My Reading Habits

In 2019 I’ve finished 63 books, which is a new personal record:

Chart of books read yearly 2003-2019

I began keeping detailed track of my reading when this blog launched in 2003. In
case you’re wondering, the total count since 2003 is just a bit over 700, though
this overcounts by 10-15% if we consider unique books, since I re-read books
quite a bit (more on this later).

This seemed like a good time to reflect and also answer some frequently asked
questions I get from followers about my reading habits.

Reading books is an important part of my life. Reading a good book is an
activity I enjoy on a profound level. It’s not just for passing time; it’s
for gaining a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit, and for shaping my
own view of myself and my place in this world. Therefore, the effort to find
good books to read is never-ending, and over the years my summaries have helped
many people fill up their own reading queues – very happy to help!

I get many questions from followers about my reading habits. Here’s a bit of
Q&A. The first question is by far the most common, but others come up quite a
bit as well.

Q: How do you find time to read so much?

A: I make time.

It’s as simple as that. When people ask me this question, I always feel tempted
to ask back “Why do you think you don’t have time?”. I’m convinced
that anyone can find time if they really want it; it’s just a matter of
priorities.

I feel compelled to add that I don’t see myself as any sort of record-breaking
reader. There are many people who read way more than me, both in terms of
quantity and quality. I still have much to learn about time management.

A more detailed answer is due, though. It’s a combination of several factors:

Audiobooks: these make up a sizable chunk (at least a third) of my
reading in the past few years. I can carve up a lot of reading time while
commuting, working out, waiting at my kids’ after-school activities, washing
dishes and doing other chores around the house. Over an hour a day spent on
all these combined is not uncommon. At 1.25x listening speed, I can burn
through an average-sized book in a couple of weeks.

Making time: I find that I have some free time almost every evening to
relax; it’s usually not much, maybe 30-45 minutes. Rather than watching TV
or browsing social media, I read. I also spend some of my working
time reading technical books; when I’m really into a technical book, this can
amount to 20-30 minutes a day. Each instance in isolation is not much, but
it really adds up over time.

This is the place to mention that I prefer consuming slow media, to the
extent possible. I should really write a longer blog post about this topic
alone, but in the context of reading slow media means I prefer books to
articles, magazines and blog posts. These, in turn, I prefer over social
media. Therefore, given that I spend some small chunk of my day reading –
meaning scanning text with my eyes – I strongly prefer this time to be spent
on books rather than any other text organization format.

Reading with my kids: this one is fairly new, from the last year or so. As
my kids grow older, I find that I can read books together with them that both
of us actually enjoy. There are a couple of instances of that in the
most recent reading summary.
This is just like audiobooks in a way – it allows me to “steal” reading time
while doing something else. Reading together with my kids is a lot of fun,
and it combines an activity that’s dear to my heart (spending quality time
with them) with another activity – reading. I actually find that some “young
reader” versions of books are better than adult books! They convey very
similar amounts of information in a shorter, clearer way, without spending
text on useless embellishments and trying to pad to 300 pages.

Q: Do you read paper books? Audiobooks? Ebooks?

A: Short answer: yes.

For audiobooks, see the answer above. The rest is split between ebooks and paper
books. My heuristic here is pretty clear: I prefer an ebook, unless it’s a book
that has graphics (like images, photos or charts), equations or code in it. I
read ebooks on a Kindle, and I don’t like how Kindles do images, equations or
code. But I do prefer them for pure-text books, because a Kindle is lighter,
easier to hold with one hand, and easier to put down (in the sense that it’s
easier to find where you left off).

Q: Do you speed-read?

A: No. I experimented a little bit with speed-reading many years ago, but never really
warmed up to it. I did manage to bring my WPM much higher, but comprehension
suffered, and I also found I enjoy reading less. Lately, the vast majority of
my reading is non-fiction, which makes speed-reading even more challenging,
because comprehension is crucial. I’d say I read physical books at a pretty
average pace now.

As for audiobooks, I set them to 1.25x because the original speed is unbearably
slow, but this is not fast by any means. Most folks I know listen at 1.25x
at least, and some listen at much faster – like 1.5x or 2x. I found these higher
speeds harder to concentrate with, and comprehension suffers greatly. So I
settled for a more moderate pace.

Q: Do you re-read books?

A: Absolutely. I also group them separately in my reading summaries, so it’s
easy to see which books are re-reads. I estimate that about 10-15% of the books
I’ve been reading recently fall into this category. I’ve read many books twice,
and some books three or more times.

Re-reading good books is very important for me. A while ago
I made a resolution to read more for quality than quantity, but this is easier
said then done. Yes, most of my reading is non-fiction, and I spend quite a bit
of time vetting books before I read them. But the most effective way to keep
average quality up is to re-read books I found great.

How often does it happen that I re-read a book and find almost nothing new in
it? Almost never. Keep in mind that some books are a distillation of many years
of an author’s diligent research and writing work; it’s very unlikely to “get”
all of it in just a few hours. Reading a book and letting the material simmer in
the back of your mind for some period (a year or more, typically), and then
re-reading is a very effective way to extract more information.

Q: Do you always finish a book before starting the next one?

A: I always have more than one book in progress – one on audio and another
in text. But usually it’s even more than one. For example, there is a technical
book I’m slowly plowing through only at certain times (when concentration is
easiest), and quite often if I’m reading something “heavy” I’ll put it aside for
a while and read a lighter book. I also have at least one book “in progress”
going with my kids at any given time. So the average is probably around 4.

The question is also sometimes asked in the sense of “do you finish all the
books you begin”. Well, not always, but almost. I try to vet books very
carefully before reading them, so I don’t get duds often. But every once in a
while I do, and then I have no issue abandoning a particularly bad book in the
middle.

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