How I Read More Than 80 Books in a Year

Simple tricks you can apply to get more reading done

How I Read More Than 80 Books in a Year
Photo by Jade Stephens on Unsplash

Simple tricks you can apply to get more reading done.

Most people don’t believe it when I say I read 80+ books each year.

This wasn’t always the case. I embarked on my reading journey back in school, but then lost track of what I loved doing in college when long evenings spent with a book were replaced with movie nights with friends. Things got worse when I started working, and I trudged on through life like a robot, knowing I missed reading, but unable to do anything to bring back books into my life.

And then, at the beginning of 2018, when this void in my chest grew wider, I decided enough was enough. That year, made a pact with myself that come what may, I will read 20 books. By December 2018, I had read 24.

Encouraged by my dedication, I aimed for a rather ambitious 40 books in 2019. I reached this goal by mid-August, and by December, I had read 23,901 pages across 81 books.

Screenshot: Author

A significant factor in this achievement was that I can read fairly fast. This is not a skill I was born with. Rather, it is something I developed over time, with consistent practice and a dogged determination. English is not my first language, and I remember struggling with a book of fairy tales at five. But I was so keen on wanting to finish it, that I didn’t give up.

Even as an adult, I have struggled with several books that I felt were too complicated. I almost gave up on The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy because I had to look up a word in the dictionary every five sentences. But, I knew the book held promise, and I knew I wanted to read it. So, I kept it aside for two years, and when I picked it up next, I finished it within three days. The book ended up becoming one of my all-time favourites.

If you think you might not have time in your life to read 80 books in a year, let me tell you I have a full-time job as a civil engineer and am pursuing my PhD part-time in geotechnical engineering. I have also published three books and am currently working on the fourth. Amid so many commitments, if I can take out time for reading, so can you. I will show you the exact steps I followed so you can do the same.

In 2020, I aimed to read 50 books. As of September 2020, I have already completed that goal. This year, the total might be less than 2019, but that is because I wrote 87,000+ words of my fourth novel, along with a lot of additional responsibilities at my workplace.

Screenshot: Author

In this post, I want to address some fundamental mindset shifts and lifestyle changes that helped me achieve this goal of getting more quality reading done. I would also like to outline my current reading routine and discuss the results I achieved, in the hopes that it would be helpful for anyone looking to get more reading done without taking out extra time from their schedule.

Before we get started, I want to set the stage with a few things to keep in mind before you start tracking your reading goals.

  • When you start on this journey, don’t aim for numbers. Instead, focus on reading quality books. It does not matter if you read only one book in the year if you manage to apply a majority of the lessons it teaches.
  • You should read the books that you want to, and not go for the ones you have heard good recommendations of. For example, I love reading fiction, and no matter how many great reviews a non-fiction book has, I think at least ten times about whether or not I stand to gain anything from it before starting.
  • Abandoning a book mid-way is okay if you feel it is not working for you. You are not obligated to finish every book you start.
  • Don’t read too many books of the same genre at a stretch. I have found that doing so risks saturating our brain with similar information. Instead, explore new genres and space out your non-fiction reads with some fiction.
  • If you believe that a reader stands to gain only from reading non-fiction, understand that fiction also has a lot to offer in terms of personal development. There have been studies that show reading fiction enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Reading artistic literature has been found to enable people to change their personality by small increments, not by a writer’s persuasion, but in their own way.

The following are the steps that worked for me. You may apply these to your life to become a better, more efficient reader.

Set a Reading Goal

With so many millions of books in the world, it is impossible to keep yourself updated with the latest happenings in the world of books. No matter how much you read, there will always be a “popular” author you have never heard of. If you spend too much time selecting your next read, you will never be able to get started. The first step is to accept that there is no shame in not having read everything. Once you have got that sorted, you need to set concrete reading goals. Here is how you can go about it:

Identify the why

Write a short paragraph on why you want to read.

Are you looking for inspiration? In that case, self-help and memoirs by great achievers would be the ideal genre for you to start.

If you are seeking entertainment and an escape from reality, your answer is fiction. You may try fantasy and science fiction as these genres provide an escape on the grandest scale.

Do you want to gain knowledge and learn more about the field of your choice? Again, non-fiction is your answer. Pick the books in the domain you want to know about.

Do you want to feel like you are not the only one going through the same? You can try contemporary fiction by writers who are well-loved for what they write.

If you are looking at reading as a way of celebrating the language, literary fiction is your ideal genre. When I am in the mood for such work, I pick the books that won the Pulitzer or the Man Booker Prize for the most delicious prose.

Make a TBR

A TBR, or a To-Be-Read List, is the next thing you need to finalise on after picking your genres. I wanted to read 50 books this year, but I didn’t finalise all of them at one go. After all, readers tend to be whimsical creatures, and it’s challenging to make a list and stick to it strictly.

However, I was clear about the things I wanted to do, these being:

  • Read at least one book on personality development each month.
  • Complete at least two fantasy fiction series (this is more of a personal goal because fantasy fiction is my favourite genre and I never want to give up on the amazement of reading about entire worlds built on the imagination of the writer).
  • Read at least five memoirs in the year.
  • Read more books with queer representation and books written by Indians and other authors of colour.

At this stage, it is essential to be flexible in choices and allow yourself the room to be whimsical while sticking to a reading goal. When you make yours, you must identify which genres or authors you want to read, and then leave the choices for when the time comes. For example, when I promised myself I would read authors of colour, I didn’t specify who or what genre. This gave me a lot of choices to pick from, and I never felt I was being restricted or that my routine was too difficult to stick to.

Set some non-negotiables

As I mentioned earlier in this post, you don’t necessarily have to be a “good reader” to get more reading done. I was fortunate to start when I was young. But irrespective of what age you are at, if you set yourself some non-negotiables, you can get a lot of reading done, no matter what.

These are the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year, goals I still stick to religiously:

  • Read at least thirty minutes each day.
  • Listen to audiobooks for at least an hour each day.
  • Write a review or summary for every book I read.

Stick to the Reading Goal

When you are dedicated to getting more reading done, you don’t necessarily have to have lots of time on your hands. Instead, you can cut out unnecessary activities from your routine and make time for books.

Before 2019, I used to tell myself that I was too busy that I didn’t have time for reading. I was wrong. In reality, I had all the time I needed. What I lacked was the drive to get back to reading again. Even though I knew I wanted to, there was this voice inside my head that said it was too much effort, that the familiar comfort of my current unhealthy lifestyle was too good to give up on.

In the end, I didn’t sacrifice anything significant to read 81 books in the year. I still work at my day job, write my books, study for my PhD, and socialise as I used to. The only change I made was a conscious mindset shift that I needed to replace unproductive activities with reading, and I had both the time and the mood.

Here are the steps I took to consciously incorporate more time for reading in my life:

Ditch your phone for a book before going to bed

I had the habit of scrolling through social media for at least thirty minutes before going to bed. It wasn’t conscious. I would retire, turn off the lights and lie down on the bed. While picking my phone to set the alarm for the next day, some old notification would catch my attention. I would click on it, and before I know, I would be sucked into the internet rabbit hole of too much information. This was not only unproductive but also had a negative impact on my health. Several studies have associated the use of social media at night with disturbed sleep among young adults.

Things took a turn for the positive when I started leaving my phone on a dresser far away from my bed, and only taking a book (or my Kindle) with me. I love reading paperbacks, but they are somewhat difficult to manoeuvre while lying down. The use of an e-reader makes the experience more enjoyable when you can turn the page with just a poke from a finger. Research has established that reading on a self-luminous e-reader at night after turning out the lights does not affect sleep patterns in adults.

This had the following benefits:

  • I didn’t feel guilty about wasting time by scrolling mindlessly.
  • It usually takes me twenty minutes or longer to fall asleep after lying on the bed. Thus, by utilising this time to read, I was also achieving 66% of my non-negotiable of reading for at least thirty minutes each day.
  • I felt I could retain the story better when I read it at night. At first, I thought this was just me but later found that there have been a lot of research that establishes sleeping shortly after reading also facilitates memory consolidation and aids learning in older children and adults.

Make reading a part of your morning routine

Sleeping without a phone nearby had another unexpected benefit: when I woke up in the morning, my first instinct was to reach out for it. But when there was no phone to scroll through, I picked up my book instead and continued reading.

This was subconscious, but before I knew it, reading became a part of my morning routine. There is something inexplicable in returning to the same story you were reading the night before. The continuity, the comfort in familiarity, and the thrill of getting to know what happens next set the right mood for the day.

You can implement this step too. Even if you have a busy schedule, you can lie back for ten extra minutes and read a few pages. And combined with the twenty minutes of the previous night, your daily goal of reading for thirty minutes each day is already complete.

Dispelling the Myth that Audiobooks Aren’t “Real Books”

Many readers claim that listening to audiobooks doesn’t count as reading because information retention becomes hard. I used to think the same, but things changed last year when I decided to gift myself a subscription to an app-based audiobook service for my birthday. Within a few days, I was mesmerised by the transformation audiobooks promised to the reading experience.

  • I could visualise the concept of the book better when it was narrated out loud.
  • Yes, I couldn’t remember each and every aspect of the book, but the ones that stood out remained imprinted in my memory for long.
  • The best advantage was that I could listen to them while doing mundane chores that did not require too much attention (like cooking, cleaning, doing the dishes, etc.).
  • For a non-native English speaker like me, audiobooks were an excellent opportunity to improve my command over the language, learn pronunciation, and understand how to modulate my voice while voicing out questions or statements, etc.

Studies have shown that audiobooks may be used to improve fluency, expand vocabulary, develop comprehension, and increase motivation to interact with books. The significant advantage is that audiobooks allow a positive focus on the meaning behind an author’s words and provide an opportunity for many students, including those with special needs, to experience the same books as the other students. Further research has shown that the combined reading/listening experience supports a person’s reading stamina, thus aiding their vocabulary development and reading motivation.

The Takeaway

You cannot become a good reader overnight. However, if you really want to read more books, it is possible to start today and crush your reading goals of finishing a certain number of books each year. The model that I followed is based on understanding your motivation and making time for reading by eliminating the excessive use of unproductive activities. Aside from that, you can resort to technology (like e-readers and audiobook-narration apps) to aid you in your reading journey.

If you implement the steps one by one, you’ll definitely start to see improvement in your reading experience. Even if you cannot immediately start reading 80 books a year, you can surely take the first step towards becoming a better reader. All you need are determination and some self-control, and you can read as much as you want to!

The most crucial point to remember is to have fun and enjoy the process.

More by Anangsha Alammyan in Books Are Our Superpower:

How I Became an Avid Reader
My history with books is a long and colourful one
Are You A Dreamer Or A Cynic (Why Not Let Your Books Decide?)
What your taste in books reveals about you
Each Book Tells Two Stories
Which story do you read when you re-read a favourite book

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