These 38 Reading Rules Changed My Life

Ryan Holiday
9 min readSep 6, 2023

It’s a weird thing to say, but I guess I’m a professional reader. That’s really what authors are. A book is made of books. “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading; a man will turn over half a library to make one book,” Samuel Johnson said.

I’ve written 15 books now, which has meant reading many thousands of books in the process. Once a month for the last 15 years, I’ve recommended many of those books in the Reading List Email (which you can sign up for here!). And in 2021, I opened my own bookstore filled with my all-time favorites.

So the question I am asked most often is:

How do you read so much? What’s the secret?

The answer is not “I’m a speedreader.” As I’ve written before, speed reading is a scam. The answer is that I have a system, a process that helps me be a productive reader. It’s not my system exactly, as I’ve taken many strategies from history’s greatest readers. Nor is this a system designed around speed or quantity. Reading is wonderful in and of itself, why would I try to rush through it? No, I try to do it well. I try to enjoy it.

In this email, I thought I would detail some of the rules I’ve come to follow over the years. They don’t all make me faster, but they do make me better.

  1. Do it all the time. Bring a book with you everywhere. I’ve read at the Grammy’s and in the moments before going under for a surgery. I’ve read on planes and beaches, in cars and in cars while I waited for a tow truck. You take the pockets of time you can get.
  2. Physical books only.
  3. It’s not that I have a problem with audiobooks–if it gets you reading, I’m all for it. I just think there’s something very special about the physical form. I just read a great book about this actually called Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf.
  4. Hardcover over paperback.
  5. Bring a pen with you too. Reading is better if you’re taking notes.
  6. Keep a commonplace book. As Seneca wrote: “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application — not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech — and…

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Ryan Holiday

Bestselling author of ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Ego is the Enemy’ & ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ http://amzn.to/24qKRWR