How to read books

19th October, 2015

The other day someone told me: “That’s not how you read a book!”
To which I could only reply: “Wait... what!? Why!?”

I really didn’t see it coming. And couldn’t come up with a good answer at the time.

You see, I usually read two or three books at the same time.
But most of them are digital and kept in my tablet, kindle or smartphone.

Only on rare occasions you’ll find me reading actual physical books.
Not because I don’t like physical books, but they’re just not as practical for a minimalist wannabe like me.

To be honest, the only reason I recently acquired a dozen used books, was because one of my neighbours moved away. And he kindly left behind an enormous pile of his books in the building’s hallway to serve the next curious reader. (Yes, people do this a lot, at least in London.)

So last week, I finished reading two books and started looking online for new ones. Only to remember those used books I had found and decided to try them instead.

And so I did, in the same way I usually do with digital books.
Started reading one on psychology and only stopped when I ended the first chapter. Then I picked another one on meditation and also read the first chapter. And I ended up doing the same with a few other books about sociology, business and personal development.

Three hours later, already late at night, I had a stack of books I just started reading, and all bookmarked at various stages of progress.

The next day, we had some friends over for lunch, and that’s when one of them told me off:
— “Why are you reading… Seven books at the same time? That’s not how you read a book!”

Why I like to read books

Before answering that, I have to say I prefer reading non-fiction books.
Again, nothing wrong with fiction books, just a personal preference.

As a professional, I solve business problems for my clients using technology.
And to get better at it, I need to solve continuously harder and more diverse problems.

But the thing is, if one keeps reading more about hammers, then all problems start looking more and more like nails.

So to find different perspectives on how to solve problems, you have to look into areas of expertise that are as different from yours as possible. That leads me to read books on diverse subjects like art, philosophy and science.

By reading, I’m also looking to become a better and wiser person, someone who’s able to think broadly about a lot of different topics (hey, I got the silver hair already!). Someone who can hear an opposite opinion, respect and understand it, without feeling any need to shove their views down the other’s throat.

The way you see the world around you depends on how you think.
And how you think depends on what you read.

Would you like to start reading more books?

Don’t worry, you won’t become a nerd or geek just by doing so. Even though geeks seem to be in fashion nowadays.
So, if you also want to become a wiser person by reading books, I can give you a few tips from what I’ve learned so far. Just keep reading.

Always carry a book with you. Be it physical or a digital one. Well, no. Scratch that. Always take multiple books with you.

It’s 2015. You have at least a smartphone, maybe a tablet and even a Kindle. There’s no excuse for not having books with you all the time.

Oh…, you drive to work? Then there are audiobooks for you.
I use Audible for when I feel too lazy to read or want to do something else at the same time, like walking on the street (next to other people and tricky lampposts).

Okay, back to carrying multiple books.
This also means you should never buy just one book.
When you’re about to purchase a book, stop yourself right there. Go back to the shelves and pick a couple more.
Always buy multiple books. I tend to buy 2-5 every month.

Now that you’re carrying multiple books, you can start reading one.
“Which one?” The first one. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t like that one? Start reading the next one.
Like this one better? Then also start reading yet another one.

“What?” Yes. If you start multiple books at the same time, you can always shuffle them later and keep reading another book depending on your mood that day. This works particularly well when your mind is feeling lazy and just wants to trick you into checking some online social network.

If you feel that you’re not really enjoying a book, that’s ok.
Just take it out of sight for now.
You can try to read it again in a couple of months. And if that still doesn’t work for you, just hide it or give it away to someone else.
Yes, you don’t have to finish a book, if you don’t like it. That’s also why you bought multiple books in the first place.

I know enough people that haven’t read a book in a while, just because they “have” to finish this other book first.
Errrm… no. You don’t. You’re not in school. You don’t have to read that book to pass the exam.

You should be reading because you want to. And if you are the one in control, then choose a book that’s better for you. (Unless your wife told you to. Then that’s a whole different story.)

Oh and one last thing. Some authors let you in on this secret, right from the start of their book, but not all do.

So I’ll let you know and maybe even spare you from some frustration: you don’t have to read every single page in the book, nor in the order they’re presented. Yes, the pages have numbers in sequential order, but you can jump pages and even chapters if you don’t feel like reading them. Shocking, right? It was a bit of a surprise to me when I started doing this.

Have reading goals

If you want to read more books, what you really need is to read regularly. Set your own pace and show up. Read an hour a week or just 10 minutes everyday during commute. Or… you know… instead of continuously scrolling Facebook while doing your business, read a page or two of that book on your bedside table.

In 2014, I managed to read literally a book a month.
That’s not a lot; I’m aware.
But that’s still 12 books more than a good bunch of folks I know.

This year (2015), according to my Goodreads account, I’m lagging a bit behind my goal, but I should still end up reading more books than last year.

And that’s basically my goal: read more books this year, than the year before.

So, what’s your reading goal?