1. Hello hello,
2. Warning: this one gets long. Twice as long as normal, in fact.
3. Also – there’ll be no newsletters for the next month as I’m on holiday. So you could always spread it out a bit.
4. So. Someone on Twitter (@garethkthomas) asked: ‘prolific readers, what are your tips for reading lots of books?’. Turns out I had more thoughts on this than were reasonably tweetable, and that I really do think there are better/more helpful ways of ‘being a reader’. So yes, I am going to bang on about them for this whole newsletter.
5. For what it’s worth: I did an English and philosophy degree, then worked in a bookshop, then in publishing. All places where books are treated both as ‘sacred objects of contemplation’ and ‘logistical problems in need of managing’. A useful balance, I think.
6. Quick bookshop story to make bibliophiles weep: Penguin books used to avoid the hassle of processing ‘returns’ (shops sending back unsold books every quarter) by just asking you to tear off the covers, return those, and throw away the rest of the books. The first time I stood in the basement of a bookshop ripping off the covers of a pile of Penguin Classics I genuinely felt sick.
7. Mind you, the same week my mate Andy got a job in a zoo, where he had to sit all day in a room smacking mice on the head with a hammer so they became snake food. So, y’know. Perspective.
8. Anyway. Reading lots. These things help:
9. Know your own self-limiting reading habits. If you read according to principles like ‘I’ve started this book, so I must finish it’, or ‘don’t start a new book until you’ve finished this one’, just stop it. You wouldn’t consume any other media like this (‘Just gotta finish reading this whole website before I click anything else’). Put the boring book down and pick up another. Nobody will judge you and nothing bad will happen.
10. Have lots of interesting books around. To help with this: always buy the book. In the scheme of things, books cost nothing. The equivalent of a couple of pints. Less than a pizza. If you’re broke and can’t afford books, you’ll know. If you’re feeling like ‘hmm, I’m not sure whether I should or not…’ Yes, you should. Buy the damn book.
11. (My guess is that we prevaricate about buying books not because of the cost, but because the feeling of having ‘too many’ unread books weighs on us in some way.)
12. If it helps, tell yourself and others that ‘I’m building a library’. I used to say this as a joke. It’s not a joke.
13. Think of books not just as objects, but as a ceaseless nourishing flow of words through your life. Pay as much attention to the texture and quality of the ebbing and flowing as much as the individual books.
14. Don’t get hung up on speed. Those apps that read books to you faster so you can cram more books into your head ‘like a CEO’ (?!) are all hare. Reading more is tortoise.
15. Don’t get hung up on remembering and recall, either. It all goes in, whether you think you can remember it or not.
16. Though it’s nice to make some notes shortly after reading a book. It doesn’t so much help you remember more, as notice more. So write a summary. Identify a few of your favourite paragraphs and copy them out longhand into a nice notebook. It feels like you’re tattooing wisdom into your very soul.
17. You’re not. You’ll forget stuff just the same. But browsing through a notebook of favourite paragraphs can jog your memory and is in itself one of the most rewarding types of reading.
18. Have lots of books on the go. How many? How many places can you get away with making small piles of books?: one pile by the bed, another on the desk, a book or two in my rucksack, a small stack by the comfy chair…
19. Here’s liberating: consider that the ‘unit of reading’ is not ‘the book’. It’s the chapter. Books are just convenient ways of keeping chapters around the house in neat bundles.
20. (It’s surprising how true this is even for fiction.)
21. Cultivate different ways of reading: slow, mulling-over reading in a comfy chair. Fast skim-reading sitting at your desk. Easy fall-asleep reading before bed. Quick ‘grab an idea’ reading before going for a walk. Give them names, like they’re yoga moves. Try these different styles of reading with different types of book.
22. Book 30-minute slots into your work calendar for reading. (Call them things like ‘Catch-up w/Dostoevsky re: Project Karamazov'.)
23. (It reminds me, that used to be a thing in offices – people photocopying pages from books so they could slip them into their papers and read at their desks. I wonder if people copy and paste chunks into Excel docs in a similar way?)
24. My friend Rob tells a story about when he was 17 or 18 and getting in to reading magazines like National Geographic and The Economist. He got up from the table after dinner one night and said ‘anyway, I need to catch up on my reading.’ To which his mother answered: ‘Welcome to the rest of your life’.
25. Only buy a coat once you’ve ascertained that a B-format paperback will fit in the pocket.
26. Oh my, I could keep doing this forever. Probably best to draw things to a close, though.
27. How do you cultivate more and better reading in your life? Hit me up. I wanna know.
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