How I Learned To Read (and read 30 books in a year)

books on brown wooden shelf
Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Background

I was never an avid reader. Even calling myself a casual reader would be an exaggeration.. I just wasn’t into reading.

I somehow managed to go through school without reading a single book. No clue how I did it, but I did. And it worked out pretty well.

And then it happened … I got myself victim of all the ad bullshit that we’re being spoon-fed. “Stop working for others”, they said. “Be your own boss”, they said. “Stop working your ass off, so that your boss can drive a Ferrari”, they said. Become an entrepreneur and gain back your freedom!

And what do all the successful people do? They read, of course! 52 books per year; at least! Hell yeah!

It did have a positive effect though. It was 2012 and I got myself a Kindle (an e-book reader; highly recommended!).

First book? “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses“. Cheesy, right?

Reading for the sake of reading (and bullshitting about it)

This is unfortunate, but I didn’t realize it until recently. Pretty much most of my reading was focused on reading just for the sake of doing so.

I read some article that said that you have to be reading AT LEAST 20 pages per day, and being a good follower that I am, I obliged. I was reading 20 pages every night before I went to bed.

There was one funny instance which I clearly remember. I was reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (highly recommended read BTW). I finished the book and I had that feeling of satisfaction as I was able to add +1 to list of books that I read.

“How did you like the book?” asked a friend who recommended it. “I loved it! It was a real page-turner!”, I answered. “Great! What do you think about ________ and _________ ? How did you like those parts?”. I’ll be honest. I literally had no clue what he was talking about. Are we talking about the same book? Sapiens? It sounded like it for sure. But I have no recollection of even reading that. WTF?

That hit me hard. I realized that after 6 years of being an “avid reader”, I had no clue what I read in most of those books. Like, literally no freakin’ clue.

I was reading for the sake of reading and bullshitting about it!

The Pivot

It was time for a change. Even being heavily goal-oriented as I am, I decided to make shift. I’ll stop reading for the sake of turning the pages, and, instead, try putting more focus on WHAT I was reading. If I felt like reading two pages and shutting the book down, so be it!

Funny enough, this idea of SLOWING DOWN actually resulted in reading MORE than I would ever anticipate. According to Goodreads, I read 16 books in 2019th. This was more than I EVER read.

And then it happened.

You know how it works when you turn one small cog, and you don’t even realize that you actually started a whole machinery? That small step was small only on outwards. Inwards – the engine was warming up!

Everything I Knew About Reading Was Wrong

As I was gaining more confidence from reading (and starting to enjoy it), I was somehow figuring that it’s probably time to pimp up my game. It was time to go for some heavy artillery. Crime and Punishment (in it’s literal sense!) baby. It was Dostoyevsky o’clock!

Even thinking about it makes me laugh. I hated this book so much! Mostly because I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I despised it!

But I was determined to finish it. You don’t drop a book half-way! It’s a book and a damn classic, for fucks sake!

I spent MONTHS fighting this book. It came to a point where even thinking about it would make me nauseous. And yet, I couldn’t start another book before I had this one finished. It’s a a BOOK for cripes sake! A damn classic!

Source: my weird brain

Luckily, like it was sent from heavens, the article that would completely blow my mind and change my reading habits happened. I stumbled upon (and read in a single breath) a blog post called Everything I knew about reading was wrong.

Mind = blown.

Even though I wholeheartedly recommend reading the original, do be warned that it’s quite lengthy. And I will summarize it here for you.

It’s OK to read more than one book at a time

Sounds simple, right? Just read more books in parallel.

I saw it as heresy! Unwritten 11th deadly sin! The reader’s treason!

Hell, was I wrong, LOL …

I deeply believed that even thinking about reading more than one book at once would completely mess up everything. Like, I’d get overlapping stories and completely screw everything up. Obviously, I pondered this while having 150 Chrome tabs open, reading dozens of blog posts in fragments and checking tons of notifications on social networks. And yet, reading two books would completely mess my head up.

Let me put it as straight as possible here. It is absolutely OK to read more than one book at once. What’s more, it’s a preferred way of doing it!

There’s some logic behind it really. Some books are made to be read fast. Some are made to be read as a slow burn. Some you don’t even feel like reading today. And that’s all OK!

By giving yourself permission to read more than one book at a time, you are actually freeing up that mental space to read whatever you feel like reading at the time, and that results in reading EVEN MORE!

Just check my reading stats since then:

Source: Goodreads / Screenshot taken at (March 2021)

It’s OK to drop a book that you don’t like

Let me give you some stats that will blow you away.

Let’s assume that you are just starting to read when you are 25. And you manage to actively read until you are 75. That’s 50 years.

If you are doing average of 10 books per year, you will manage to do only 500 books! Yes, that’s for a lifetime!

Got my point? Just like you stop reading a blog post you dislike, it’s absolutely OK to drop a book that’s not “doing you” either! Save yourself some time and just read whatever you feel like reading. Your capacity is highly limited!

You don’t have to enjoy popular books

There’s this false belief that you should be enjoying what others liked as well. Yuck!

I was confused and bored by Fahrenheit 451 to the point that I didn’t even feel like posting a rating for it!

On the other hand, I do use recommendations as a source of narrowing down books that I’m going to read. Use it selectively and wisely!

Classics will call you when you are ready for them

This was also a misbelief that I had. I thought that a book that’s considered a “classic” is something that’s likeable by everyone.

No. Just … no.

The thing that I eventually learned about classics is that they will come to you. They will call you when you are ready for them.

Taking Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment as an example, from my understanding (and do take this with a grain of salt), it is all about exploring human emotions. Guilt. Desperation. Fear. Regret.

And yet, at the time when I started reading it, I didn’t give a damn about that. I picked it up because it sounded like a cool thing to read.

On the other hand, I read Kafka’s The Trial at the time when I was feeling a bit stuck and depressed, and it just blew me away! I loved it! I’ll probably re-read it again!

My point being, when it comes to classics, don’t rush to them, but let them come towards you. You will know when you are ready.

Your turn!

It’s your turn now. Think of the books that you always wanted to read but you kept putting them away because you were stuck. Explore your library. Start reading multiple books! Immerse yourself and enjoy the journey!

Useful Resources

As usual, here are some resources that you might find useful:

  • Goodreads – it’s kind of a social network for readers. I use it primarily for exploring and keeping track of what I want to read. Feel free to befriend me there if you wish!
  • Reddit’s /r/suggestmeabook – a really cool place to browse for books as well. Sometimes I browse through simply for the sake of seeing the range of topics that other people are reading about. And it’s impressive!
  • Read What You Love Until You Love to Read by Naval Ravikant — Naval is just an amazing source of inspiration for many people. Among other things, he was a huge source of inspiration for the article above.
  • Everything I Knew About Reading Was Wrong — article that I’ve mentioned number of times throughout this post. It’s a bit lengthy but definitely worth giving it a shot

Summary

  • You are never too old to start reading! As the popular Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”
  • You should read more than one book at once. This allows you to immerse yourself in whatever your current mood and energy levels are up for.
  • It’s ok to drop the book you don’t like. You have very limited time and amount of stuff that you can read. Choose wisely!
  • You don’t have to like popular books. No book is suited for everybody. Read whatever you feel like reading.
  • Skip classics if you are new to reading. You have to develop your reading skills first. You will know when you are ready for them!

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6 thoughts on “How I Learned To Read (and read 30 books in a year)

  1. This may be my favourite post of yours so far.

    I have a deep admiration for people who keep a daily habit of reading books. It is so easy to get distracted with TV, Netflix, social media, Youtube and random web content. It is easy to digest and immediately rewarding. There is some value in consuming this kind of content as well, but books, well, they are at a completely different level. I was never able to stick to the routine, apart from my summer-break sci-fi novels, but that’s just because I was on holiday.

    I was honestly inspired by you, how you always quote interesting books in your posts. That’s what pushed me to buy Tools of Titans and try to build the habit, but so far I haven’t been successful. In my mind, the thought process has sort of been “well, but probably Mihailo has been an avid reader his whole life, I can just tell by the way he is insightful about so many books! It’s normal that I can’t quite keep up the routine”. Well, it is very encouraging to read that you built this habit later on and over time, with trial and error.

    Thank you so much for the suggestions, it seems really practical, actionable and pragmatic advice. I hope I can stick to it.

    1. Man, as usual, I’m more than happy AND excited to read your comments!

      I would lie to you if I told you that I have a “habit” of doing it. I don’t. Really. I tried creating one and it does work every once in a while (e.g. during lockdowns or while I had covid) but I didn’t manage to make it sustainable.

      What I’m trying to do at the moment is to pretty much read a bit every time I take a break. It’s usually during 15-20mins, which gives me enough time to go over a chapter of some book. And in a way, I actually enjoy this because it gives me time to ponder over what I’ve read. But we’ll see how effective it is, long term ๐Ÿ™‚

      But yeah, please don’t take me for someone who reads passionately every night. I’d LOVE to be that person but it just isn’t something that isn’t sustainable for me, at the moment at least ๐Ÿ™‚

      Now, I’m really happy to hear that you got my message. Starting to read later in life is … well, it’s not really common, I know, but it’s absolutely possible. And frankly, everything I wrote here sounds WEIRD to people who are regular readers, but yet, for us who are “new” to reading, these things can be game changers, right?

      As for Tools for Titans – man, I think that one is made to be read SLOW. As in — read a bit then pause. Really. The main point that I got (and LOVED) out of it is how messed up and undisciplined pretty much everybody is; especially the ones we take as “role models” to a degree.

      All in all, as usual man, real pleasure to read AND reply to your comments! Thank you for reading my stuff man! Really really REALLY appreciated!

  2. I have been reading my whole life, but my problem was different: I am a very slow reader, and I had a hard time finding time in my busy schedule for reading.

    Usually, the only time to read was just before going to bed, so I started associating books with going to sleep, to the point that I could no longer read more than 2 pages before falling asleep. So my strategy was actually centered on “carving out time” from my daily routine, and dedicate it to reading. So when do you find “dead moments”, i.e. moments when you don’t read, but don’t do anything useful, either? For me, this is when I find time to read:

    1. While walking the dog (a minimum of 20 min in the morning, and 20 min in the afternoon, that’s 40 minutes of reading). Obviously, you can’t read a physical book while walking on the street without getting killed by a car, but I listen to a lot of audio-books.

    2. While driving or commuting to/from work. In most people’s cases, this is another 40-60 min that you can spend listening to audiobooks.

    3. Instead of using social media. (I use social media when I am really tired and can’t focus, so in such situations, it’s better to choose an “easy” book or something relaxing, that doesn’t require a lot of brain power or focus)

    4. Instead of reading in bed, before going to sleep, sometimes I wake up earlier than everybody else in the house, when it’s really quiet, and read until the rest of the family wakes up. Even if I read at night, I try to never do it in the bed in my pijamas, but go to a different room to read. Otherwise, reading becomes associated with sleep.

    Regarding reading multiple books at once, I had the opposite problem: I would start too many books, and never finish them. One time, I actually counted 12 books that I was reading in parallel, and a couple of them were started 2 years before! So I obviously had a focus problem. Now, I have a self-imposed limit: never more than 3 books in progress at the same time, and usually they are from very different domains (I find it that reading 3 books about the same topic makes it confusing, but if one book is about history, one is about software and one is classical literature, for example, you can’t mix them in your head!)

    By the way, it is not my intention to disappoint you, but there are studies that indicate we only remember 5% of what we read. ๐Ÿ™‚

    PS: I have a very hard time stopping from reading a bad book or watching a bad movie, for two reasons:
    1. I feel like I already “invested” time to read it so far, so if I don’t finish, that time will go to waste.
    2. I always hope the book/movie will eventually get better, but sometimes it’s just crappy until the end! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Man, big thanks for such a big reply!

      You know, I’ve been rather grumpy today and I was actually thinking whether to go and do some reading now or to just screw it or watch a TV show. Reading your DEDICATION to the process actually made me want to go and read (which I’ll do as soon as I finish writing this reply) ๐Ÿ˜€

      Another thing that I also REALLY like about this, and this is something that I’ve heard from couple of people who are also avid readers (like you, ha!) – they seem to use every possible free moment to dedicate to reading (be it physical or audio book), and I think that’s really amazing. In all honesty.

      I’ve tried giving a shot to audio books but I really have hard time staying focused. I think I tried three of them maybe but I just gave up immediately. On the other hand, I listen to podcasts ALL the time. Like literally – when washing dishes, commuting, vacuuming or working out. I just love them. But I can’t get used to audio books, and I think that’s a pity honestly.

      >> Regarding reading multiple books at once, I had the opposite problem: I would start too many books, and never finish them. One time, I actually counted 12 books that I was reading in parallel, and a couple of them were started 2 years before! So I obviously had a focus problem. Now, I have a self-imposed limit: never more than 3 books in progress at the same time, and usually they are from very different domains (I find it that reading 3 books about the same topic makes it confusing, but if one book is about history, one is about software and one is classical literature, for example, you canโ€™t mix them in your head!)

      Hah, that’s interesting! ๐Ÿ˜€ Do you actually think that the book might be boring so that you forget about it? I have a similar problem as you mentioned — the sunken cost fallacy. I struggle dropping something that I dislike. So what I found to “work” is that I just “leave it aside” until I’m motivated to read it haha.

      >> By the way, it is not my intention to disappoint you, but there are studies that indicate we only remember 5% of what we read. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Oh, that’s interesting!! You know, I was googling this at one point because I actually realized that, well, I hardly remember stuff that I read months ago lol. And then I came around something that actually cheered me a bit. Some guy said (or quoted someone) – “Reading is like eating. You surely won’t remember it in months time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it now”. And that kind of … cheered me up to the fact that I forget most of what I read ๐Ÿ˜€ But, you know, as of lately I actually started re-reading old stuff a lot. So at this time I think I’m re-reading probably 2 or 3 books that I read in the past. That seems to help ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. BTW, I think itโ€™s worth mentioning that your Goodreads profile is well worth the follow! If you donโ€™t mind, Iโ€™d publish the link here. I generally โ€œstoleโ€ a lot of potential reads from you ๐Ÿ˜€

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