minutes (7 hours, 24 minutes) staring at the screens of our phones, tablets, computers, and television sets. Our estimated reading time from actual books clocks in just under the seven minute mark.

We are scanning and skimming the content we see every day.  This alternative way of reading is competing with the traditional deep reading our brains had been trained to do in school. We are not processing words, their meanings and sentences, which can leave us disengaged with book reading.

Let’s reckon that not everyone is crazy about reading 7000+ words long form essays on the computer screen. Stories like this one, by Richard Lloyd for the London Review of Books are not designed to be read during the 10 minutes run-to-the-store-and-buy-a-soup-and-a-sandwich lunch break. That’s when listicles and viral content comes to play. Are you interested in this BuzzFeed article about the supporting cast of Harry Potter? Of course not, but anyway you’re probably going to have a look at it.

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OK, so we all love listicles as much as we hate them. And we also want to love good books more. That’s our plan after all, right? so here are some tips to fall back in love with books and form healthy habits that help you read more:

Set Up A Reading Routine

To get back into the practice of reading, set up triggers. A trigger is something that leads you to automatically doing something else. For example if you go to a gym class three times a week, make a point to train your brain to automatically read for an hour when you return home. Even better if you are able to read in the gym while working out (yup, that happens).

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Another trigger could be to read on your commute to work – for the average person that’s just under 30 minutes each way. This way you are reading around one hour per weekday, with at least three extra hours per week, not including your weekends. You can read between 40 – 100 pages per hour depending on the material – so depending on the length of the book, you can rack up the number of books you read in no time. But please, don’t think that reading 14 crappy books is better than reading a great literary piece of art that will make your brain wet itself, because it’s not.

And in case you want to try something a bit hardcore, this is what happens when you read “Infinite Jest” for the first time. Bon appetit!

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Choose Your Books Wisely

If you’re not interested in a given topic, theme, or non-fiction subject, you will already feel somewhat disengaged with the material. It will be harder for you to lose yourself in the book, and you will not feel motivated to continue. There are some great websites out there to help you choose your next book. For example WhichBook and Novelry are great resources for helping match you up titles based on your favorite authors and preferred genre. When you enjoy what you’re reading you will be inspired to continue to read, and finish the book quicker.

“So many books, so little time.”
Frank Zappa

And get into the community. Goodreads is definitely the online place to be if you want to share thoughts about the books you read and interact with mates who like the same incredible weird books you love.

Eliminate Distractions

The online world is such a tricky place. It can’t stop calling us. From promising students who are reading about biology for the next exam to the old ladies reading “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in a lonely and rainy evening, everyone gets the call once in a while to stop their perfectly healthy reading and starting browsing the web. It sucks.

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If you’re the easily distracted type (follow these tips posted by the Reading University), it might be hard for you to focus your attention on reading. Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and switch off your television set. Make your reading time the time when you switch off from communications. This is why it’s much better to read on a Kindle or to read a hard copy of a book – reading on your smartphone device could cause you to become distracted by notifications. If you find it hard to concentrate, try and go for the old fashioned way of reading… far, far away from electronics.

Try Audiobooks

Who hasn’t learned the super basic rudiments of a language listening to some audio format material? Well, at least you tried, right?

While this is technically not reading, this option does allow you to consume reading material in a commute friendly, convenient manner. Most popular books are available in audio format, and while they are a little more expensive, they are beneficial for people who enjoy narrative while exercising, doing the dishes, or driving.

Try Speed Reading

If it’s your intention to read more books this year, try speed reading – a series of techniques designed to help you improve your ability to read and digest content quickly. For information on this practice, click here. If you’re not easily distracted when on your smartphone, there is an app called Spritz that enables users to read up to 1,000 words per minute — about four times the speed of the average American reader.

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Experiment with the above tips until you find a habit that works well for you. Happy reading!

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