reading

8 More Ways To Read (A Lot) More Books

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Do you want to read more books?

Most people I talk to say yes, yes, definitely yes. Then two seconds later they say “But I just don’t got that kind of time.”

Well, you know what? I’m calling shenanigans on that BS excuse.

Because the truth is we’re reading more words per day now than ever before. It’s just garbage reading. Texts and alerts and notifications and emails and headline skims and fly-by tickers and blog feeds and Twitter spews and Instagram comments.

Who has time for books anymore?

I know this pain because I’ve felt this pain. For most of my adult life I read five books a year tops. Few slow burners on my nightstand, couple on vacation if I was lucky.

But then three years ago I suddenly read fifty. Fifty books! In one year. I couldn’t believe it. I could suddenly feel books becoming this lead domino towards being a better husband, a better father, a better writer.

In fact, I was so enamoured with myself I even wrote an article about it for Harvard Business Review called “8 Ways To Read (A Lot) More Books This Year” where I summed up the little systems that helped me 10x my reading rate after decades of being a “don’t got that kind of time” whiner.

And then what?

Well, that article became the Most Popular article on Harvard Business Review for something like six months straight and when you type in “how to read more books” in Google it’s generally right near the top.

So it seems the desire to read more is somewhat universal.

Since then I’ve tried doubling down on reading myself. I send out a monthly book club with a summary of the books I’ve read and enjoyed each month and I now host a podcast all about books, too. I’m reading somewhere around 100 books a year now so I figured it was time for a Version 2.0 of that article sharing all the things I do to keep my reading rate high. An advanced version! Because sure, I hit slow patches, I hit bare patches, I slip into social media swirls and feel dirty afterwards.

But these are the eight things I do to get back on track.

8. Live inside a world of books. The first one is a mindset change. Most people have a bookshelf “over there”, you know? That’s where the books live. But one day last year my wife just dumped a pile of about ten picture books in the middle of our coffee table. What happened? Our kids started flipping through them all the time. So now we just rotate them and leave them there. Path-of-least-resistance principle! Just like how Google leaves alfalfa bars and tofu chips on the counter for employees while hiding the jelly beans in cookie jars. We’ve put the TV in the basement, installed a bookshelf near our front door, slipped books into carseat pouches, and, of course, placed one within reach of every toilet. (Want an epic toilet book? Try this.)  Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges says: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”

7. Go red in bed. Yes, I’m talking about lighting up your bedroom like a bordello. How? Well, you gotta wear a red-light headband on your head like you’re in the jungles looking for the Predator. My wife Leslie generally falls asleep before I do and that’s when I strap my red reading light on my forehead and get my reading on. Why red? Michael Breus, PhD and author of The Power of When says that “The theory is that red light aids melatonin production.” And bright lights have the opposite effect according to The Sleep Health Foundation of Australia.  

6. Make your phone disgusting. Cell phones are a problem. Our phones are designed to be smooth, sexy, and irresistible. Don’t believe me? The book Irresistible by Adam Alter will quickly raise your awareness to the addictive designs going into smartphones. They’re pocket slot machines. So what’s the solution? Make it disgusting. Put your phone in black and white. Move all the apps off the main screen so it’s blank when you open it. Leave your cracked screen cracked. Move your charger to the basement so it’s an extra step in your low resilience nighttime and morning moments. (Cause you're never really proud of those 11pm emails, amirite?) Enable Night Shift to automatically block calls and texts after 7pm. Slowly, slowly, slowly prevent it from becoming such a seductive temptress. 

5. Go Dewey Decimal. How do you organize your books? By color? By when you bought them? By big random piles everywhere? There’s a reason every library is organized in the Dewey Decimal System. It makes sense. The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System was created by Melvil Dewey in 1876. The DDC is the most widely used classification system in the world and is currently in use at libraries in over 140 countries. All books fall neatly into ever-more-thin-sliced categories around psychology and religion and science and art and everything. What’s the benefit? You make connections. You see where your big gaps are. (I couldn’t believe I only had three books in all of religion until I realized I only had two books in all of science! Who is Jesus? What is a tree? Don’t ask me!) I spent one Saturday putting my books in Dewey Decimal System and, in addition to scratching an incredibly deep organizational itch, I now find books faster, feel like my reading is more purposeful, and am more engaged in what I read, because I can sort of feel how it snaps into my brain. What tools do you need to do it? Just two! I bookmarked classify.oclc.org to look up Dewey Decimal Numbers for any books which don’t have a DDC code on the inside jacket and I use the Decimator app to look up what that number means. Oh, and I use a pencil to write the number and category inside the jacket. So three things including the pencil. I write the DDC code and the category in the inside jacket of each book. 

4. Listen to 3 Books. A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… and the man who never reads lives only one. Yes,  I stole that quote from Game of Thrones. But that quote begs a great follow-up question: Which thousand lives will you live? The average lifespan is about 1000 months long. (!) And estimates suggest around 1000 new books are published every single day. So on 3 Books I am spending fifteen years finding and reading the 1000 most formative books in the world. How? I’m sitting down and asking 333 of the most inspiring people I can find which three books most shaped their lives. I read the books in advance, do all the interviews in-person, have a strict no ads and no sponsors policy, and just get off discussing the big themes related to their books. Sample guests include David SedarisJudy BlumeChris Anderson of TED, and the world’s greatest Uber driver.

3. Unfollow all news. (Or Go Wiki.) Sure, sure, I preached before about how I cancelled all my magazine and newspaper subscriptions to focus solely on books. But you know where the news followed me? Online. They’re fishing for our eyeballs! So I had to get hardcore. Unfollow every news site on social media. Remove all bookmarks to news sites. Remove all passwords too! Now I get the news from skimming headlines at my local grocery store. Too hardcore? Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, told me he combs the front page of Wikipedia News each day. That’s it! No news sites, no news feeds. Why? Well, it’s quick and it’s Wikipedia. No left, no right, no leanings. It’s Wikipedia. When the news gets stripped out the space to read opens up. 

2. Read on something that doesn’t do anything else. In my chat with Seth Godin on 3 Books, he told me the research shows we don’t read on devices where we have the ability to multitask. Same path-of-least-resistance principle. If we can be interrupted, alerted, or notified, we will. Not good for diving deep into new worlds. So what do I suggest? Real books. Real pages. On dead trees. Yes, kill em, print on em, and disappear into your mind. Only real books let you be the full director of the show, after all. No voice replaces your mental voice, no formatting or display screen affects the artistic intentions of the writer. Sure, I get it if you need big font or you drive all day and prefer audiobooks, I get that, but I’m just saying if you wanna be a real book snob for the rest of your life just like me, well I’ve got a nice warm seat beside me. 

1. Find your Sarah. My favorite bookseller of all-time is Sarah Ramsey of Another Story Bookshop in Toronto. I walk in, I start blabbering, I start confessing, I share what I’m struggling with, she hmms and hahs and sizes me up as we wander around the store talking for half an hour. And then I walk out with an armload of books that completely fit my emotional state, where I want or need to grow, and those that resonate with me on a deeper level. If you believe humans are the best algorithm (like I do) then walking into your local independent bookstore, sizing up the Staff Picks wall to see who’s similar to you, and then asking them for personal picks is a great way to speed you up. (Here’s an ‘indie bookstore finder’ if you want a place to start.)

So are you ready to go? Do you need some final convincing?

If you need your left brain scratched, then check out the 2011 The Annual Review of Psychology which says that reading triggers our mirror neurons and opens up the parts of our brain responsible for developing empathy, compassion, and understanding. Makes you a better leader, teacher, parent, and sibling. Another study published in Science Magazine in 2013 found that reading literary fiction helps us improve our empathy and social functioning. And, lastly, an incredible 2013 study at Emory University, MRIs taken the morning after test subjects were asked to read sections of a novel showed an increase in connectivity in the left temporal cortex. What’s that? The area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. Priming the brain. And the MRIs were done the next day. Just imagine the long-term benefits of cracking open a book every day.

Most of us want to read more. And we can.

A couple years ago I shared 8 ways to read more books and now I'm share 8 more ways. Ditch the Instagram comments and news feeds and let's all try and slip more pages into all the cricks and corners of the day.

Happy reading.

The Very Best Books I Read In 2018

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Another year!

Another “best of” reading list from me.

As always, these are the best books I read in 2018 … not the best books that came out in 2018! I don’t care what books come out when. The goal isn’t to be timely! It’s to read good books.

These are the Top 15 books I read in 2018:


15. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. DweckMy wife Leslie and I use the “fixed versus growth mindset” metaphor all the time. To illustrate the difference here’s a scenario from the book: “One day, you go to a class that is really important to you and that you like a lot. The professor returns the midterm papers to the class. You got a C+. You’re very disappointed. That evening on the way back to your home, you find that you’ve gotten a parking ticket. Being really frustrated, you call your best friend to share your experience but are sort of brushed off.” According to Carol Dweck, if you have a fixed mindset you’d think “I’m a total failure” or “I feel like a reject.” (That’s how I felt when I read it!) But it was a midterm, not a final, it was a parking ticket, not a car crash, you were “brushed off”, not dumped forever. So if you have a growth mindset, you’d think “I need to try harder in class, be more careful when parking the car, and wonder if my friend had a bad day.” This illuminating book helped me understand how to develop a growth mindset across all spectrums of life from business to parenting. I can’t recommend it enough.
Perfect for: teachers, anyone leading a team, and people who like TED Talks… 
 
14. Point Your Face At This by Demetri Martin. Demetri Martin is a stand-up comedian and former correspondent for The Daily Show. It is really hard to explain this book of cartoons so instead I’m going to give you onetwothree,fourfive examples of the cartoons themselves.
Perfect for: fans of the absurdist style of The Far Side cartoons, people who like mathy / logic puzzles, and bathroom readers… 
 
13. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Zora Neale was born in Alabama in 1891 and published this novel about a Southern black woman’s journey to independence in 1937. Born from a rape and raised by her grandmother who was a slave, it’s an incredibly epic tale of her life which (I promise) ultimately rewards at the end. Three things about this fascinating book: One, it was a lost book, meaning completely out of print and forgotten for years, until an essay about the author by Alice Walker appeared in 1975 and raised interest again. Two, it’s written exactly as people spoke. So, like, a sample sentence is “They’s jes lak uh pack uh hawgs”. And three, it takes a few chapters to get into the writing style – maybe like A Clockwork Orange if you’ve read that.
Perfect for: fans of historical fiction, people who liked A Thousand Splendid Suns, and those who enjoy epic stories of triumph over adversity…
  
12. The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair. Did you know blue was for girls and pink was for boys? Me neither! But it wasn’t that long ago. Less than a hundred years. Red was for kings, warriors, and cardinals. So pink was the “little king.” And blue? Color of the Virgin Mary for a couple thousand years. Ever wondered about the origin of fuchsia, electric blue, or sepia? Well, each of the seventy-five colors highlighted (literally) in this book shares the fascinating little tale of how it got to its place in the world today. Masterful!
Perfect for: anyone who wants a coffee table book that’s not just for show, designers or visual artists, and, once again, bathroom readers… 
 
11. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. This book explores the history of public shaming and the reemergence of it on a mass scale with the Internet. It sounded like a topic I cared nothing about yet the storytelling here is completely engrossing. Ronson managed to score interviews with pariahs like Jonah Lehrer who became a New Yorker plagiarism castaway and Justine Sacco who sent a bad joke out to 170 followers on Twitter before getting on an 11-hour flight… and then landed to discover she’d become the #1 trending topic on Twitter and been fired from her job all while she was on the plane. Past and future covered here: A great exploration of shaming history and a confident wade into the complex emotional issues surrounding how we think today about power to the people.
Perfect for: anyone with a public presence, contemporary philosophers, and those working in news or media … 
  
10. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I’ve heard about Bonfire forever! Never read it until this year. And when I finally opened this gripping, breathless, searing portrait of rising inequalities taking place between the highest highs and lowest lows of Manhattan in the 1980s I was just left wondering: “Why did it take me so long?” After I finished I lent it to my mom over a family trip this summer and she whipped through it, too. Captivating.
Perfect for: people who find books “too slow”, anyone working in finance, and people who liked The Wire… 
 
9. Calypso by David Sedaris. I love David Sedaris. He went super deep in our ridiculous interview driving around Toronto in the backseat of his limo. He has this ability to take authenticity to that total next level place. I would personally put Calypso in a three-way tie with Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day for Best Sedaris Book Ever. Slower, darker, and all the hilarious essays sort of weave together to give a sharp portrait of turning sixty with everything that entails. A father in his 90s. Losing a sibling. Everything sounding loud in airports. If you want a sample essay, here’s one from The New Yorker which is included in the book.
Perfect for: dads, people who like their comedy a little spicy, and anyone navigating a mid-life crisis… 
 
8. The History Of Love: A Novel by Nicole Krauss. I had this book recommended to me by a few people over the years including anonymous strangers at book signings, my father-in-law, and even Mitch Albom. Turns out I would eventually need all those pushes because I found the first two-thirds of this epic love story totally frustrating. It’s written like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. But it does eventually deliver a massive payoff that makes it all worth it. Reading this book feels like setting up a hundred dominos in a dark room. Getting to the end feels like finally turning the lights on and knocking them all over.
Perfect for: people who liked The Notebook, people who liked The Rosie Project, and your everyday big-hearted romantic… 
 
7. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls WilderThis may be the most unusual book on my list this year. And I would never have read it if Gretchen Rubin hadn’t picked it as one of her three books on (yes) 3 Books. But it’s a hypnotic autobiographical description of growing up in rural Wisconsin in the late 1800s. From shooting panthers to smoking meat in hollow tree trunks to playing catch with pig bladders. There is no plot. There is no crisis. There’s just 238 pages in 18-point font of vivid memories weaved into a captivating tableau that makes you feel like you’re living another life. A truly wondrous work and the first book in the famous “Little House” series. Written in 1937.
Perfect for: early or young adult readers, anyone looking to escape the modern world, and people willing to stop and just meditate on being in the moment… 
 
6. They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib. There is magic in describing invisible things. Root beer on your tongue. Muscle buzz after a workout. And, for me, music reviews. I’ve always loved reviews that wrap words around the invisible spaces and emotions and reflections sitting inside great tunes. And Hanif Abdurraqib writes great music reviews. But he writes something more, too. He writes about class and race and anger and culture and making it and living it and what it all means… with music serving as a wobbly brass doorknob to a whole new world inside.
Perfect for: Pitchfork readers, aspiring musicians, and fans of good arguments… 
  
5. Solitude: In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris. I’m still thinking about this book all the time. If loneliness is “alone and sad” then solitude is “alone and happy.” Michael Harris peels back the layers of this incredibly subtle life skill to show us why it’s crucial to master, what gets in the way, and how we can reorient ourselves in the distraction machine we live in.
Perfect for: people who don’t make time for “solo time”, anyone finding the world too loud, and those looking to improve focus or concentration… 
 
4. Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers. Only picture book on the list this year! Superhuman children’s author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers dropped the mic with this life-affirming, crowd-pleasing, planet-cheering children’s book conceived as a Welcome To Earth-style note to his newborn son.
Perfect for: children, their parents, and anyone looking for a reminder on how lucky we are… 
 
3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Here it is! Maybe the best book on writing out there. I found this one a lot stronger than Bird by Bird which provoked minor anxiety in me with its endless list of writing stresses. King shares his mental models for writing, demystifies the process, and speaks in a snappy manner about how to actually do it. The first half of the book is his optional memoir (lots of fun but skippable if you aren’t interested) and then the second half is on writing. Sidenote: what’s in the middle? An incredible little five-page interstitial called “What Writing Is” which blew my mind.
Perfect for: writers, aspiring writers, and people who like English but not English class 
 
2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A Novel by Maria Semple. Funniest novel I read in 2018. Maria Semple is a former writer for Arrested DevelopmentEllen, and Mad About You and she’s put together this novel in a unique way – in the form of Bernadette’s 15-year-old daughter solving the riddle of her eccentric, agoraphobic mother’s sudden disappearance through a collection of newspaper clippings, stolen emails, and schools newsletters. The comedy acrobatics are incredible as every plot twist and turn is ultimately in service of a perfectly solved Rubik’s Cube by the end.
Perfect for: fans of any of the TV shows mentioned above, fans of ridiculous domestic drama or soap opera-y type tales, and people who used to laugh more but are too stressed these days… 
 
1. Enlightenment Now: The Case For Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker. Before this year I’d never read a Steven Pinker book before and the man intimidates the hell out of me. His Wikipedia profile almost sounds fake in its endless list of accolades and accomplishments. And check out the amazing hair: dude’s bringing back the Ludwig van for real! But this year no book kept me up later at night than Enlightenment Now. That feels like a good test for the #1 overall position. A few nights in a row I watched the clock click past 3:00am as I couldn’t stop mentally swallowing the endlessly delicious nuggets of comfort the book kept dropping in its piece-by-piece deconstruction of how, you know what? Life is actually really good. We’re living longer, we’re healthier, we’re safer. And the stories and research underpinning these truths are told in a beautifully readable way. It feels like the guy is tap-dancing on a stage just daring you to poke a hole in his arguments. Now, when you take on a topic this big (“The whole world is great!!!”) you’re bound to get buried in criticism, too. There’s a lot out there. But I think that means he’s touching a deep and real nerve. I trust the Bill Gates blurb on the cover more: “My new favorite book of all time”, he says. I’m with Bill. This one is a gem.
Perfect for: optimists, science and history buffs, anyone who needs to zoom out of the news cycle…