How to read 90 books in a year and still live a normal life

At the end of 2019, when I finished one book short of reading my goal of  reading 50 in a year, I resolved to hit that goal in 2020.

Fast forward a year later when I tallied my total books read in the last week of December 2020: I hit my goal and then-some: I read 93 books.

I did this in a year where I received a promotion into a demanding job in a new field, managed an investment fund on the side, and even managed to fix my long-standing back issues.

Here are some things I learned during a year of a lot of reading:

Develop a TV watching philosophy

During the month of July, I participated in Cal Newport’s Digital Declutter. Essentially it’s a 30-day break from all optional technologies: TV, movies, social media, etc. While these 30 days were impactful for many reasons, the core benefit was that it helped me develop a TV watching philosophy that I’ve stuck to: I only watch sports alone. All other TV (Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, etc.) I watch with my wife.

Since my wife is currently a full-time nurse and full-time grad student, there are multiple nights per week where the TV doesn’t get turned on all day.

With Covid-19 impacting our ability to socialize, knowing that my wife wouldn’t be able to watch TV due to an impending exam, I would return from work at 5:30pm with a few free hours to read.

Read on a Kindle

Using a Kindle has revolutionized my reading habits. While I still love to read a hardcover book, the Kindle trumps the hardcover for three main reasons. The obvious one is the speed of ordering a book. Once you click ‘buy’, it’s usually less than 2 minutes until I’m starting the book.

The second is that I’ve found that the recommendations are pretty high quality. For example, after I finish a book, I’m fairly confident that the book Amazon recommends to me next will be a good buy as well.
The third reason why I prefer the Kindle is the sampling feature. I use this feature to rapidly screen books that I’m interested in reading. Usually, you’re able to read 10% of the book for free, so by the time I reach the end of the sample, I usually have a pretty good idea if I want to buy the book or not.

Use reading to bookend your day

In an ideal day, I would read for about 30 minutes before work in the morning while drinking coffee, and 30 minutes at night while drinking a glass of wine. During the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ritual became important to me. It was a comforting routine that I rarely missed that provided a sense of normalcy during an otherwise unprecedented time.

Buy everything

One of Ramit’s rules is if a book looks interesting, then buy it! Don’t waste more than 30 seconds deliberating. Many books are the compilation of someone’s life work, condensed into 300 tightly edited pages for about $15. The best case is that it could change your life. The worse case is that you’re out the equivalent of a burrito and chips at Chipotle. Yet another reason why to use a Kindle: books tend to be even less than they would at their brick and mortar counterparts.

As mentioned above, I’ll sample a book on the Kindle, read the introduction or first chapter, then buy it if there is even one insight in that part of the book. One of my few personal finance rules is that I have an unlimited budget for books.

Read multiple books at once

For me, reading multiple books at once is critical to sustaining my reading habit. In particular, I like to read books in multiple areas at once. Usually, I’ll have at least one non-fiction and fiction book at a time. If the non-fiction feels a bit too much like ‘work’ at night, then I’ll flip over to the thriller that can engross me within a few minutes.

Similarly, on the weekend, sometimes I ‘warm up’ with a chapter or two of fiction, then switch over to a more dense non-fiction for about 30 minutes or so.

Hunt relentlessly for recommendations

Finding good book recommendations meant reading and listening to people who read more than me. Once I found a handful of people whose recommendations I trusted (and combined that with the auto-recommendations from Amazon), I felt like I had a never-ending list of books to read.
It’s also a question that I’m constantly asking my colleagues, friends and family: What’s a good book you’ve read lately?

Find authors who have written excellent series

Finding good fiction has usually been more difficult for me. Up until last year, I found plenty of one-off novels that I liked, but I spent too much time looking for a good novel. Last year, I found series by different authors that I quite enjoyed (Kyle Achilles, etc.) that made me want to leave work early to read the next adventure.

As Ben Carlson and Michael Batnick, two people who read more than me, often mention on their excellent podcast Animal Spirits, there are no secrets to reading more. It’s not about getting up at 4am, or meditating for an hour a day, or drinking some fancy tea or coffee. It’s about building incremental habits that you slowly scale until you look up and you’ve read 50 or 100 books in a year.

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