At the start of the new year, I typically set a reading goal of around 75 books. I usually meet or exceed this goal at year-end. This has been my comfortable reading capacity for years. However, with the birth of my daughter last year, my ability to read was greatly limited for the first time, and my thoughts on setting reading goals have shifted.
I’ve always had a more is better mentality when it comes to books. But recently, I have begun to see the wisdom of reading the right book at the right time. One of my favorite adages is: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” A book is most impactful and enjoyable when it is read at the right juncture in our lives.
In my quest to read increasingly more, I’ve since paused to ask myself several questions. What is the point of reading a self-help or professional development book if I think “Hmm, that was interesting!” and talk about it at dinner parties, but don’t actually implement anything that I learned? How many times have I been guilty of this? (Hint: too many.) Why would I read a novel for pleasure, but I’m so focused on finishing it quickly that I don’t enjoy it? My answers to these questions were sobering and caused me to re-evaluate how I approach reading.
Instead of counting books this year, I have a few suggestions for more mindful reading that have greatly helped me navigate getting more knowledge out of fewer books.
- Implement the 60 Pages Test.
If you’re not learning from, enjoying, or generally “hell yes” about a book after 60 pages, put it down. Move on. You have supported the arts (the publisher, the author, and everyone involved) by buying it or renting it, and you don’t owe them anything else. Thank the book and author, à la Marie Kondo, for its existence and put it down. Life is too short. My 60 pages rule has never failed me; a book I was wishy-washy about at 60 pages has never redeemed itself later.
2. Read Multiple Books at Once
Read at least 2 books at a time. I always have a fiction, a nonfiction, and a few book club reads going at once. This ensures that you’ll have a book for any mood. This might sound stressful, but take the pressure off of yourself to finish any of them in a timely manner. Some books that I have thoroughly enjoyed and that passed the “60 pages test” took me a year or more to finish because I have several books going at once with more regularly revolving in. Usually, I read fiction before bed and nonfiction in pockets of time (like waiting rooms, or school pickup lines). I love listening to audible books while in the car or on walks.
3. Take Notes
For nonfiction, self-help, or business books, take notes. After you finish the book, review those notes. Ask a friend or partner if you can share what you learned from a specific book with them. This will help solidify the knowledge in your mind. Then review your notes for any specific takeaways or action items. If applicable, actually schedule time in your calendar to implement these action items. This last step will move the book from the “That was interesting” category to the “This book changed my life” category. To keep my notes organized, I store small journals inside of each book I’m reading. That way, I don’t have to search for my one reading journal every time I pick up a different book. After I finish a book, I then transfer my notes from the journal to Evernote to save them and keep them for reference. Find a system that works for you!
4. Identify the Reason that You’re Reading
For any book, but especially fiction, ask yourself one simple question: “Why am I reading this book?” This will help you evaluate at 60 pages whether or not you should continue. For example, if your goal in reading a particular book is to relax and enjoy it, and the book is pretty graphic or disturbing… stop. On the contrary, if you’re reading a book to learn what it might be like to have lived through a specific war, and the book is pretty graphic and disturbing, consider finishing the book. Sometimes I’m resentful after finishing a book that didn’t meet my needs, but I have only myself to blame for this. Getting clear with your goals for a particular book before you begin can help clarify whether or not the book is right for you.
5. Read the Right Book at the Right Time
Let’s go back to the old saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Allow the right book to come to you at the right time. This is an art not a science. What works for me is having a general plan for my next several books, but allowing life and whimsy to surprise me. This might look like a friend giving me a book, or stumbling upon a book via a podcast. Often, I am struggling with something or interested in a particular subject and my plans go out the window as I travel down a rabbit hole for a few months on one topic. This is where the life-changing magic of reading happens. Don’t force yourself to trudge along or even read a book just because you own it or rented it. Let your needs and interests be your guide.
This year, my reading goals don’t include a number or a checklist. I plan to use these strategies to read mindfully in a way that leaves stories written upon my heart and allows the teachers found in books to impart their lessons through deep, slow learning.