It wasn’t until my English major days were behind me that I really started to read. That may sound surprising—even slightly questionable—but it’s true. Over the past three years, I’ve read 174 books (and counting), and I’ve done it all while balancing a full-time job, extra hobbies, and what I consider to be just the right amount of a social life. It’s been easier than you’d think—and in fact, you can do it too.
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I had grown up loving books ever since I could remember, was a proud member of the library summer book club in middle school, and clutched The Bell Jar and Wuthering Heights as a teenager. But once I traded ballet class and AP tests for work and real responsibilities, I found myself reading for pleasure less and less.
Eventually, during the early onset of my adult life, I made a goal to read more, with no set number in mind. I found myself sharing the books I finished on Instagram and started numbering them and sharing monthly reviews under my own hashtag, #readsdropping. By the time a new year rolled around, I made it a goal to finish 50 books. I always read more.
Hoping to finish more books in 2020? Follow these five tips I’ve picked up along the way (and check out the books I’m most excited to read next year).
Diversify Your Reading Selection
This tip applies to both genre and length—mix it up! I’ve found that when I read a combination of novels and short story collections (and sometimes, the occasional poetry book) in a month, I manage to read the most. But this isn’t to say that length totally plays into how long it takes you to read something.
I finished the 800-page Hanya Yanagihara novel A Little Life in about six days. One 150-page short story collection, on the other hand, took me nearly two weeks to conclude. The first one was a long but intensely gripping novel that inspired me to turn its pages rapidly, and the second felt much more meandering; I enjoyed it, but it took me a while to really get through it.
Narrative style, structure, and your own taste all come into play to determine how long you’ll take to finish a book. If a selection ended up taking longer than anticipated, follow up with a different option that you know will be more of a breeze—that way, you can prevent yourself from getting book burnout. And if burnout does happen, be gentle and remind yourself that you’re reading for fun.
Stick to One Book at a Time
Here’s where some may disagree with me. Though other voracious readers may keep up their pace by switching from book to book, I’ve found that sticking with one title at a time helps me to retain my focus and get through books faster.
If I’m in the middle of a book and happen to buy a new one that I’m really excited to read, I’ll still finish the book I’m reading first. When you have another book to look forward to as soon as you’re done with the one you’re currently enjoying, that’s extra incentive for you to finish that book—like the carrot dangling out in front of a horse, it’s something to propel you forward.
What’s more is that hopping from book to book could leave you at a loss when you finally return to the narrative you’ve neglected, making for an even slower (and frankly, less enjoyable) reading experience.
Get a Strong Head Start
Let’s face it—not every book is going to grip you in its first page or even its first chapter. While I keep an ardent rule to finish every book I start (as a writer, I find that even the less enjoyable reads teach me something), I’ve found that getting through as many pages as possible in your first reading session of a book makes it helpful to get into the story and finish reading faster.
For example, if a book is 250 pages long, I’ll try to read, ideally, at least 40 pages in my first time sitting down with it. This helps me invest in the story so that the next time I pick it up, I feel more propelled toward its finish. When you get to a point in a book when you know what the stakes are, you’re more likely to keep turning the pages—and sometimes that can take a chapter or two at the very least.
Share Your Reading Journey
It was only after posting a few one-off photos of the books I finished that I realized that my friends enjoyed seeing my recommendations and it took nearly six months of logging each book I finished in my Instagram stories for me to start posting full reviews in my feed.
When I started opening up about this habit, I saw that others chimed in on their own book recommendations and was pleased (honored, even!) to hear that my posts had encouraged some friends to start reading more too. Although reading is typically a solo activity, it can make for great conversation and bonding between both friends and strangers. When you share an activity that you’re doing purely for your own joy and self-improvement, it can inspire others to do the same.
In addition, by publicly logging how many books I finished in a year, I found myself getting competitive with myself from month to month. I signed up for a yearly book challenge on Goodreads and delighted in seeing my number climb higher and higher. Seeing your own progress in real time is always validating and can make a major difference when it comes to getting motivated.
Make It a Goal, and Then Make It a Habit
This is what I most often say to people when they ask me how I finish a considerable number of books per year: It’s something that I set out initially as a goal, which later became a habit. I never leave the house without a book, so whenever I’m on the subway, waiting in an especially long line, or even anticipating the arrival of a friend to dinner, I can read instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone. I started out with a firm goal to read more, and the more I read, the more it became something that I just naturally did.
And let’s be clear—there are plenty of things I didn’t give up to read more. I still keep up with my favorite TV shows and I do have plenty of moments that I spend more time scrolling through Instagram than could possibly be good for me. But I also try to read every night before I go to bed, and when trains aren’t too crowded, I read on the train, wherever I’m commuting to.
It’s likely that I watch a little less TV and prioritize my schedule to make sure I have at least 15 minutes a day to read, but that’s something that’s come about naturally as falling in love with reading all over again.
The joy, for me, in opening up a book is finding an escape from the mundane, the stress, and the general despondency that can arise in everyday life. It’s a practice in empathy, exploring viewpoints and lives different from my own, and coming out on the other side with something new to consider. Reading, ultimately, is not about clocking in a number every year or about having an accomplishment you can humblebrag about—it’s all about giving yourself an experience that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. And that, I think, is worth more than anything.