Friday, February 03, 2006

How To Read a Book a Day

I've been thinking about this post for a week or so now, but the final impetus to put it down into cold electrons was (and I know this is terribly incestuous; I apologize) Jonathan Strahan's blog post about me.

This blog sometimes feels like just a collection of very long lists: books I've just read, books I read sometime in the past, books I just got my hot little hands on and might read someday. And that probably fosters the impression that I'm some kind of super-reader, but it really doesn't feel that way on this end. I work in a business of people who read incessantly and quickly; one of the most common comments around a NYC publishing office is "I'll take that home and read it tonight." Let me emphasize that those people then usually do just that -- drag a big manuscript home, devour it in a night or two, and then start the cycle all over again.

So, compared to people who are reading big books in a night or two, the fact that I can knock off about 150 book pages of fiction a weekday (sometimes less, sometimes more) doesn't seem all that impressive to me. Still, it impressed Jonathan, and it might be impressing some of the rest of you. But I'll explain how I do it, and that will take a lot of the mystique out of it -- and maybe allow you to apply these techniques to your own life! [big fake infomercial grin]

First of all, to read a book a day you need to have lots of books around. Big piles, of all different kinds of books, so there's always something you want to read. It also helps if many of those books are not all that long; one big fat book can take a week or more, and that's a trainwreck to the book-a-day schedule. (I've had periods where I scoured my shelves for anything under 200 pages, to read those first. And shorter books nearly always get read before longer books, when I get new stuff in.)

The kind of books you read is also important: if you only read novels, it's going to be hard to get through one a day, unless you read much faster than I do, or have most of the day free to just read. But if you also read comics collections, art books, and other books (bathroom books of odd facts; small gift-y point-of-purchase books; young adult novels: there are many kinds of books that could work) with fewer words in them than the typical novel, you'll find that you get through them quickly.

That leads to the next point: read more than one book a time. That medium-sized novel will take two or three days to read, but you can read (in my case) Samurai Executioner, Vol.8 in the evening (mostly while waiting for the computer to do things) of the first day, and still keep the book-a-day pace.

(One of my related sneaky tricks is to read almost to the end of something like a cartoon collection, or a book of short pieces, and then put that book on a special emergency I-need-to-finish-a-book-today pile. I currently have three books in this holding pattern, ready to pull out and finish off on a day I didn't finish anything else.)

Another related trick is to read during odd moments. Computer is booting up? Have something sitting next to the computer that you can read for two minutes and put back down -- fiction usually isn't good, but newspaper comics reprints are perfect and there's plenty of non-fiction that can also work. Some people read waiting in line -- I try not to wait in line very much, but I've read there, too.

But, tricks aside, to read a book a day you still need dedicated reading time. For me, it's commuting (via bus, 45-55 minutes each way) and lunchtime (I've been reading for about an hour at lunch nearly every weekday for the last fifteen years). That's where I get the bulk of my main reading time in; that's where I read the novels, short story collections, and other relatively serious books. As I said above, my target is 150 pages a day, roughly evenly spread across those three reading times. (One problem of reading this way is that a book needs to fit into my bag to be read during the week -- oversized books and most 6x9 hardcovers over 400 pages or so just don't fit, and so I can't read them during the week.)

I keep trying to read in the evenings; I used to do it before kids (and even more so before computers -- it's probably the triple whammy of kids, computer and Internet that put the kibosh on that). And, in fact, I'm generally settling onto my dining room/kitchen couch for half an hour or so of magazine reading (generally non-fiction: New Yorker, Locus, and the two years worth of New York Review of Science Fiction I keep trying to catch up on) before bed.

And what makes the whole thing go, of course, is guilt. You have to look at those towering stacks of books and desperately want to get through all of them, right now. You have to run into an author online or at a con, and realize that you still haven't read her "new" book that came out in 2003. You have to want to read more than you want to do other things. (I don't really watch TV, though with Netflix I've been watching a movie or two a week lately -- though, even there, I generally combine movie-watching with exercising and laundry-folding to feel more efficient and keep myself from wandering off to do computer things.)

If you follow those rules, you, too, can read a book a day. They may not all be the books you thought you most wanted to read (sometimes those big books just look too daunting when you're trying to get through one a day), but they'll all be books, and your friends and neighbors will stand in awe of you.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article.
I linked it in OutZone news.

Anonymous said...


I am searching out people who read a book a day. I read about
280 books in 2008 and would like to find those with the similar


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