Going from 5 books a year to 30

In my twenties I read 5 books or so a year, outside of school, in a good year. A few years ago, around turning 30, a switch flipped and I started reading 30-50 (mostly non-fiction) books a year. The math works out to about an hour of reading a day on average, my hunch is the balance came from less TV watching, phone time, and going out. I've found it to be a really rewarding change, and wish I would have made it sooner.

The prime benefits, besides being an insufferable know-it-all around your friends, include a broader mind and more diverse sense of experience (A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, the man who never reads lives only one, says GRR Martin), a connection to places and cultures that makes traveling and talking to people much more interesting, and, finally, deepened friendships with friends who also read a lot – there's so much to talk about!

In that spirit, below are the things I think contributed most to the change, in no particular order:

  • I got older. Not a particularly actionable observation, sorry. I started going out much less; the nervous energy and angst of youth started to fade (the best part of growing older?) – I now find it easy to sit still and read for an hour or two a night, something that I would have struggled with in my twenties. I also gained more context in general about the world, which makes reading about other people's experiences more interesting, something that can only come with living more. This may come sooner for other people, or it may come later, I'd guess I was on the slow side of things.
  • I realized how incredibly insane and fascinating history is (you really can't make the stuff up), and that smart, superbly talented people have spent years, often decades, of their lives condensing history into thoughtful, readable, well-researched books. Compare that to the drivel on reddit or cnn, that involves 10 seconds of thought, if any, and propagates via our most basic primal urges. Plus, there are so many great options for books: you have all of written history to pick from, the best of billions of people's efforts over two millennia.
  • I started to cut out distractions at home. And by distractions, I mean technology. It began with leaving my laptop at work every night, which may sound insane to some folks in tech, but made me more productive at home and at work. I have a manual and electronic typewriter at home for writing, and two large whiteboards for thinking and pseudo coding. I started alternating months with the tv in the closet. Additionally, I use my phone as little as possible at home and leave it plugged in in a different room at night. I don't miss any of it once it is out of sight / mind, except occasionally the TV – there seems to be no substitute for the pure relaxation of watching an inane TV show after a long day, hence why I can't seem to keep it in the closet for more than a month.
  • Audiobooks and bluetooth headphones. I read around a third of books via audiobook, and I would not be able to consume these books otherwise. Commuting to work, doing chores, working out, relaxing in the evening are now all times when I often listen to books. I vastly prefer actually reading a physical book (I tend to wander off in thought every minute or so, which is not entirely compatible with listening to an audiobook), so I listen to “lighter” content in audiobook format, where missing a few paragraphs isn't going to matter. Self-help / business books are especially good paired with audio, since they are often 80% filler and painfully repetitive if you do accidentally happen to pay full attention.
  • Last, an easy one, I read books I really enjoy! If I'm part way through a book and don't think it is a good use of my time, I stop reading it immediately – there are too many great books to waste time on ones you don't like. Similarly, aggressively skimming or skipping parts is much better than letting a boring or irrelevant part of a book turn you off from the rest of it, or from reading in general. I also choose what I read carefully; if I'm going to spend 5-30 hours reading a book, it makes sense to do an hour or two of research before committing to a book. I find goodreads ratings and reviews to be high quality and accurate for non-fiction books (less so, perhaps, for teen romance novels). Amazon aggregate ratings are useless, although individual reviews can be informative. Blog posts / reviews by subject matter experts are great if available as well.

One last thing: surprisingly, it feels like the election of Donald Trump was a factor in my behavior change. For the first time in my adult life it felt like history was happening, and that reading about the past suddenly seemed relevant and applicable to my everyday life. Where is the US headed? Is Europe headed the same place? Has this happened before? (Yes)

Essays