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.
- 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.
- Physical books only.
- 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.
- Hardcover over paperback.
- Bring a pen with you too. Reading is better if you’re taking notes.
- 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…